5th Sunday After Epiphany
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who raises us up. Amen
I’ve got to be honest with you,
this healing story has always rubbed me the wrong way,
at least on the face of it,
it seems so self-serving.
Jesus and his disciples go to Simon’s house,
Simon’s mother-in-law is sick
so they tell Jesus about her,
he heals her and then she begins to serve them.
Um really Jesus, you heal the poor lady then have her make you a sandwich?
What I’m guilty of doing when I read it this way
is putting my 21st century ideas and expectations
on a 1st century group of people,
and while it’s unfair of me to do that to the text
it’s also understandable,
we all bring our own perspectives to our reading of the Bible
which is why it is important,
especially in these stories where we have trouble connecting
to combine what we know from the story
and historical research
and put ourselves in the place of the characters.
So imagine with me
being one of the disciples in the group leaving the synagogue,
you’ve just heard your rabbi teach in a new way,
unlike any other teaching you’ve heard before,
you’re excited about what you’ve heard
and on top of all of that
your rabbi just commanded an unclean spirit to leave a man
and the spirit obeyed him.
Your head is whirling with a thousand questions,
your heart is pumping,
and you’re feeling like you made the right decision
to drop everything and follow this guy,
you knew he was something special
and you feel proud of yourself for being in the inner circle.
Your group leaves the synagogue
and people gather around,
they’ve got questions too,
it’s kind of a mob and Simon says,
‘hey, my place is close by, let’s go there and get out of this crowd.’
You’re relieved to have a place to go get out of the way
and things quiet down as soon as you step across the threshold.
Once inside the rituals of hospitality start,
it’s an honor to host guests
and you look around expecting to see Simon’s mother-in-law,
she’s the elder and so the honor of serving guests usually goes to her
but she’s not there,
she’s sick in bed
‘ what a shame’ you think,
‘she loves welcoming people, she’s going to be really upset
and even ashamed that she was not able to offer hospitality. Hey wait a minute,
Jesus just healed that guy at the synagogue
maybe he could do something for her,’
you look around and see that the thought is dawning on everyone else
so you all turn to Jesus and tell him about the situation.
As soon as he hears Jesus goes to Simon’s mother-in-law,
she’s lying in bed with a fever
embarrassed that the guest of honor is seeing her in this state,
she tries to get up
but is too weak to do it by herself,
Jesus reaches out his hand and helps her
and as he raises her up the fever leaves her,
her strength returns
and restored to health she is also restored to the place of honor
and is able to offer the hospitality that gives her pride in herself
and standing in her community.
It’s a miracle!
Now that’s a much different experience of this healing story
than my first take on it
and it reveals a few things about Jesus’ approach to healing
that we will see again and again throughout the gospel.
When Jesus heals
he usually hears about the person needing healing through others,
the disciples tell Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law.
It is important for us as disciples of Jesus
to advocate on behalf of those who are sick or in need of medical care,
especially if they are unable to advocate for themselves
or even bring them to get care,
later that evening Mark tells us
that the townspeople brought everyone
who was sick or possessed with demons to Jesus
and he healed them all
when Jesus heals,
he heals more than the body,
he also attends to the social and spiritual health of the person’s life.
In this instance Simon’s mother-in-law
is restored to her place of honor within the household.
In other healing stories as when Jesus heals people with leprosy,
he restores them to their spiritual community
which they have been excluded from because of their illness.
Sometimes these healing stories are hard to hear,
especially when there’s been an experience of chronic illness
and you’ve prayed for Jesus to heal your loved one or yourself
and the sickness only keeps progressing,
why some people are healed and others are not
is one of those mysteries
that we wrestle with in our life of faith,
I don’t have an answer
but given the many aspects of life involved in the way Jesus heals,
perhaps one approach is to look for healing in other areas of life,
perhaps there is not physical healing
but there is social or spiritual healing that is taking place.
When Jesus heals it is a gift of grace,
Jesus heals people because they are in need of it and for no other reason.
Sure there are often responses to Jesus’ healing,
the word about Jesus being spread around,
service to God and neighbor but that is all a side effect.
When Jesus heals
he then moves on to the next place
even though people try to get him to stay put.
The temptation after a miraculous healing
is to hold onto that experience of Jesus for ourselves
but Jesus, as he tells the disciples the next morning
came to proclaim the message to all the people.
Ultimately Jesus is about raising people up to new life.
He does so most dramatically through his own death and resurrection
to which we are joined at our baptisms,
which means that whatever hardships we experience in this life,
whether it is chronic illness or addiction or mental illness
Jesus promises that we will be raised to life everlasting with God
And that not even death can get in the way.
But in the meantime
Jesus raises us up in smaller ways,
and calls us to raise up all whom we encounter. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.