Summary: Christ’s ministry in Mark’s Gospel is one of word and action; preaching and healing; offering people health and salvation. This, too, is the ministry of the church.
Sermon for 5 Epiphany Yr B, 9/02/2003
Based on Mk 1: 29-39
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
The story is told of a man who went to his doctor to ask if he could help him with his snoring problem. “As soon as I go to sleep,” the man explained, “I begin to snore. It happens all the time. What can I do doctor to cure myself?”
The doctor then asked, “Does it bother your wife?”
“Oh,” the man answered, “it not only bothers her but it disturbs the whole congregation.”
I hope this doesn’t happen to you in church today!
In a more serious vein, this little story does have something to teach us in relation to our gospel today. In both the story and today’s gospel we learn that one person’s behaviour does have profound consequences for others. Just as the man’s snoring disturbed a whole congregation; so too, Jesus’ preaching and healing ministry had some very profound consequences for those who received the gospel message and were healed by Jesus. This passage in Mark’s gospel today gives us the opportunity to ponder the healing work of Jesus. In this gospel, approximately one-third of it is comprised of Jesus’ healing miracles. For Mark, Jesus often combines his words with his works, his actions. Today’s passage reminds us all, that the ministry of Jesus and of the Christian church is both a ministry of preaching the gospel and healing people of all manner of illness and disease caused by sin and evil. I believe that we, particularly as Lutheran Christians need to take the healing ministry of Jesus more seriously. It is no accident that in the New Testament Greek, the word “to heal” also means “to save.” Jesus saves people through healing them of physical, mental, emotional and other diseases and illnesses. In so doing, he is demonstrating the power of God and of the gospel to the world.
In the Bible, healing—every case of healing—is the symbol of redemptive grace and a manifestation of it. Healing and salvation are constantly associated… (Jer. 17:14) (Ps. 103:1-3).
When Solomon, having completed the building of the Temple, is addressing to God his magnificent prayer of consecration, he asks God to succour them with His blessing in all their troubles—calamity, disease, and sin… (I Kings 8:37-39).
Isaiah prophesies the end of both disease and wickedness… (Isa. 35:5,6,9).
When the disciples of John the Baptist are sent to ask Jesus if He is indeed the Christ, He replies, in evident allusion to these prophecies… (Matt. 11:4-5). Jesus performs His miracles of healing in order to relieve the suffering of those who appeal to Him, but He always performs them in order to show forth God’s power as well… (Luke 9:2).
The gift of healing played a large part in the primitive Church (I Cor. 12:9). Professor (Viktor von) Weizsacker of Heidelberg has pointed out that it was regarded as being as valid a proof of apostolic authenticity as the ‘sound doctrine’ (Tit. 1:9). …the Bible does not set supernatural over against natural healing. It does not even distinguish between them. It accepts all healing as God’s gift. 1
The human condition over the centuries has not changed—we are all sinners and we’re all tempted by the powers of evil, therefore all of us are in need of God’s gift of healing through Jesus Christ, whether the healing be physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. All of us suffer from our own personal brokenness as well as the brokenness of our society, the world and yes, even the church. As we encounter Jesus in today’s gospel, we learn of the ebb and flow of Jesus’ ministry. He travelled from place to place preaching the Good News AND HEALING THOSE WHO WERE POSSESSED BY DEMONS AND AFFLICTED WITH ALL KINDS OF ILLNESS AND DISEASE.
Mark tells us that when the people of Capernaum got word of Jesus’ message and works of healing, “the whole city was gathered around the door” of Simon Peter and Andrew’s home. Jesus responds, according to Mark like this: “And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.”
In Jesus’ day, it was commonly believed that demons, evil spirits entered into people’s minds and bodies—thus making them suffer from mental illness and physical diseases, and therefore they were regarded as spiritually unclean. Jesus as the Healer and Saviour of the world came to radically change all of that. From beginning to end, Jesus was at war with all evil powers, as the Son of God, he had power over them, casting them out of people and in so doing, people were healed mentally and physically and thus became spiritually clean.
Jesus knew that the powers of evil function to hurt and divide human beings; they are happy if people destroy themselves and others; illness, disease, hatred, slavery, divisions; violence, death and destruction are what the powers of evil promote. Jesus came, he says in John’s Gospel, that we human beings may have life, and have it abundantly. He invites us to seek out his Good News AND HIS HEALING GRACE. He comes to cast out the sin and evil that afflicts us—whether it is physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. He comes to offer us his forgiveness, his love and freedom. He comes to give us both salvation and health.