The Gospel of Mark is somewhat difficult to preach on. The writer/storyteller of Mark was not given to detail. You get the impression that s/he was in some enormous hurry, and couldn’t be bothered to tell you what anyone was feeling, or why they were inclined to do what they were doing. It happened–that was enough. (And then, IMMEDIATELY, something else is happening.)
So we get a pericope like this week. Aside from my discomfort with Peter’s mother-in-law’s first action, post-miracle: begin to cook for a party (Because of course it is!), I felt like the story was somewhat of a rehash of what came before. He heals people! He proclaims things! People are impressed! And on we go at a breakneck pace.
Sometimes, the only thing to do in cases such as these is to consult with others. For this, God has gifted the postmodern-day preacher with social media, which overfloweth with sermon fodder round-about Saturday night. Also, you should count yourself as extremely lucky if you have fantastic friends (like I do) who listen to your incoherent ideas, and nod understandingly, and kindly offer their own (much better) ideas.
Seriously, what did the actual olden-day circuit-riders do when they were stuck for ideas?!
February 5, 2012
Epiphany 5, Year B
Stephen Colbert is a comedian. He has a TV show, in which he inhabits the persona of a narcissistic pundit, basically all the worst traits of the media talking heads cast into sharp relief, and rolled into a single person.
It’s a funny show, it’s popular, his book sold well. Most people would consider that a career well accomplished. And then he decided to create a SuperPac for the 2012 election. So far, said PAC has raised over a million dollars, made generous offers in the SC newspapers to both the Republicans and Democrats to sponsor their primaries, suggesting it would be not unlike the Doritos Fiesta Bowl, and run several very surreal campaign ads, including one that declared Mitt Romney was a serial killer, because if corporations are people, how many has he killed in his time at Bain Capital?!
For about a year, Colbert has basically been playing with the intricacies of campaign finance law on late night TV, something normally left to lawyers, and which has resulted in lots of confusion, and some anger, among actual media people. And all of this ends up revealing several things– SuperPACs can do just about anything they want, satire did not cease to be potent after Jonathan Swift, and at this point, your average young adult in Colbert’s audience now has a better grasp of campaign finance law than the average American does. Turns out, the comedy serves a purpose.
Jesus, by this point in Mark’s Gospel, has been healing all over the place. He healed the man with the unclean spirit in the synagogue, as we heard last week, and so now, having finished with that, he heads home to Peter’s house, where he heals his mother-in-law. And then most of the town. He’s on a roll.
But then, he up and quits. Why?
Aside from being well- deserving of a break, at this point in the narrative, Jesus also needs a pause to regroup. To refocus on his mission. Which was not just healing sick people, although that was a part of it. His mission was bigger, more inclusive than that.
For first-century Palestinians, healing was great! But lots of people could heal. It’s not like they had regularized medicine to any great degree– healing and cures tended to occur somewhat spontaneously and regularly, since the expected course of events was: you got sick, and that was the end of you. Healers were a dime-a-dozen.
So were charismatic preachers. So were political figures. The crowd outside the door was used to people like that. and it was perfectly content to have Jesus stay there in Capernaum, dispensing healings and miracles like a really awesome gumball machine.
But Jesus decides to leave. Because for Jesus, the important part is not the healings themselves, the important part is what the healings point towards. What the miracles signify.
These healings aren’t meant just to prop up life the way it was– -they signify a world that is beginning to be profoundly changed. The healings of Jesus point to the ultimate reality where all creation is reconnected with God. Where the signs of our brokenness, our failings disappear. A reality where all humanity, all creation is redeemed, and functioning as a whole. A holy creation, in harmony with itself and it’s creator.
Because the individual Healings are great, I have no doubt but that the people really appreciate it, but healings are only part. They’re like signposts, breadcrumbs. They’re too small. Jesus’s job wasnt to be the next magic worker in the Galilee, healing the comparatively few people who wandered by. It was ultimately, to heal the whole world.
And we see this starting even in the story– Peter’s mother in law, once healed, gets up and serves them. Aside from my immediate thought that the poor woman had just escaped death, and she couldn’t get a moments peace out of the kitchen? She sets a pattern that the other recipients of healing will follow. Out of her healing comes caring for those around her. She becomes an icon of a reality where all are cared for, as she feeds those who come to her.
Ultimately, we have to take over and play our part in holy creation. We who claim to have knowingly received the healing love of God have to become similar icons of this new reality, where all are fed, all are welcomed, all are loved, and all creation is made whole. This is what we promised, right, at our baptism– will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
But so often, we too, get stuck in the ‘gumball dispenser” mode. We perform the modern day- nonJesusy equivalent of individual healings,both as individuals and as a church. We tell ourselves that the way it has been is the way it always has been, and always should be, Amen. We tell ourselves that telling the truth isn’t nice, and God wants us to be nice, above all else. And we devote ourselves to the time honored work of making everyone like us, or at least, not publicly hate us.
And there is again, some value to this. It does make a lot of people happy! It’s safe! Sometimes, it’s even helpful! But is it what we are actually called to do? Or are we still just performing for whoever wanders by our door, and not pointing to our wider message, not living our new reality.
Because we’re meant to be tiny little outposts of God’s new world, each of us, and all of us together. And this is a calling that will, at times, require us to be seen as not nice, and will confuse and befuddle people and may even make them angry. But we’re called to live and proclaim the wide message of God’s redeeming work in the world to everyone, even if that gets us in trouble sometimes. We’re meant to play our part in the drama of creation,and recreation that God is working out in the world, with our individual talents and strengths, and quirks and weaknesses, and foibles. Each of us. All of us.
Jesus can heal people. You and I have proclaiming to do.