The Fifth Sunday After Epiphany – Year B
Grace to you and peace from the God who heals us. Amen.
In last week’s story, Jesus cast out the demon from the man in the synagogue. Directly after that, Jesus went to Simon’s house with Andrew, James, and John. He was probably hoping for a nice dinner and a sabbath afternoon of rest. That didn’t happen though. He was immediately confronted with the fact that Simon’s mother in law had a fever.
Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her and she began to serve them. Jesus healed her and returned her to her rightful place in the community. She no longer needed to be isolated or to be taken care of. Her relationship with the family and community was restored. She could serve others.
A fever was a big deal in the ancient world. Bishop Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, director of the ELCA Malaria Initiative, speculates that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law may have had malaria, since fever is its primary symptom. In any case, fever was often a symptom of a condition that led to death. It was very serious. There were no drugs, no antibiotics, anti-malaria medications, not even aspirin.
Last August, I received an email from the ELCA malaria initiative asking me to promote their campaign to provide mosquito nets for children. There were pictures of mothers holding their babies. I wondered what it would be like to have my child sick, when no there were no pills available.
That same day, I got a phone call from my daughter. She had gone to her doctor for a physical after moving back to San Francisco from Indonesia. She said she had a touch of malaria. It was a mild case. She was just tired and run down. She is blessed to have good health insurance. And she is blessed to live in a place with good medical care. Doctors and health insurance are some of the ways Jesus heals us today.
Her prescription cost less than five dollars and she was well in a few days. Of course, none of that stopped me from over- reacting when she called and told me. My daughter is fine now. She wasn’t very sick. She didn’t even miss work.
Lots of times, though, we aren’t able to work, or go anywhere, when we are sick. We feel bad not just because we are sick; we feel bad because we can’t do the things we need to be doing. There is a double burden on the people who care for us. They have to care for us and they have to do our jobs, too. In the gospel lesson, I bet it was Simon’s wife who had to take care of her mother as well as set out the dinner.
Nobody likes to be sick especially when we can’t do what we want to do.
There are many things that get us down besides physical illness though. Depression and anxiety and grief can all keep us down. They keep us from doing the things we need to to. They keep us from taking our place in the community. They keep us from right relationships with others.
That is usually the worst part – not being able to be part of the community. The worst thing for me when I have a cold is that I can’t be in close contact with people. A few weeks ago, I was greatly challenged with trying to remember to avoid shaking your hands on the way out the door. It’s very frustrating when you can’t be part of the community, when your relationships are cut off.
When Jesus healed Simon’s mother in law, she immediately got up and served them dinner. She was healed to take her rightful place in the community. Jesus restored her right to be honored as a valuable member of her household and her village.
That’s the biggest part of being healed, I think, being able to take your place in the community again, having your relationships restored.
Healing isn’t the same thing as a cure. When you are cured you don’t have the problem or disease any more. Many diseases and conditions are chronic and incurable in this life. Everyone can be healed though. When you are healed, you may not be cured, but you can still be in relationship with others. You can take your place in the community.
When I worked at Tabitha and Madonna in Lincoln, we knew we couldn’t cure most of the problems people came in with. We talked about ways to help people resume their roles in the community. Getting back into community was the whole purpose of rehabilitation.
We all have things about ourselves we wish to have cured. For example, I wish I had perfect vision. Instead, I have glasses. Without them, I could not drive, read, or recognize any of you very well. My glasses do not cure my nearsightedness, but they are a gift of healing to me. It is not an exaggeration to say I would not have the honor of working here in this community without them.
Sometimes we are the ones who need healing. Sometimes we have been healed and we are the ones who need to serve. Which place are you in this week? Do you need healing? Or do you need to serve?
If you came today needing healing, where do you need healing in your life? Are there physical ailments? Are there emotional issues that interfere with your relationships? Are there behaviors that you need to change? Ask God to help you. And ask the rest of us, too. We are hands God uses to help each other.
If you came today ready to serve, what are you able to offer others? Whom can you serve? What gifts has God given you? What is the best way you can share those gifts? Think about these things this week. Ask God to help you. And ask the rest of us. We are God’s hands when we work together.
After Jesus healed Simon’s mother in law, they told everyone in town about it. All the sick people from the town came to the house and Jesus healed everyone of them. That’s the way it is when Jesus heals us. We can’t help but share the good news. We can’t help but bring others for him to heal as well.
God uses our hands to heal others now. May God continue to make us agents of healing and wholeness, that the good news of Jesus Christ may be made known to the ends of creation. Amen.