“Christ the Healer”
Lord Jesus, heal us. Amen.
In today’s gospel we encounter Christ the healer. Having been baptized by John the Baptist, been driven into the desert to overcome temptation, and called the first disciples to follow him, Jesus goes throughout Galilee to spread his message. Jesus’ message is good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of the sight to the blind, a message that when spoken is enacted.
Jesus’ message has the power to heal. Jesus’ ministry is filled with healing stories. The gospel of Mark, more than that of any other gospel writer, emphasizes Jesus’ ability to heal and to exorcise demons. In the eighteen miracles mentioned in the gospel of Mark, thirteen have to do with healing and four with exorcism. For Mark, Jesus’ words, proclaimed with the power of the Spirit, have the authority to heal. Over and over again, those who witness Christ healing others wonder, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority!”
If you consider the collection of Jesus’ healing stories, most of them include Jesus going to the margins of society to isolated people and groups. These healings function not only as a manifestation of God’s power, but of God’s desire for reconciliation. Consider the healing of the lepers, the woman with the issue of blood for 12 years, or the paralytic man lowered down through the roof to Jesus. In these healing stories, the people are not only healed, but are reunited to their full sense of self, their family, and their community.
What is special about today’s healing story is that it deviates from this pattern. Today’s healing story concerns a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. A mash-up of the profane and sacred. This man is not isolated from his community. This man has not been put on the margins of society because of his disease or aliment. Rather, this man is with his community, in a sacred place, the synagogue.
The synagogue was a place where God promised to be and so God’s people faithfully gathered to worship God there on the Sabbath. Jesus, knowing that houses of God are full of people in need of healing, goes to the synagogue. Synagogues, like churches are not museums for saints but a hospital for sinners, as Pope Francis said. For this reason, Jesus not only goes to the margins of society, but to the central-most places, to administer healing balm. Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he will travel from holy sites to homes, to places considered both sacred and profane, to heal people.
You must wonder, how long was this man plagued by the unclean spirit? Did the unclean spirit constantly terrorized the man? Like Paul’s thorn in his side, did the unclean spirit come and go, but never fully leave? Did it only well up on his worst of days, rearing its ugly head when he got into argument with a loved one? Was it a ghost from his past that continued to haunt him? How long had this man hoped to be freed from its hold? Was this why he showed up to synagogue, again and again, awaiting his healing?
Our gospel tells us that it was the Sabbath, and so, like a faithful Jew, Jesus goes to the synagogue. Here he acts like a Rabbi, and begins to teach. The gathered are astonished and surprised by the authority of his teaching. Upon hearing his teaching, the unclean spirit that possessed the man awoke and took hold of him. It said, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
In Mark’s gospel, it is the unclean spirits or demons, along with other unlikely suspects, that first recognize Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. Today’s gospel is no different in that way. Upon being identified as God’s Son, Jesus rebukes the spirit and says, “Be silent, and come out of him!”
As modern readers, you may be wondering what do with this gospel reading. You wonder, how did the ancients understand an “unclean spirit?” Is this a story about a person with a mental illness, that the ancients did not have science to explain? Or is this a story about a literal spirit claiming a man’s dignity and turning him into a monster? Or is this story a metaphor for the unclean spirits of our lives? Like the other healing stories, is this a miracle?
Another translation of “unclean spirit” is an “antihuman spirit.” That thing, or belief, or behavior that is in opposition to allowing humanity to flourish as children of God.
As we read this text and consider its power, what is certain is that the gathered and the writer of the gospel thought that a miracle had occurred. And what would it look like if we believed a miracle had occurred too? Without reading the scripture like a science book, which is a common mistake of modern readers, what if we gave the story some space to be true? What if we placed ourselves not as judge over whether this story was true, but inside the text, with the gathered who were astonished?
What power might be unleashed in this message? A message that has the power to be enacted in our own lives?
At Holy Eucharist this past Wednesday, I asked parishioners, if Jesus were to show up in church today, what are the unclean or antihuman spirits that we need to be released from? Without skipping a beat, one woman said, “worry and resentment!”
A man said, “Those things that hold me back from living out my full human life, like anger or fear. Those things that I need to acknowledge and to invite Jesus to come in and help me heal from.”
Let me ask you, beloved, if Jesus were to show up to church, to this house of God today, what do you need to be released from?
This past week, I also asked staff and parishioners a similar question, put differently. What do you need Jesus to heal you from? How might Jesus want to heal our community and nation?
A common response I received was healing from the fear. A woman listed several fear factors: aging, dying, and finances.
One man shared his fear of change. He shared he feared changing his political or religious convictions. When his fear flared up, it often caused him to shut down and stop listening in conversations with people with differing points of view. A woman expanded the list of fear factors to include fear of aging, race, and finances. Another woman shared that she knew people who needed healing from various forms of abuse, a broken marriage, an unexpected death, and damaging messages from the childhood.
I wonder, what do you need healing from?
If Jesus showed up to our house of God this morning, how might Jesus want to heal you?
How might Jesus be calling you to follow him into new places of life?
How might Jesus want to teach you, with the help of others, new ways of relating to yourself, to others, and to God? As part of the many-membered body of Christ, there are those among us with the gift of healing for the mind, body, and soul, be they doctors, or therapists, or nurses, chaplains, and artists. How might God use their gifts of healing, to spread healing balm?
At today’s adult forum, we will have the opportunity to hear from Steve Treat, CEO of the Council for Relationships. During Steve’s talk he will share helpful ways to improve our relationships with others, which nurture healthier human relationships. I encourage you to attend, and hear from one of our community’s healers.
As Christians, we follow the One who is the ultimate healer. Let us go to him for our selves and others for healing. Let us be astonished at the healing he offers us, being open to the healing that he wants to give us. A healing that may look different than we expect. A healing that may be daily, or for a season, or in our last breaths. Let us go to the One who is our healing balm, ready and able to heal us. Amen.