Another thank you to all who participated in our “Faith in Film” weekend! We had two complete days of good food, good films and good discussions and I hope you enjoyed it as well. On Friday night, we viewed the 2014 film called “Son of God” and one of the things it emphasized was environment into which Jesus was born – the political tension between the Roman government and the Regional religious leaders. Jesus was a threat to them all – His ideas, his words, his actions… they were a threat to the social order, to the way life WAS, to the status quo. And those forces – fought back.
We begin today by looking at the healing ministry of Jesus and look at how revolutionary this action was. What is so revolutionary about healing? Let’s take a look at our scripture from the book of Mark, chapter 1, beginning at verse 29:
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
What was the first line of the text? “As soon as they left the synagogue…” Now, when studying scripture, if the text starts with a phrase like this – it indicates something important was happening in the previous passage, so as a scholar, we have to look at the previous passage. And what do we find?
Mark 1: 21-25
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!’
25 ‘Be quiet!’ said Jesus sternly. ‘Come out of him!’ 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
Ah ha! So, let’s compare these two healings:
- The first healing happened in the synagogue (Holy place), the second at home (Common place).
- First was a man, second was a woman.
- First was an unclean spirit (supernatural) and second was a fever (natural).
What does all this mean? There is no limit to Jesus’ power and authority. It is for all people, in all places, and in all circumstances (natural and supernatural) — yet, he is not under our control. (1)
Frankly, the healing ministry of Jesus is a difficult one for us. How much would we love it, if – when afflicted by a mental or physical illness – just one touch of a hand would cure us? How nice would it be to have Jesus visit our loved ones at the hospital and take away their cancers, their addictions, their problems – just. one. touch.
But that misses the point of the story of the healing of Peter’s mother in law. And it the healing ministry of Jesus. And our misunderstanding is based on our confusion about what it means to be HEALED? Does healing count if it prolongs our lives by just a few days, weeks, months? Does healing count if we are okay mentally, but our physical bodies are still aging? or if we are okay physically but our mental facilities are failing? How HEALED do we need to be to be considered WHOLE?
In their Social Science Commentary of the Synoptic Gospels, authors Malina & Rohrbaugh note the problem with our understanding is our fundamental misunderstanding about the difference between the healing of Disease vs. healing of ILLNESS.
“In the contemporary world,” they write “we view disease as a malfunction of the organism which can be remedied, assuming cause and cure are known, by proper biomedical treatment. We focus on restoring a sick person’s ability to function, to do. Yet often overlooked is the fact that health and sickness are always culturally defined and that in the ancient Mediterranean, one’s state of being was more important than one’s ability to act or function. The healers in that ancient world thus focused on restoring a person to a valued state of being rather than an ability to function.” (2)
What does this mean? We each exist within a culture, a system. We each have a role to play, a place in society. When we are ill – mentally or physically – we are “robbed” of our function in society. He can no longer serve as we did.
DISEASE – a biomedical malfunction afflicting an organism
ILLNESS – a disvalued state of being in which social networks have been disrupted and meaning lost.
Let’s look at Peter’s mother in law as an example:
Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
Now, Mark – the author of the gospel – and all the people in this story exist in their own time and context, and in their context – women were responsible for the running of the household. It was there role and their place in the system – and her role was to serve those who visited her home. So when Jesus healed her, what did she do? She began to serve them.
Healing happens because she is restored to her place in the community. “Illness is not so much a biomedical matter as it is a social one. It is attributed to social, not physical, causes.
So I ask you, does she need to be free of her fever in order to be healed? The paralytic healed by Jesus, does he need to walk to be valued? Does the blind man NEED to see to be seen as whole?
No. This is Jesus restoring the person to the community – changing the minds, attitudes and hearts of the community. It’s as much a HEALING of attitudes and opinions of the community as a healing of the individual!
In each healing story, Jesus encounters an individual with a problem
- the bleeding woman who is unable to function in society because of her ailment
- the man who sits by the pool of Bethsaida for years, waiting for someone to help him.
- the lepers who have been isolated from others who are afraid.
- prostitutes and tax collectors who are devalued as “sinners.”
- those who are affiliated by demons so painful that they can’t function in society.
And as Jesus encounters these people, his message is the same, “Take up your mat and go. Go in peace.”
- Maybe the paralytic wheels away in his wheelchair and others are able to see him as the whole person he always was!
- Maybe the lepers went away – still with leprosy – but the community accepted them as whole people with value.
- Maybe the blind still couldn’t see visually, but the community noticed their worth and their value and accepted the into their hearts.
How do we experience HEALING? Does it only count if we are 100% physically fit, free of cancerous cells, free of all mental and spiritual illness, with 20/20 vision and a body that does what we want it to…
Jesus sees us all as valuable. Jesus touches us and reminds us “You are a beloved child of God. Take up your mat and go.”
As we come together in community to partake in this holy meal set before us, let us remember that we each have a place in God’s family, no matter our illnesss, our disease, our sickness or our sin. Jesus tells us, “Be healed.” And we – as a community – then have the task to show others how valued they are in our community. May we love others as God has loved us and may we see each other with the eyes of Jesus. Amen.