2021-02-07 Epiphany 5
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I was driving around town the other day, touring my old haunts, down around the 400 Block of Hochelaga, Athabasca, Ominica and Fairford Streets. My old elementary school has been usurped by a French Immersion outfit. Alexander School is no more. But I remember our gym had this really cool rope and ladder climbing setup. It would fold neatly away when not in use. And our gym teacher would never let us use it. Ever. I don’t know who got to use it, but we never did. It was like an indoor jungle gym that Rambo or Chuck Norris would use! I’m guessing that my gym teacher realized that a few of us were a little too tubby to climb that rope. Probably couldn’t have done it to save our chubby little lives! Just a little too husky for those climbing shenanigans! So instead, we played Dodge Ball, running around the gym burning off calories and hurling that red bouncy ball as hard as we possibly could at other students! After the first 5 minutes, it got pretty boring. So to kick it up to notches unknown to mankind, the teacher added an extra rule. If you got hit with the ball, you had to lay down where you got hit and your team mate had to run over and lift you up to “heal” you. Then you could go back to the line and continue bombarding your fellow pupils with the rubber spinning sphere of death!
This memory of healing and lifting up came back to me as I read Mark’s Gospel for this week. We see Jesus healing Peter’s mother in law of the fever. This story was also in the last episode of The Chosen that we just finished watching too so it was fresh in my mind. “Now Simon’s mother-in-law lay ill with a fever, and immediately they told Him about her. And He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them” (MK 1:30-31).
Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles! Jesus saves Peter’s mother in law. It’s like the little Sunday School boy who asked his dad who Adam’s mother in law was in the garden of Eden. “He didn’t have a mother in law, Son. Adam lived in paradise!” But this text from Mark’s Gospel can be quite tricky for preachers, and theologians and lay people all the same. It deals first hand with the miraculous, real-deal physical healing of ill people. Jesus was forever healing the sick of their diseases. The Apostles also continued to heal people after Christ ascended into Heaven. Jesus promised His followers “whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (JN 14:12).
We don’t tend to see many healing miracles like what our Lord does for Peter’s mother in law. It has caused many Christians to doubt whether this is true or just made up tales. If you’ve ever watched the religious channels on TV - which you shouldn’t do, but if you do - you see all kinds of miracle healers. ‘Send us all your money and we will heal you, your mother in law and your pet squirrel Skippy too’! One guy who was supposedly doing miraculous healings was Peter Popoff. Maybe you’ve heard of him. I call him the “prophet who profits!” If you call him and send him a donation he will send you a bottle of Miracle Spring Water from Chernobyl. Yes. That place with the catastrophic nuclear meltdown! Let that sink in.
So here’s Popoff jumping around, yelling with loud music and high energy and lots of drama. He tells people that God speaks to him and then miraculously calls out people’s names from the crowd and their specific ailments on live TV! Shazam! But this false prophet got busted for fraud by the Amazing Randi, a stage magician and skeptic who often disproved fakes. He discovered that “God” was actually Peter Popoff’s wife who transmitted information about the people in the crowd from prayer cards they filled out over a radio frequency into Peter’s tiny ear piece. He was a total charlatan preying on people’s money.
This kind of thing goes hand in hand with others who try to convince you that if you have illness or suffering in your life, it’s because you don’t have enough faith. “If only you truly believed in God, this wouldn’t have happened to you.” Or “if you only gave more money to the ministry, God would have blessed you beyond measure.” If only… It turns the Christian faith into a multi-million dollar money making venture. This is NOT from God. It’s from Satan, the father of lies.
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, He just did it. Miraculous. No exchange of money. No miracle Chernobyl water. Just Jesus. The whole town shows up for similar healing and exorcisms! So what do we make of this, then?! It can be pretty frustrating when we are struggling with chronic pain or debilitating conditions. It’s nice when people in the Bible are miraculously healed. But what about my cancer, my Parkinson’s, my arthritis, my Diabetes, my Lupus, my Multiple-Sclerosis? We start thinking that God hates us and that He’s punishing us for sins we committed. God then becomes a big mean ogre, filled with vile wrath in our minds.
The fact that we have hard times and sickness and disease and pandemics is a sign that something isn’t right with our world. The huge problems we face mean we need a Redeemer. We need the true Messiah Who works miracles, healing and forgiveness. We look to Jesus because He does the greatest miracle of all in dying on the cross for our sins and rising to life again, granting eternal life to all who believe. Peter’s mother in law, despite her miraculous healing still died. Even Lazarus, who our Lord raised from his four-day death in the tomb still died again! We have the promise from Jesus that even though we die, we shall live forever more with Him. And in that life there will be no more sickness or pain or suffering.
But what about right now? What about miraculous, physical healing? This, like everything is in our Lord’s hands. We look at St. Paul. The guy that God used to bring the light of His kingdom to the gentiles and beyond. The guy who wrote the lion’s share of the New Testament. He himself struggled with some kind of chronic ailment: “a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2COR 12:7-9). God didn’t heal St. Paul miraculously of this ailment. Instead, Paul was to focus on the Grace of God which is sufficient and is made perfect in human weakness. Look to Christ. He is the healing we need. He is our grace and salvation.
Miraculous, physical healing may happen immediately, like it did for Peter’s mother in law. Praise God this happens! The light of God’s Kingdom dispels the darkness of disease! But sometimes like for St. Paul, it doesn’t. Does this mean our Lord hates Paul and loves Peter’s mother in law? Hardly. It just means that every day of our lives is lived in God’s grace. We depend on Him. We rely on Him. For Christ our Lord walked the road of suffering. When the taunters told Him to jump off the cross and save Himself, He didn’t. He walked the road of pain and suffering, recognizing the fallen and sinful nature of world. He takes it all upon Himself that He may bring the ultimate healing we all need: forgiveness and life from the dead.
We fix our eyes on Christ our Redeemer. We remember the miracles we have all received as God’s people. Firstly our Baptism which washes away our sin and gives us new life and secondly, Holy Communion where our Lord Jesus is miraculously present for us in bread and wine. These miracles bless us eternally. And for our temporal hard times, St. James writes: “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (5:14-15). We may receive a miraculous healing. Praise the Lord if that is the case! But the ultimate healing is victory over illness and death that leads us into eternal life in Christ our Lord. “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev 21:3-5). Amen!