You Should Have Been There.

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark.

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

And the whole city was gathered around the door.

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.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

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.”

And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

(Mark 1:29-39)

You Should Have Been There.

This is Vestry season, isn’t it.  It is the time in the church, when we  look back on the past year, to recognise what has gone well,  and to look forward, and to plan for the coming year.

Outside of church, of course, the main event of 2020 and possibly of 2021 has been Covid 19. Many people have been ill  and recovered, others  have recovered, but with residual effects that may last a lifetime, and many have died.

There have been other tragedies, of course. Hundreds of children have been held at the border in the United States, separated from their parents some time ago, and with little hope, now,  of ever being re-connected with them.

Wars persist in remote places, and perhaps most tragically in the Yemen.

The extent of tragedies, the number of them, the sheer horror of them, is such that we despair at the little we can do.  

We do what we can, don’t we,  taking care of our families, being there for our friends, helping out where we can in our community and donating to the causes that touch our hearts?

We look at the world and wish we could do more, even though the world’s problems are so big and worrisome, that all we can do is donate to support those who are trying to help, and pray for God’s care for those affected.

When I was a little boy, listening to the stories of Jesus, it always puzzled me that Jesus just didn’t heal everyone in town and then go on to the next and heal everyone there, and so on.  I also used to feel sorry for those who missed the chance to be healed. Maybe they were away, visiting friends, or something, when Jesus went through, their neighbors telling them, “Oh you should have been there. He healed everyone!”  

Then there were those who waited on the edge of the crowd, unable to push through, and finally had to leave without getting near to Jesus.  

But there would be others who would  be healed, and others who somehow found  a way to bring a sick friend to Jesus. 

Do you remember the story of the friends of one sick man, who got onto the housetop and hacked a hole in the roof, and lowered their friend inside the house so that Jesus might heal him?

When there was so much illness, and when medicine was undeveloped, and when being sick could be such an economic tragedy, it was hard for me,  as a child to understand that Jesus could move on to the next town, and leave behind so many people still to be healed.

Healing was an important part of the ministry of Jesus. The gospel writers want us to know about it because it proves that God was indeed working in this man. That in him, God did suspend natural laws and bring about miraculous events.

But Jesus’ ministry only lasted about three years, and he was here to do something much greater than the physical healings that he wrought, as wonderful as they were.  He had to touch as many people as possible in that time in a different way.

He had to bring the Good News to as many people as he could.

He had to set the world alight, and the image comes to mind of someone running through fields of dry grass, touching here and there with a lighted torch.

But he had very little time.

His ministry would include healing the sick, but a bigger challenge was to heal souls, so that those healed souls, could carry the Good News of love and healing throughout the world, and heal other souls.

He needed help because he was limited in what he could do as a man.

Mostly, in our prayers, we pray for people to be healed, of sicknesses, or other conditions, don’t we?  The things that we can see, that need fixing. We rarely, if ever, pray for someone’s soul.

But what good does it do for someone to have a healthy body, or mind,  and yet an unhealthy soul?

We use these bodies for seventy years, give or take a few, but our soul will live for eternity.

I am reminded of an account of a miraculous healing I heard about some years ago.

One of the members of a small church,  a youngish woman, confided to her prayer group  that her husband, who was not a member of the church, had been told he had a killer illness and only a few weeks to live.

The group gathered together and prayed for this man. They prayed that he might be healed of his illness.  

Soon, the sick man asked for a group from the church to visit him and pray over him at home, and to take communion to him.

This they did.

He asked them to come back again, and he told them of something that had happened to him.  He said he was conscious of being enveloped in a sense of peace, and a feeling of well-being. He was surprised at this himself, since he thought that given the circumstances, he should be feeling angry, and anxious, and panicky.

His wife said that he had become more open  – made himself more vulnerable, if you like – and that they were experiencing a deeper love for each other than they ever had before.

When he was able, he would attend church. He became a part of the church family. People noticed that in this man, someone who only attended church sporadically, there was something that exemplified what a spirit-filled Christian should be.

He impressed them with the fact that he had become a man at peace – with himself, with the world, and with God.

God had answered the prayers of his wife and friends, and this man had been made whole in a very wonderful way. 

And  after three months, when he died,  it was as if a light had been quenched.

His friends knew that although the illness had persisted, there was no doubt that this man had been healed.  Healed of a sickness that no-one could have seen!

A sickness of the soul.

And perhaps that is the bigger miracle.

As Jesus asked the Pharisees when they accused him of forgiving sins –  something they said, that only God could do –  ” Which is easier, to heal someone, or to say your sins are forgiven?”

To give freedom to people formerly enslaved to sin and worry and guilt, is obviously the bigger challenge, when you think about it.

It is often said that Jesus had compassion for the sick.

I think it was more that that he empathized with them.

Empathy, is defined as, ” An understanding so intimate, that the feelings, thoughts, motives of one, are readily comprehended by another.”

When you sympathise with someone, you express your compassion for them; when you empathise with someone, you share their pain.

And if someone shares your burden, it is lightened, isn’t it? ?

Jesus must have empathized with those he saw.  He must have been very close to them at that moment.  And since sickness of mind or body or of soul, cannot exist in close proximity to God, then perhaps the root cause of their illness could be rejected and healing could naturally take place. 

Paul talks about empathy in a slightly different context, as he tells us how he shares  the Gospel with people.  He talks about being as one with people, empathizing with them, so that he could bring them the Gospel.  

And Paul shows that everything works better when we are in solidarity with Jesus.  We become a part of the process of the healing of the world.

The people of the time saw Jesus primarily as a healer. Not too many of them, not even the disciples at first, saw him as he really was, the Messiah, the One who would suffer and die on a cross, the Messiah sent to heal the rift between us and God.

Jesus came to empathise with us – to be so close to us that our feelings, our very thoughts, and our very needs, are known to him.

And when that takes place, he is able to answer those needs, and  to bring about a healthy inner person.

As we move through Epiphany, and as we ponder the works he did, let us ask that in His love for us, in His compassion for us, in His empathy with us, He might do those works in us, healing us and making us complete, so that we may better serve Him in this His Kingdom on earth.

” How good it is to sing praises to our God,  who heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.”

 Amen