Mark 1:29-39: After Jesus and his disciples 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.
That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he 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. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.
And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He 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.
Well, this is an interesting continuation in Mark’s Gospel from what we heard last week. Last week we heard of Jesus healing the man with the unclean spirit in Capernaum, and now we hear of the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law. Which I’m sure we’re all thinking, okay, we know Jesus heals people, even sends out unclean spirits or demons or whatever you want to call them. What’s interesting in that?
Well, to me, a lot of things, but I went to school for that boring stuff, so I’m probably not a good litmus test for this. But what I think is fascinating is how Mark’s gospel wastes no time getting to the heart of the action. Before the first chapter is up, Jesus taught with authority, exorcized unclean spirits, and healed a woman near death. This is a portrait of Jesus with a clear mission. His healing, his defiance of Rome, his challenge to religious elites, his temper in the temple (say that five times fast), and even his crucifixion all drive this gospel towards a single purpose: to stand against what impedes human flourishing.
When we read of his actions towards Simon’s mother-in-law, that is what we are reading. This is not just a random act of charity, or even a favour for a friend. This is integral to the very point his death and resurrection make, that God’s creation, including human beings, is good. Not sometimes good, not can be good, is good. And that goodness is our belovedness, it is our mark of our Creator.
Christ’s stand against what opposes human well-being is exactly this. It is healing, in all forms, of all kinds. It is the stand against the reality that we create for ourselves when we build empires built on oppression and progress on domination.
Now, it is hard sometimes for us to still see that working in the world. It seems, sometimes, that things are just getting worse and worse. And we don’t have Jesus wandering around casting out demons, healing the sick, telling the leper he’s clean and the lame he can walk. We just have these stories of what Christ did. And that can feel very far away from us. Foreign even. Because how many in this world of science and technology would recognize the story of Jesus’ healing and exorcisms? I mean, I love those paranormal ghost hunter shows, but I certainly watch them with a great deal of skepticism and probably more than a little condescension.
And that’s just it. What can this tell us today? How does this gospel passage matter in our lives right now?
Well, like a good student, I did my research. And oh boy, did it not help at all. I was searching and searching for something profound or revelatory to say about this passage, and nothing. What most sermons and commentaries wanted to fixate on was the response of Simon’s mother-in-law (I really wish she had a name so I could call her that, but Simon’s mother-in-law) to her healing. That she got up, and served them. Now, some writings on this were all about how that is the best response we can give God when we are healed. And, yeah, that’s probably good advice.
When you are healed instantaneously, or, even more likely, slowly and painfully, but no less miraculously, the response to that should be joy, should be an outpouring of gratitude and compassion for others. It should jolt us out of our stupor and into an intimate and loving relationship with the wondrous world around us. It should remind us all of just how much of a gift this all is. And I’m sure it does, and that would probably be a really good sermon, but that’s not the one you’re getting.
And there’s a flip side to this, because most of us when restored to our normal lives, would do just that, go back to normal, go back to stasis, because it is the most comfortable place for us to be.
Other writers talked about the societal roles that would require Simon’s mother-in-law to serve the men, even asking, why didn’t Simon help her? She was just saved from her death bed!
But what these are all focused on is what happened after the healing. And while I definitely think that is an important aspect, I just wasn’t feeling it. But, I bolted upright Saturday morning with a sudden inspiration. Because, you know, Holy Ghost power. And I realized what this was about.
See, as most of you know, I’m in CPE, which you don’t need to really know what that is, but it’s essentially a course on pastoral care. And it is really easy to make pastoral care about how do you deal with other people. As Keith likes to call it, Fighting 101. But it’s not just about that. A lot of it is about me. A lot of it is about introspection and self-reflection.
And that is a really hard thing. Because it’s not just, Dear Diary, today I visited with a lovely couple and their grandchild. It’s delving deep into your own wounds and pulling off all the bandages and throwing away your crutches.
And for a long time, I thought it was about fixing. I thought that it was about fixing what was wrong with me. All my flaws and weaknesses. I thought it was about me making myself better. I thought it was about learning models, and taking notes, and, my favourite thing to do, making lists.
Because that’s what I assumed God was doing, making a massive list, tallying up all the things that I do poorly, all the times I fell short. All the things that were not good in me.
But, if I could be saved by a list, if I could be fixed by a list, then God wouldn’t have sent His son, He would have just given me more paper and pens to make better lists. He would have given me a more detailed inventory of my defects. But He doesn’t.
He sent His son, to heal and to die and to be resurrected, because that gap between me and God was wide and dark and it could never be crossed by me alone. He sent His son, because He when He created us, He called us good. And He called us His. And we are not irreparably broken, needing to be fixed, we are hurt and needing to be healed by the deep heartbeat of hope in Christ.
Jesus’ healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, and indeed, His healing of us all, is about restoration. It is about taking those on the brink of death, those filled with unclean spirits, those deeply stained with sin, and yes, you and me, and reminding us who we are, whose we are. It is about reminding us that we are loved and whole and, even when we are in so deep we can’t see the sky above us, that we are still good. We are just in need of healing.
So, my brothers and sister in Christ, today let us thank God for the opportunity to be hurt and healed, because our restoration is not about defect, it is about our preciousness, our belovedness, our singular and unique purpose in this community and creation. Let us thank God for the people we are becoming, for replacing our ‘I’m broken’ with ‘I’m healing’. And let us give thanks, for we are breathing, and we are living, we are wrapped in boundless grace, and we are more than our painful yesterdays.