Jesus the Healer and Prayer

Epiphany Sunday

Touched by Jesus’ healing hand

  • Psalm 116 Psalm of Thanksgiving for healing
  • Mark 1:29-39 Jesus heals and prays

Introduction

Last Sunday Amy introduced Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s story-telling style is visual and vivid. With an economy of words Mark communicates the unfolding drama of Jesus’ life.

The Gospel is good news not only for Jesus’ day (30 CE) and Mark’s day (60 CE), it is good news for us today. There is a two-fold emphasis in the Gospel: the first emphasis is on Jesus, what Jesus says and does; the second emphasis is on the disciples, how they do or do not understand and respond to Jesus (NRSV Spiritual Formation Bible, 1844).

The story we have already heard today in worship is one of the first stories of Jesus’ public ministry. Jesus began roaming the Galilean countryside calling disciples to ‘Follow me’ (1:17) and began healing and teaching. There is rhythm and reason to Jesus’ ministry as we will hear again.

Stuart will tell a portion of the story and I will offer a brief reflection, ending with a question for silent reflection after each part of the story.

Mark 1: 29-39

As soon as [Jesus and the disciples] left the synagogue,
they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

———————–

Mark transitions from story to story with words such as ‘immediately’ and ‘at once’ or, as this story begins ‘as soon as’ to launch the next story.

Here Jesus calls disciples, goes to Capernaum, enters the synagogue on the Sabbath, teaches with an astounding authority – in contrast to the scribes – and is immediately challenged by a ‘demon’ to justify his authority to challenge the authorities.

What does Jesus do? He rebukes the evil spirit, ‘Be silent and come out of him’ (1:25).

‘They (authorities included) were all amazed, and asked, ‘What is this? A new teaching – with authority!…At once [Jesus’] fame spread throughout the region’ (1:27).

Immediately in ministry Jesus holds together teaching and healing. Immediately he confronts authority. The question of authority is central to the meaning of Jesus.

Jesus walks out of the synagogue and into the house of Simon undeterred from the ministry that God has set before him.

Do you hear and follow Jesus compelled by his fame or his authority ? [Silence]

Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever,
and they told him about her at once.
[Jesus] came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.
Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

When Jesus heals someone two kinds of questions confront us. Does our curiosity or cynicism cause us to ask: What really happened? Did Jesus really heal Simon’s mother-in-law?

IF our rational modern minds can be pried loose from the ‘What really happened?’ question we might find ourselves faced with very different questions: What needs healing? And what is Jesus confronting in this healing?

In Jesus’ day sickness had social consequences. Sickness marginalized one and was even seen as a sign of sin. To be sick was to be impure and untouchable according to purity codes.

Jesus’ healing is to restore a person who is sick to their rightful place in the community Jesus’ healing also included touching one who was sick. Jesus touched Simon’s mother-in-law. She was healed and restored for her serving role in the community. (John J. Pilch, The Cultural World of Jesus, Sunday by Sunday Cycle B , 32).

What needs healing in you? Where are you hurting or broken? Will you let Jesus touch you? [Silence]

That evening, at sunset,
they brought to [Jesus] all who were sick or possessed with demons.
And the whole city was gathered around the door.
And [Jesus] cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and cast out many demons;
and he would not permit the demons to speak,
because they knew him.

As soon as the sun set, when the Sabbath laws no longer restricted movement, people flocked to Jesus bringing those who were sick to be healed.

Jesus’ fame spreads quickly. Jesus’ healing power to restore human life to wholeness is known. Jesus’ healing was a confrontation with the social norms and the authority that kept people in their ostracized place in society.

An underlying question arises. Are they coming to be healed? Are they coming because Jesus has become famous? Do they see the relationship between healing and confrontation? Do they see Jesus as the ‘holy one of God’ (what the demon called Jesus in the synagogue earlier that day)?

Central to Mark’s Gospel is the question of who sees and understands Jesus. Consistent in the Gospel is that those closest to Jesus often fail to see and understand while someone unexpected does see and understand.

What do you see Jesus confronting and who do we see Jesus healing today? [Silence]

In the morning, while it was still very dark,
[Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted place,
and there he prayed.

Jesus knew he needed a healthy rhythm of life in obedience to God. It is the rhythm of entering in and stepping back. It was a rhythm of being with people and being alone. It isn’t so much a rhythm of prayer and action as two separate practices for Jesus. It was all prayer and all action. Healing is prayer and prayer is action. It was a rhythm of being present and being absent to the people and demands that came to Jesus.

Might we even ask if Jesus’ rhythm of presence and absence was more than a need to ‘get away from it all.’ What if it was also Jesus’ way of staying grounded in God so that he didn’t get caught up in fame and the need to be needed?

Where is our ‘deserted place’ where we stand naked before God in the dark night of the soul? [Silence]

And Simon and his companions hunted for [Jesus].
When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’
[Jesus] answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns,
so that I may proclaim the message there also;
for that is what I came out to do.’
And he went throughout Galilee,
proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

The disciples hunt for Jesus and tell him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ Jesus replies that he must follow The Way that God sets before him to teach and touch people’s lives.

We listen to what God sets before us and follow The Way with Jesus. On the way we are confronted and we are healed – often in ways different and deeper than we know or imagine.

Will we enter with fear and trepidation into The Way of malady and mystery with Jesus?

Will we be touched and healed by Jesus — restored to serve with Jesus?

We are left with many questions about Jesus, questions about healing and faith today, questions about fame and authority, questions about restoration and confrontation.

John Updike, the great American author who died 5 days ago, wrote a playful poem about illness and healing called simply ‘Fever:’

I have brought back a good message from the land of 102 degrees:
God exists.
I had seriously doubted it before;
but the bedposts spoke of it with utmost confidence,
the threads in my blanket took it for granted,
the tree outside the window dismissed all complaints,
and I have not slept so justly for years.
It is hard, now, to convey how emblematically appearances sat
upon the membranes of my consciousness;
but it is truth long known, that some secrets are hidden from health.

(John Shea, Eating With The Bridegroom, Mark Year B , 55.
From John Updike’s Collected Poems, 1953-1993 , 28)