Mark 1:29-39 / Epiphany 5A / 05 February 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
Straight from the synagogue, Jesus returns to the house of Simon and Andrew, along with James and John. From demons to disease. And for Jesus they are the same thing. Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. She hasn’t been feeling well of late. They told Jesus about her. Would you please look in on her? She’d like a visit.
It seems almost trivial, doesn’t it? Compared with the spectacular confrontation with the demon in the synagogue, this little incident seems unimportant by comparison. A fever. Serious perhaps, but likely to pass in a few days. A 48 hour bug. Rest in bed, drink plenty of liquids, feed a cold, starve a fever, I’m sure she’ll be back on her feet in no time. But Jesus came. He went to her in that little moment of need.
Sickness can be a very spiritual moment, a time of great insight, vulnerability, dependence. We are reminded of our mortality, even with the little flus and sniffles. We are reminded that “dust we are and to the dust we will return.” Our sicknesses point to also to a greater and more glorious day of resurrection, when these broken bodies of others will rise to new life in the resurrection of Jesus and we will be changed into bodies suited for eternal life.
Sin and sickness go together. Not in the way many people think. We don’t get sick because we have sinned, at least necessarily. Yes, some sins have intrinsic health effects. Drunkenness will cause a deterioration of health. Immorality and promiscuous sex brings dire health risks. True. But God isn’t necessarily trying to tell you something when you catch a cold or the flu. Think of Job, who suffered terribly, not because he sinned but because he was righteous! So we can’t say that sin and sickness are linked in that way. Simon’s mother-in-law wasn’t necessarily sick with a fever because of any particular sin in her life. Jesus certainly doesn’t mention any.
But sin and sickness have something in common. They are alien to us. Foreign to our bodies. The result of bacteria and germs. Even our cancers are the result of our own cells turning against us and becoming a consumptive invader in our own bodies. That makes sickness and even things like demon possession pictures of Sin. Sin is a spiritual sickness, a systemic virus, something that has invaded our humanity and we can’t seem to shake it no matter how hard we try. Sin is a disorder of God’s order that has taken over resulting a destructive chaos that brings death. Sin is an inevitably fatal disease for which the only cure is to die and rise in Jesus. And so even that little case of the sniffles, even that little 24-hour fever, is a reminder that there is something wrong in our bodies, in the world, in the cosmic order of things. And that’s what Jesus came to set right.
Jesus came to her, this poor woman on her sickbed. And He comes to you in your time of weakness and sickness too. Never doubt that. He doesn’t only come to you when you are well and healthy and active and feel that joy in your heart. He comes to you when you down, weak, sick. The old Lutheran prayers for the sick used to speak of “this time of your visitation.” They viewed illness as a special time of God’s visitation to us. Jesus came to her.
He doesn’t say a word here. He simply takes her hand in His hand, and He lifts her up, and the fever melts away at His touch. There’s a little resurrection. Jesus reaches down and takes our dead hand and lifts us up, and in lifting us up we are healed, raised from the dead. He lifts us up. That’s what Jesus does. He lifts up from Sin, from Death, from the despair of shame and guilt. He lifts us up from all the things that would drag us down to our grave. You heard the prophet Isaiah this morning:
“He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall fain and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” When the Lord lifts you up, you don’t just get up, you rise to new life.
Being lifted up, she began to serve them. Don’t skip that little sentence. She began to serve them. She put on some tea and set out a little lunch for them. She went back to the mundane chores of her life, her own day to day grind, but it wasn’t a day to day grind because she had been lifted up by Jesus. And now she lifts up her little sacrifice of thanksgiving and praise. She offers herself. She offers her lifted up self as a living sacrifice, and she serves them in her vocation.
And you too. You aren’t lifted up to lie down but to live under Christ in His kingdom and to serve Him and others in His name. At our Thursday Bible study, we had a little discussion over those words that end some liturgical services: “Go in peace, serve the Lord.” Some object to that and say, “But that’s Law and we must never end on Law!” So I generally say, “The liturgy is ended, go in peace.” Yipee, we’re done so now we can take the rest of the day off! But what’s wrong with going in peace to serve the Lord? Isn’t that what the new man in Christ wants to do? And isn’t that what the old man needs to be told to do against his will? And isn’t that what Simon’s mother-in-law did? And why are we so afraid of that? We’ve been lifted out of the condemnation of the Law so that we might serve without fear of judgment! Go in peace and serve the Lord in that peace you have received. She served them.
And Jesus served many more. That evening as the sun was going down, the whole town showed up at this woman’s front door. It’s good she was well. She probably served them as well. The day started with a slight fever, it ended with a huge crowd on the front porch. And Jesus did what He always does – He healed the sick of all sorts of diseases, cast out all sorts of demons, and He silenced them as He did in the synagogue. The demons knew who He was and why He came. They were eager to preach it and let the secret out before its time. They wanted Jesus to rise in popularity and to circumvent the thing they feared the most: His death. They knew that if He died, they were done for. They knew that He had come to destroy the works of the devil by dying. They knew that all these healing and His power of the demonic realm came from the power of His cross. And they would anything to keep Him away from that cross, even serving up the untimely truth of who He was and why He came.
All Jesus had to do was set up shop at that front porch, and He could have wiped out disease in the middle east. He could have set up a kind of healing center at Simon’s mother-in-law’s house. She wouldn’t have to work again. The pilgrims would have paid down the mortgage in no time. And in short order, every disease could have been wiped out. But Jesus didn’t do that.
Early in the morning, before the sun came up, he snuck out of town and went to a place in the wilderness by Himself to pray. The disciples went looking for Him to remind Him that He had a waiting room full of patients and it’s time to get back to the business of healing. But Jesus says something utterly remarkable to our ears. “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And that’s what He did. He left all those sick people behind at that little house in Capernaum, also those demonized and distressed people, all those nice little old ladies with their fevers and worse, He left them all behind to go on to preach. Couldn’t He have sent the disciples?
Healing disease and casting out demons and lifting little old ladies from their sick beds was not why Jesus came. He came to preach. The miracles were signs that attested to His preaching. They showed that His words had the authority of God with the power to heal and silence the demons. The miracles were not an end in themselves, but signs, pointers to the Word that He spoke, the Word of Life, the Word of forgiveness.
Simon’s mother-in-law would get sick again. Jesus granted her no special immunity from illness. One day, she would get sick and die. But she knew, she knew, whom to trust. She knew that Jesus would lift her up, even from the grave. She knew that this Word and His touch are the Word and touch of God Himself in our humanity.
Think of every healing you experience, whether it be getting over a cold or the flu, or something even greater, as more than “dodging the bullet” or getting a little favor from God. Think of it as a little resurrection. A little instance of being lifted up by the hand of God. Think of it, not as an end in itself, but a little sneak preview of a greater coming attraction, the day that Jesus comes to you and extends His hand to you and lifts you up from death to eternal life.
When I pray with the sick, I always remind them that Jesus is the ultimate Source of every healing, and that every prayer for healing finds its “yes” and “Amen” in Jesus. You will be healed. Maybe not from this particular illness, and certainly not from dying. But you will be healed, lifted up, raised from the dead. And in a most important way, He lifts you up and heals you every time you hear the words “I forgive you” and every time you take that “medicine of immortality and forgiveness,” His Body and Blood into your mouths, He lifts you up. That’s what Jesus does.
Go in peace, and serve the Lord.
In the name of Jesus,