Mark 1:28-44 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
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 sunset, 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.
40 A leper came to him begging him, and kneeling he said to him, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, “I do choose. Be made clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 43 After sternly warning him he sent him away at once, 44 saying to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”
You may have noticed a few things about the messages so far during Lent.
First: They all have one word titles. That is because I am using the coloring pages that go with the narrative readings for Lent as the source of the titles. Each page has a word, beautifully embellished, to be colored as a meditation on that word. Or just cause you like to color.
Second: None of them seem to have anything at all to do with our theme of “Walking to Easter.” We haven’t even sung Siyahamba! But we are walking with Jesus. We are following his ministry, his journey through Galilee, Samaria and Judea that led him inevitably and inexorably to the cross in Jerusalem. We are walking alongside his disciples - the Twelve and all the others, the women and others who followed and listened and learned from him. We are hearing what he said and witnessing what he did in those days as he tried desperately to teach them everything they needed to know about what the Kingdom of God really is before the end of his road. We have learned about Changing, Giving, Serving and Listening. Today - Loving.
Granted, all of the messages are about love. To have any sort of relationship with God and with each other we have to learn to love. Jesus told us that the first and greatest commandment is to love God, and the next is to love everyone else including ourselves. Love is the most important aspect of being a Christ follower - a Christian. Today, we heard about Jesus healing two people - Simon Peter’s mother-in-law and a leper along the road.
“He came and took her by the hand … then the fever left her.”
“Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean”
Now, I have been known to make some snarky comment about Simon Peter needing his mother-in-law healed so she could fix dinner for them all . . . but that’s really not what this is about. This story is about loving and healing through love. It’s about healing through touching.
Today’s medical doctors don’t touch us much. I was in my doctor’s office on Friday as a follow-up after having bronchitis. Except for a handshake when he first walked into the examination room he spent the entire visit sitting at the computer. He never looked in my throat or ears or listened to my chest. I kind of miss the hands on approach to medicine . . . but I’m afraid my experience has become the norm. M.D.s are beginning to be more accepting of treatments like chiropractic and acupuncture, and certainly send people regularly to physical therapists. But they still often look down on the kinds of healing touch therapies that have become so popular lately - massage, reiki, . Healing Touch is a big thing right now. If you go online and search for Healing Touch you can find over 8 million listings. Some are companies with Healing Touch in the name, some are Wikipedia entries about what healing touch is, some are blog posts, news articles, advertisements for schools teaching healing touch . . . and so on forever. But healing touch has been around forever. Healers have known from the beginning of human relationships that touch can ease pain of both the physical and spiritual kind.
Jesus touched her, and the fever left her. Jesus touched him, and immediately he was made clean. Jesus took the girl by the hand, and she rose from her bed. The woman came up and touched the hem of his garment, and her hemorrhage stopped. Jesus reached out his hand, and the evil spirits left. His touch, his loving touch, never failed.
Jesus wasn’t the only one to heal through touch, of course. Faith healers were just as common then as now. Some were quite famous, like today’s Benny Hinn. We hear of people coming to faith healers in the hundreds and thousands, abandoning their canes and crutches and wheelchairs, crying out suddenly “I can hear!” “I can see!” Some of those healers and healing are genuine. I personally do know people who have been healed by the laying on of hands by an individual or a congregation praying together. I know that nothing is impossible with God.
Sadly, some of them are frauds. Stories about fake faith healers are always good for the plot of any number of cop and lawyer shows on TV. We hear how they hire people from all over to pretend to be wheelchair bound or otherwise disabled and pretending to be healed. Often, people who truly suffer may get carried away in the moment and believe they have been healed, only to discover later that they still can’t walk more than a few steps, they still have seizures, they still have cancer. Another thing you can find on Google is a long list of people who have been exposed as fraudulent “faith” healers, and even - much to my surprise - instructions on how to be a fake faith healer!
Then there are people who spend their lives healing people with their hands quietly and with no fanfare - like Janice, who eases the bodies and hearts of her clients as a massage therapist. When I was serving as a student chaplain at the State Mental Hospital, one of my classmates would come around to each of us at the end of the week and perform reiki, a sort of energy healing where she held her hands just above our shoulders and somehow eased our stress. I don’t pretend to know how it works, exactly, but I’ve received great benefit from that kind of not-quite-touching healing. Quite a few of my clergy colleagues also practice healing touch of various kinds.
Any one of us can bring healing touch to another. Perhaps the first thing I learned when I began to work with older adults was the healing power of touch. So many who live alone are rarely touched with affection or care. Even those who are in retirement communities and care facilities go without a hug or any sort of caress and are starved for some kind of loving touch. Gently holding or stroking someone’s hand when you visit can make a every difference in their day.
There are sorts of healing through love. Many of you know that Pastor Josue and his congregation go out on Saturdays to distribute food. They randomly pick a street corner and set up their truck, so they can give food to whomever shows up and pray with them. On February 20th they went to the corner of 4th and Grove. Little did they know that earlier that day a homicide had been committed on that very corner. The people of that particular neighborhood were in desperate need of the healing touch Pastor Josue and his people brought to their corner that day.
Jesus was filled with pity for him and touched him . . . immediately he was made clean.
According to the dictionary, pity is a feeling of sorrow and compassion caused by the suffering and misfortunes of others. It is a by-product of love. You cannot pity - you cannot know compassion - if you do not first love. You cannot heal another, if you do not first love. Healing is more than making someone feel better. The doctor made me feel better by providing medications to take away my bronchitis. But healing required the kind of loving touch that I received at other hands - ice cream from Marsha, oranges from Elmo, phone calls and emails from various people checking to see how I was doing. Although the antibiotics took care of the physical illness, wholeness came from knowing I am loved. Healing came from knowing I am loved.
When the people of Judah were suffering under evil kings who cared only for their own power and property, the prophet Jeremiah asked, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” (Jeremiah 8:22) Later, Jesus would say, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) Jesus came to touch us with love, so that we would be made whole, restored to spiritual health, and learn to love others so we, in turn, could restore our world to wholeness.
The Good News is that there is, indeed, a balm in Gilead. There is a physician who came to heal the world and restore it to wholeness. There is a way of living and being, rooted in love, that has the capacity to heal every soul, fill every heart, ease every spirit. That way is the way that Jesus the Christ taught us, and continues to teach us - loving one another as we are loved.
When we go out from this place today, let us remember that we are sent out to love so that we may heal the sick at heart, comfort the prisoner of depression and loneliness, cast out the demons of self-loathing and despair, and welcome into our family those who feel they don’t belong anywhere. Let us go out with love, to touch all those whose hearts are weary, whose souls are sick. Let us go out to be that balm, that healing ointment, our love poured out on our neighbors as Jesus also pours his love out upon us. Let us go, and restore wholeness in this fragmented world.