Whenever someone asks me what they should read in our New Testament texts I say start with Mark which begins “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” No stars, or shepherds or angels of trips on a donkey. Jesus arrives on the scene with heaven splitting force: deals with Satan in the wilderness: announces the impending reign of God on earth: chooses his first disciples and shows his power over a demon….all in the first 28 verses. Fuelled by his favourite word ” immediately” or ” at once”Mark races us through Jesus early ministry days as if he is being chased….and maybe Jesus is just that…being chased by the Holy Spirit.
And so this morning’s gospel begins “Immediately he left the synagogue, a place of teaching and entered the house of Simon where he takes Simon’s mother in law by the hand and lifts her up…healed…at which point she immediately begins to service those gathered in the house. I read some where that in this sense Simon’ mother in law if the first deacon on the church. Jesus’ teaching and healing ministries are one and the same…there is no discrepancy between what he preached and what he practiced. The last verse of our text this morning makes this very clear. “And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.”
The healing event in this morning’s gospel is further significant because it happens in a house and most certainly reflects the earliest communities of faith which were house churches. There is ample evidence for this in Paul’s letters….they may be described as letters to,the early churches but they are actually letters to the early communities who met in homes which made the life of the early community possible…they were missionary platforms…come to my house and meet some really wonderful people….they were places where itinerant preachers like Paul were welcomed, and they provided economic support for the growing Jesus movement.
To Jesus neither the temple, nor the house, not the synagogue can be closed…anyone is welcome….and healing can take place on any day. God’s gift, Jesus’ grace transcends all limits….structure, dogma, race and nationality. There are no insiders and outsiders…..an important concept in the world these days…and why we sing the wonderful hymn ” All are welcome!”
There is another important aspect to this text I think and that is the emphasis on touching. Jesus came and took Simon’s mother in law by the hand and lifted her up. Throughout both testaments, The Hebrew Bible and what we call the New Testament, there is one incident after another that emphasizes touching…God reaching out to touch Adam into being on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the angel who touches the hollow of Jacob’s thigh, Jairus’ daughter healed by Jesus’ touch, the blind man who touched Jesus garment and was healed….It might be said that in Scripture touch is a metaphor for intimacy, for presence, for relationship. I suggest that to understand humanity as created in the image of God means that we are created for relationship for as it says in Genesis “it is not right for Adam…for human beings to be alone.” In fact there have been healing prayer experiments where one group of people praying had no knowledge or or acquaintance with the people for whom they prayed while another group prayed for people they knew personally….those who had developed relationships with those paying for them experienced a decided difference in improvement and quality of life. I believe that this may well be why our prayers in this place for people we know, or know about like Anika Rose or any number of people with whom we have relationships have a positive impact. This is also I think the reason for the increasing interest in practicing healing touch in a number of churches. As someone who has been blessed by this practice on a couple of occasions, I believe it’s power.
Gerald May a psychiatrist has written of the importance of community in the healing process. He says
” God’s grace through community involves something far greater than other people’s support and perspective. The power of grace is nowhere as brilliant or as mystical as in communities of faith. It’s power includes not just love that comes from people and through people but love that pours forth among people, as if through the very spaces between one person and the next. Just to be in such an atmosphere is to be bathed in healing power.”
I believe this is why sharing the peace as we do Sunday by Sunday is so important and I would ask that we try to do that with reverence…maybe even a little less social enthusiasm…so that we don’t confuse this sacramental act…a sacrament being something with an outward and visible sign of an inner and spiritual grace….this sacrament of expressed healing love incarnate as distinct from our socializing over coffee after the service. The physical act of the peace is intended not only to express this commitment to one another but also to express our commitment to being ” at peace” as we come to share communion, the incarnate body of Christ.
Love not expressed, love not felt is difficult to trust. Theologically speaking that is the reason for the incarnation. God knew the human need for nearness. Jesus is the incarnation of God’s love, which makes it all the more demanding, maybe even frightening, to realize that for some people we, you and I, are the only Jesus they will ever meet.
Preaching and healing. Healing and preaching. This represents the ministry of Jesus in a nutshell, and it also represents the ministry of those who follow him….all of us.
Holy one, we know you want something of us and for us. Give us ears to hear you, eyes to see the tracing of your finger and hearts quickened by the motion of your spirit. Amen.