29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. 32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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. 35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Healing is the hallmark of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Mark. We are still in the first chapter and Jesus has already healed a man of a demon in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then, visiting the home of Simon Peter and Andrew, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law of the fever that has laid her up. Throngs gather that evening outside the house. Jesus also heals those people or frees them from demons. The next day, after praying in solitude, he moves on to continue his ministry in other parts of the Galilee.
NT scholar Cynthia Briggs Kittredge writes that specific words from today’s and other healing stories in Mark, show that in this gospel, healing is equated with resurrection. Today, Jesus took Peter’s mother in law by the hand and “lifted her up”. The word translated “lifted up,” which recurs in later healing stories, is the same word that Jesus uses when he says he will be “raised up” in the resurrection.
Kittredge wrote: “The healing of Peter’s mother in law is the first resurrection story in the gospel.”
Healing is Resurrection
Healing is a resurrection because it means being restored not just to health, but also to your purpose, your identity, your place in the community. Peter’s mother-in-law, after being “raised up,” resumes her role as hostess. She serves her guests.
The Greek for “to serve” is diakoneo. The root of our word “Deacon”, it’s also the word Jesus uses to describe himself and his own ministry when he says: “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” So, Kittredge concludes, in Mark, service is ministry.
Like Peter’s mother-in-law, others whom Jesus heals will also be returned to their place in society–“raised up” again to the fullness of life, work and service.
These healings don’t just touch individuals; they effect the family, the household, and eventually community at large. So, in Capernaum that evening, “the whole city was gathered at the door.” We can imagine their being drawn to Peter’s house by hope and finding a healing energy that was palpable.
Jesus’ healings are compelling and dramatic. Different from those that we are likely to experience, they are usually instantaneous transformations. Although they lead to the repair of relationships and restoration of community, they are first and foremost physical cures.
Healing and cure are synonymous in the gospel. For us, though healing and cure can come together, they don’t necessarily. That’s because for us “healing” embraces spirit, psyche, and relationships. We can experience healing without being physically cured, and physical cure without deeper emotional healing.
Throughout life, our bodies regularly heal and cure themselves of ordinary injuries and diseases. The discovery of penicillin transformed modern medicine. Other advances have wrought curing miracles in such serious illnesses as small pox, polio and cancer. Still, sooner or later everyone will die from an injury, an illness, or simple old age. The body will fail. Even then, healing of relationships, of mind, of spirit can continue right to the grave. And our faith holds that death itself is the ultimate healing, lifting us from this mortal life into the next.
How do we continue to serve?
One vexing issue is how we continue to play our part, to “minister” or to “serve” as we decline in health, strength, or ability ourselves. When my mother began to fall late in life and needed in-home care, my father confided his sense of frustration with his own limitations. “I can’t do anything to help your mother,” he said. I told him he was wrong. While neither he nor I had the training to care for her physically, he, alone, could care for her as her husband and companion—continuing “to love her, honor her, cherish and keep her,” as he had vowed to do on August 31, 1946. That was the final form of his service, his ministry to her.
Loving presence itself is healing. Loving presence is service. Loving presence is ministry.
How I miss your loving presence in church! The radical limitations on our gatherings have shown how important simple presence is in our ministry to each other. It matters that we meet in person, and we will again! Meanwhile, as this necessary separation goes on, we need to remember those now-old-fashioned technologies: reaching out to one another on the phone or in a note.
Back to the gospel. Jesus’ healing begins with the woman and her family, then radiates out to the whole village. Naturally, the people of Capernaum want him to stay. But God calls Jesus to leave the comfort of that place, to go on, to continue to share God’s healing, reconciling love in other places. Jesus hears that call in the prayer, the solitude, that are the pivotal point in the story and the continual grounding of his own ministry.
What does Jesus’ example mean to us, to our ministry here at Emmanuel?
There are three things Jesus did in this first healing for us to keep in mind.
-He started out on a small scale, and locally.
-He let God lead him into new areas.
-Most importantly, he prayed. Jesus continually moved back and forth between contemplation, where he listened to discern God’s will, and the action he was called to take. Let that be our model, too.
Health and Healing at Emmanuel
Emmanuel is a healthy congregation. And, like Jesus, we are called to carry health and healing beyond the comfort of our sweet space, to share God’s healing love with this broken world.
Reaching out is in Emmanuel’s DNA. In every generation, we have renewed and expanded our common commitment to serving our neighbors.
Even now. The temporary suspension of Soup’s On during Covid helped us reimagine our ministry of feeding the needy. We have expanded our partnership with the MLK Community Center, with donations of cash, food, and our own grown lettuce. Once we resume Soup’s On, we’ll continue that, too.
Music is a balm for the spirit. In our new partnership with the Newport Music Festival, we will share the great gift of our space and make this beautiful nave a vessel for that healing balm.
What else? What will we do when we resume our communal life? It’s a conversation that we’re having in our Wednesday Gathering Circle Zoom meetings. Please join us!
The needs of our community are many. Addressing racial and economic justice and climate change are just some. Even Jesus didn’t do it all. But, like him, we can pray and discern what we are called to do as a Body of Christ .
Back in September, many of you filled out Spiritual Gifts inventories. We haven’t forgotten them. That information can guide our discernment, because our combined spiritual gifts are the toolbox God has given us for Emmanuel’s ministry, our service in this moment. Once we can resume meeting in person, let us prayerfully seek out the places and the partnerships with and through which we can best bring our gifts to the healing of our community.
Between us we have all of the gifts we need to do the work that God intends. Trust in that.
A final word, the simplest, surest gift that Jesus taught us to bring wherever we go is our loving presence. Because love heals.