Qoheleth wrote long ago that there is a season for everything under heaven, including a time to heal (Eccl. 3:1, 3). Is this a time when healing is needed? With all the brokenness present in our world, including the physical, mental, and emotional toll of COVID, the answer is yes. We need the “balm in Gilead” that makes “the wounded whole.” So, “Heal me, hands of Jesus, and search out all my pain; restore my hope, remove my fear, and bring me peace again” [Michael Perry, Chalice Hymnal, 404].
According to Mark, Jesus immediately left the synagogue and entered the home of Simon and Andrew. Just to catch you up on the story, Jesus went to the synagogue in Capernaum that Sabbath morning with Simon, Andrew, James, and John. Whether or not he was the scheduled preacher that day, Jesus proclaimed the good news and cast out an unclean spirit. Mark reports that everyone who heard him preach was amazed because he taught with authority. As a result, his fame spread throughout Galilee. That’s how a very busy day in the life of Jesus began! (Mk 1:21-28).
Our reading picks up Mark’s story with Jesus’ arrival at the home of Simon and Andrew, and his discovery that Peter’s mother-in-law had a fever. Yes, Peter was married! So Jesus went to where she lay, touched her hand and raised her up. When he did this, the fever left. Then she got up and began serving lunch to her guests.
There’s a lot to unpack in these verses, and we don’t have time to dive into them. However, I need to acknowledge the questions raised by what happened after Peter’s mother-in-law was healed. The best answer I came across is offered by Sarah Henrich, who helpfully points out that by healing this unnamed woman, Jesus “restored her to her social world and brought her back to a life of value by freeing her from that fever.” In other words, this healing restored her to her calling as the matriarch of the home. [Working Preacher, 2012]
Later, when evening came and the Sabbath ended, the town gathered outside the home, hoping to experience the healing hands of Jesus. He obliged them by healing many and casting out demons as well. With these acts of healing, Jesus closed out a very busy day.
The next morning, before the sun rose, Jesus got up and headed to a deserted place to pray. By taking note of this action, Mark reminds us that participating in the work of God requires communion with God. What is true for Jesus is also true for us. This early morning prayer session ended when Simon and his companions found him and told him everyone was looking for him. Instead of returning to Capernaum, Jesus moved on to other towns where he proclaimed the good news of God’s realm and cast out demons as a sign that God’s realm was taking root in their midst.
The Gospel of Mark is full of surprises. The story moves quickly from baptism to testing to preaching and healing. In each case, we see and hear Jesus reveal the coming of God’s realm through his life and ministry.
In this difficult season, when so many are struggling with the facts of life lived under the threat of the pandemic, this word about the healing ministry of Jesus offers us hope. It’s important to remember that the healing ministry of Jesus was a sign that the new creation had begun to take hold.
While Mark tells the story of Jesus at a rapid pace, the process through which the realm is revealed is long and laborious. That means we need to walk with Jesus by faith, so we can join Jesus in service to the new creation. Later in his Gospel, Mark reveals that Jesus came not to be served but to serve (Mk 10:45). Perhaps then, Peter’s mother-in-law serves as an example of Jesus’ own servant ministry.
It’s in the context of this proclamation of Jesus’ proclamation of God’s realm that we hear a message of salvation, of healing, of wholeness that defines God’s realm.
As we contemplate this message, I invite you to consider this word from John Swinton’s book about the importance of attending to the spiritual lives of people with mental health challenges:
Life in all its fullness is life with God—a God who accompanies us on a complex journey within which we live in the startling light of the resurrection but remain intensely aware that Jesus’s cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” still resonates throughout creation. Life in all its fullness is not life without tears but life with the one who dries our tears and moves us onward to fresh pastures. [Swinton, Finding Jesus in the Storm, p. 3].
So we come to Jesus this morning with hearts filled with hope because we know that he is the “healer of our ev’ry ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.” [Marty Haugen, Chalice Hymnal, 506].
My prayer this morning is that we as the church of God in this place can be a place of healing of our every ill. As John Swinton writes: “There is tremendous power and beauty in the suggestion that the church is called to be a specialist in human kindness. Small acts of kindness, tenderness, and thoughtfulness bring healing. It’s really not that complicated.” [Swinton, p. 215].
So we pray for healing: “Help us to welcome every healing as a sign that though death is against us, you are for us, and have promised renewed and risen life in Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.” [Chalice Hymnal, 505].
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
February 7, 2021
Image Attribution: Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1606-1669. Christ Healing Peter’s Mother-in-Law, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=57481 [retrieved February 6, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rembrandt_Heilung_der_Schwiegermutter_des_Petrus.jpg.