The Healing Power of Jesus

Sunday, February 4, 2024
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Mark 1:29-39

As we gather this Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Jesus has been baptized, the disciples have been called to follow him, he has practiced the public action of casting out demons, and today begins his healings.

Through Mark’s lens into Jesus’ life, we zoom in this morning on a house in Capernaum, that belonged to Simon’s mother-in-law. This was likely a pretty big home, near the lake where Simon had been a fisherman and where he notoriously “dropped his nets” just a few weeks ago.

Simon’s mother-in-law, the matriarch of this family, is herself in bed with a fever. We don’t know what is causing the fever, but remember that fevers in Jesus’ time are incredibly dangerous and often a sign of impending death. She is very unwell and they have reason to fear for her life. Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and then we read that she immediately “began to serve them.”

Now, let’s pause here and address the millennia-long eye-roll that comes with this passage. If you’ve ever felt boxed in by expectations or made to take on a role that you might not have chosen for yourself, you might read this and you sigh. She’s near death one minute, and then, freed to make food for the group of men in her home? Does she want to do this? Is she expected to do this? Even if she loves hosting or found meaning in the act of serving food for her guests, doesn’t she deserve some time to recuperate? Isn’t she so much more than this role? Why doesn’t scripture tell us more about her?

Well, scripture does. The Greek tells us so much more.

The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law is the first resurrection story in the gospel. We read that Jesus “took her by the hand and lifted her up”. The word translated today as “lifted her up” is the word, “raised” – Jesus raised her up. Resurrected her amidst a diagnosis of death. Mark uses this word for many healing throughout the gospel; those who are healed, are raised up, so that they may take their place back in the world. And it’s the word that Mark uses for Jesus’ own resurrection in the 16th chapter (Mark 16:6).

Which leads us to another interesting Greek word this morning. She immediately “served” after having been raised. The verb is diakoneo, to serve, to deacon. It’s the same word that Jesus uses to describe himself and his own ministry later in Mark 10. He says that he has come not to “be served”, but to “serve” and he uses this same specific word.

These words – the choices that Mark made to use words of resurrection and Jesus-like service, shift our understanding of what’s happening here. She is so much more than our world or our assumptions may have assumed.

She is freed to go back to her place in the community and she’s the first person in the Gospel of Mark to embody what it means to be a disciple. Let me say that again. This woman – unnamed, and one of the few women we hear about in scripture – was more than what we might assume on a first read. Amidst this group of disciples who notoriously doesn’t get it, she does. And she gets it instantly. She sees Jesus, she experienced his healing first hand, and she responds to her resurrection by embodying his love.

More than that, we can assume that she is among the “they” who go out to share the news of and gather the whole town at the door. In the wake of this experience, she not only embodies discipleship, but she shares it widely, with everyone she knows.

And then, after a few more healings among that town, Jesus knows that he can leave. The acts of service will continue here – he has seen them in this women – and he must go elsewhere. He and his disciples head out and travel all around Galilee, teaching and healing in the region.

All of this foreshadows Jesus’ own resurrection. The original ending of Mark’s gospel – the end of this story as we know it – is unique in a number of ways, but one of those ways is that, in Mark, readers aren’t told of Jesus appearing after his resurrection. There is no written encounter or ascension. They find the empty tomb – Jesus has risen – and they’re told to go back to Galilee; back to the place of our story today; to find Jesus. It’s there that they will witness and remember Jesus’ ministry of resurrection and healings. They will find in one another the embodied acts of healing and service that they experienced.

Maybe Mark, in the writing of this gospel, knew that the places where Jesus had been – where he had been met demons and disease and division and responded with resurrection – that those places would now be places of healing. That Jesus would be present in the lives and embodied service of the ones who witnessed and experienced first-hand the power of his healing.

But this is not only true for Galilee. You also know the power of Jesus healing. You know the quiet prayers in the night that have been heard and held and answered. You know the ways that grief, over time, melts into something like empathy. You know the cries of your own darkest night and faithfulness of a God who has never left you. God brings us back from the brinks of our lives, from despair, from desperation, to live. In that living and in our acts of service, we actually feel that we are a part, that God needs us to be a part, of God’s kingdom come here on earth.

If Mark were ending his gospel today, he might write, “Oh, you’re looking for Jesus? Head to West St. Paul. Go to Mendota or Inver Grove. Go to where his people have heard the Good News and who try to embody – however incompletely – what it means to be a disciple.

Because just as the woman in this story, we are called do things differently here, in this community and all of our communities, because of the life and ministry of Jesus. In our baptism we are resurrected every day to new life and we respond in service. That means that in a world that tries to pull us apart, that we “take each other by the hand”, as Jesus did, we stay close to one another and we insist that the love of Jesus is stronger. It doesn’t mean we’ll agree on everything; it doesn’t mean we won’t hurt each other; it means that in our own raising – in the healing we experience from Jesus – we will turn back to one another and remember the call to serve.

Thanks be to God and Amen.

Past Sermons