A Homily for the First Wednesday in Lent
Text: St. Mark 1:29-45*
Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who brings Good News and healing. Amen.
As we move towards Jerusalem throughout Lent, the lectionary is taking us through Christ’s ministry, moving towards Holy Week, the Passion, and our Lord’s glorious Resurrection.
There is a movement in certain circle that reduces Christ’s work in this world to the Crucifixion, as if to say that God the Son became incarnate and lived for thirty-some years just to die. In this view, everything else – even the Resurrection – play second fiddle to the events at Golgotha, and God’s redemptive work is limited to Good Friday. The Gospel is reduced to the Cross.
On Sunday, though, we read about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: he “came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news [literally, the Gospel] of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news [again, the Gospel].'” Mark and the other Evangelists – literally, those who spread the Good News, or the Gospel – take a much more inclusive approach to the Good News of God’s work in the world. The Cross is important, but it is only one moment in a much larger narrative. The Gospel, according to Scripture, is Jesus’ entire ministry in this world.
We might ask, then, what is it that Jesus did? What is it that makes this Gospel so wondrous, that makes this message that is so extravagantly good? During these Lenten nights, we will ponder that question, even as we look towards the Cross.
Tonight, we see some of the earliest days of Christ’s ministry. He has called his first disciples, cast out a demon, and taught in the synagogue.
It was a busy day, and it wasn’t over yet.
The disciples go to Simon Peter’s house, where his mother-in-law is abed with fever. Jesus holds her hand and the fever leaves her.
Word seems to have spread quickly, and as soon as the sabbath is over, people swarm to Peter’s house, bringing their friends and family in need of healing.
From there, the ministry expands – from Peter’s house in Capernaum to the surrounding villages. Everywhere Jesus goes, the ill, the disabled, the demon-possessed come to him, seeking healing.
What a display of Christ’s power! That with only the touch of a hand or a few simple words, these people are restored!
But what do we mean by restored? What did this healing look like?
In our time, we understand illness to be a purely physical malady: some physical thing, be it bacteria or a chemical imbalance, is causing our body to malfunction. Sometimes that’s contagious, sometimes not. If you’re sick, you go to the doctor to get a diagnosis and, hopefully, some form of medication that puts your body back into working order. That’s an over-simplification, I know, but it’s not too far from the truth.
Up until two hundred years ago, though, there was another side to that coin. There were scientific explanations for illness, and in fact our ancestors understood more than we give them credit for when it comes to medicine and biology. At the same time, though, there was a spiritual component. In the old understanding, there is not a sharp divide between illness and demonic possession, and both were contagious. Both made a person unclean, cast out from society, untouchable.
And that’s what makes this evening’s reading from Mark so remarkable: Jesus touches them.
Think about this flu season, the precautions we take during the passing of the peace. If you’re feeling ill, what’s the polite thing to do? Avoid shaking hands. Let people know you’re sick so they can keep their distance. Stay home. Those of you who have gotten sick know something of that isolation.
Now imagine having a chronic illness in Jesus’ day. Imagine your friends and family viewing you as unclean and untouchable. Imagine being afraid to comfort a parent in the grips of dementia for fear that the demon might jump to you.
Jesus not only brings these people back to health but brings them back into the community. He doesn’t merely cure the disease but makes them well – truly and fully well. He doesn’t offer some divine Advil – take two and pray in the morning – but rather wholeness. To those who have been shunned, Jesus offers restoration to the community.
Christ’s ministry is one of reconciliation, restoring all of creation. This ministry extends across Jesus’ entire life. From his earliest miracles through and after the Resurrection, Jesus repairs broken relationships: between humanity and God, yes, but also within humanity. He makes the unclean clean again, touches the untouchable, and brings the outcast inside.
We are on our way to Jerusalem, through a world plagued by sin and death. These twin evils tear us apart and fracture this world. But our Lord Christ, from the outset of his ministry, has been doing the miraculous work of healing our bodies and our relationships.
*During Advent and Lenten vespers, Church of the Redeemer follows the two-year cycle of daily readings as found in the Book of Common Prayer and Lutheran Book of Worship.