with wonder and yearning
February 8, 2015 The Fifth Sunday of Epiphany Roy W. Howard
When I hear the stories of Jesus’ healing I am filled with wonderment and yearning. He exudes authority and power with such grace and tenderness, and in this instance, intimacy that makes me tremble. Jesus enters the home of Simon Peter and Andrew. He is there for rest, time away from it all; something we forget that he in his humanity, like the rest of us, might need from time to time. And, predictably, the moment he crosses the threshold, he is told that Peter’s mother-‐in-‐law is sick with a life-‐threatening fever. Mark tells us that Jesus swiftly and elegantly takes her by the hand and raises her up. No words are said; perhaps there is nothing to be said at such a moment. In other instances, Jesus’ word is the authority that raises the dead and casts out demons. Here it’s the most basic of human gestures that reveal Jesus’ divine authority. Holding her hand, he lifts her up into wholeness.
Notice what happens when she is raised up: she begins to serve. We can dispense with the joke that it was convenient for Jesus to heal her just in time for her to fix supper and serve the men who had just to invaded her home. For as one feminist commentator says, “a first century Jewish matriarch would have been ashamed not to be in charge when guests came to her home.” The healing restores her authority. And interestedly the word “serve” -‐ diekonei -‐ is the origin of our word “deacon”, the church office created to distribute food to the hungry, though most English translations render it “servant” when applied to women and “deacon” when applied to men. Mark on the other hand uses he verb -‐ diekonei -‐ only of women and angels and Jesus, never of the male disciples.1 So when Jesus tenderly takes her by the hand and raises her up, he restores her full dignity that she expresses in service to others. We do well to consider the relationship between divine healing and human service.
It is another way saying spirit and service always belong together. This is how we name our purpose at Saint Mark: to be a community of faith where spirit and service come together. Whatever spiritual healing we receive, whatever gratitude we feel, we express in serving our neighbors and offering hospitality to others.
I am filled with wonder when I consider the power of Jesus’ to heal the sick and cast out demons. I, of course, am not the only one. By the time the sun was setting, the whole town was gathered outside Peter’s home. I imagine hope ricocheting off every heart as people bring their sick relatives -‐ sisters and brothers, children and parents -‐ on stretchers or holding them in their arms for him to touch them. Those afflicted with demons screaming in agony as he cast them out. I find it all wonderful to consider that God would come to us in Jesus to restore human life. To gaze upon it leaves me speechless before the love of Jesus.
Honestly though, my wonder is joined with a gnawing that yearns for the same experience to descend upon so many others for whom I am praying. I am aware of those for whom prayers for healing have not resulted in restoration or wholeness or even life itself. It hurts. I know the
1 Mark. William C. Placher. WJK Press, Louisville, KY. page 39
pain of friends passing from sickness into death, with the echoes of prayers for their healing surrounding them. I have cried at the bedside of friends and parishioners, yearning for cancer to be defeated forever; only to pray days later at their funeral.
It is not that I don’t believe in Jesus’ power to heal. I do. I believe my colleague who speaks of a time in her life “when, metaphorically, Jesus took me by the hand and raised me up. He raised up my spirits and gave me a glimpse of a future filled with hope. My heart was breaking, but suddenly I felt another presence walking with me that was a tower of strength.” 2
Jesus heals the sick and the brokenhearted. I have received his balm healing the wounds of my own heart. I say this with wonder and with yearning all tangled together. To hold one without the other is to deny the pain of those who mourn their loved ones and carry questions that will not yield to easy answers. As another friend put it, “joy and weeping” happen together in this mortal life.
In his divinity Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons. In his humanity, he went early to a deserted place to pray alone. This way of Jesus, the incarnate One, whose gestures yield to prayer, is a clue to how we can live with wonder and yearning before the mystery of God, whose wisdom is beyond understanding.