Itinerant Healer

Posted: January 31, 2018 in Uncategorized

Epiphany 5B 4.2.2018

Is 40: 21-31              Mk 1: 29-39

Itinerant Healer

We talked last week about the authority of Jesus and I proposed that one of the reasons Jesus enjoyed success in the establishment of the movement he did not intentionally seek was that a sort of societal collapse took place as the Roman Empire began to self-destruct. I also suggested that as part of this destruction Rome swallowed up Jesus the revolutionary and domesticated the movement to the point that we are this day on our third search for the historical Jesus.

Our Hebrew scripture reading for today takes us back and puts the Jesus time in the larger context when we recall that the region of Palestine gets its name from a group of people who migrated to the land from the Greek isles to the West at about the same time as the Israelites came into the land from the East. The Philistines quickly gave up their Indo-European language in favour of the Canaanite language spoken by the earlier inhabitants of the land. Over time, they also adopted Canaanite gods and worship practices. Here we have an example of evolution of culture and the collapse of societies, not in the sense of complete annihilation but close. After the Assyrians conquered their cities in the eighth century B.C.E., the Philistines eventually ceased to exist as a coherent, self-identified group of people. They had merged into the surrounding society, so that today no people anywhere identify themselves as descendants of the Philistines. The name of the territory lingers, but the people no longer exist. The same is true of the Edomites, Ammonites, Moabites, and even, for the most part, Israelites from the Northern Kingdom. Only Judah emerged intact as a coherent people after years of occupation and exile. The question we asked last week of Jesus is now asked of the Judaeans. How did they manage to survive while their neighbours around them didn’t? A large part of the answer is reflected in today’s reading from Isaiah.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? . . . Lift up your eyes and see:

It was common in the ancient world to interpret the conquest of one nation by another as the victory of one god (or set of gods) over another. If one’s national gods were weak, people reasoned, perhaps it would be better to worship the gods of the conquerors. The Jews had a different idea. Although they had been defeated by the Babylonians, they interpreted their troubles not as an indication of God’s weakness but as an indication of their own sins. In contrast to the diminishing value many nations placed on their gods after they were conquered, the Jews’ estimation of God did nothing but grow during the exile. Of particular importance was their growing understanding of their God not as a national God alone but as God of the whole world, even its creator.

Accepting the idea, proclaimed by the exilic prophets, that their God was the creator of the world as well as their national deliverer allowed the Jews to flourish under difficult circumstances, endure the years of exile, and emerge as a stronger people. Over the centuries the Jews have faced many other threats to their existence–the war with Antiochus Epiphanes, the First and Second Jewish Wars with the Romans, the expulsion of Jews from Spain, and the Holocaust–but their faith in God as creator of the world, a God who also loves and sustains them and calls them to follow God’s will, has preserved them through the centuries.

Those who went on to call themselves Christians owe their very existence to the prophets of the exile who proclaimed a new vision of God and to the people who took that understanding of God to heart. The very fact that a new vision was possible enabled the freedom to be able to see an alternative. We today are recipients also of this freedom. It is our encouragement to proclaim the oneness of the divine and to see the divine as creativity that brings the past, present and future into an evolutionary mode. Aside from the bringing of science and faith together in our thinking this is of course the argument that there is such a thing as God regardless of what we might name it, force or energy, light or creativity or the purpose of the cosmos. If we lose this vision, of the value of religion for the human species and in our case of the Jesus Way, we will be in danger of succumbing to the fate of the Philistines and their neighbours whose gods were not able to provide them with a reason to exist.

Having argued I think for the existence of God and for a very secular yet divine role for Jesus we might now go to our Mark text to explore what everyday practice might look like. In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus comes to Peter’s house, heals his mother-in-law, then spends the rest of the night healing and casting out demons. We remember that last week we acknowledged that in Jesus time this would not have been unknown activity but it is not common today. What is interesting is that if he had wanted to, Jesus could have set up shop right there in Capernaum and made a reputation for himself as a healer, but that’s not what he does. Instead, early the next morning Jesus gets up and goes out into the wilderness to pray. When his disciples find him, they ask him to come back to the city to continue the healing ministry.

“Listen Jesus” they might have said. “You’re a hit!” “You’re popular you need to go to Jerusalem or all the big cities. This has the makings of a great ministry!” But. “No,” Jesus said, “let’s go to the neighbouring towns, because that’s what I came out to do.” Jesus seems to think that his ministry was bigger than a single town, even a single large city but it is person to person that is required. He needed to make contact beyond his immediate groups but he couldn’t let alone expect to visit every city in Israel, much less in the world, in his lifetime. He did however see value in an itinerant rather than a purely localized ministry. It is true that we don’t believe that everyone is called to travel the globe with the gospel message, but we can agree that we should think in global terms. We can’t do that, if the only perspective we have is our own city, or even our own neighbourhood and our own routines. Seeing other parts of the country, and especially other parts of the world, will remind us that our little community reflects neither the diversity nor the need of the world as a whole. We can’t solve all the world’s problems, nor can we preach God’s good news to everyone on the planet, and we’re not called to do that. In fact, I think that’s the wrong way to look at any mission engagement or opportunity. Yes, we have something to contribute, but we have just as much, and probably more, to learn from the people we visit in other places. We may take them hope, but they can show us faithfulness. We may take them material riches, but they can show us spiritual riches. We may take them a message, but they can show us humility. It’s not that the poor around the world are better than we are or closer to God. It’s that they have experienced life in ways that we never have, and they might just have more in common with the majority of the human race than we ever will. Our call to follow the example of Jesus is a call to an itinerant ministry in todays context. As we travel through life, we might be faithful in sharing the wisdom and the riches that we have, but we might also be willing to learn from those for whom we minister, they have just as much to offer us as we have to offer them.

“Have you not known?  Have you not heard?”  God is infinite, dynamic, and moving through all things. Divine energy flows through all creation, giving life and healing. All human lives are important, but at best temporary, dwarfed by the majestic infinity of the Cosmos.  In the grandeur of the universe, we appear not to matter. Leaders of nations might make major global decisions, but their influence is limited; their time, like ours, is short.  However a Cosmic divinity is everywhere, intimately participating in lives.  In the interplay of finitude and infinity, today’s scriptures join action and contemplation in the quest for a perspective on life that enables us to become divine companions in creative transformation.

Mark 1 describes a day in the life of Jesus.  The healer from Nazareth is certainly busy that day: he heals the sick, preaches, teaches, and casts out demons.  His calendar is full and yet he has time for encounters large and small.  But, he also has time for stillness, perhaps, to gain perspective. As embodiment of the all-present God, Jesus reveals God’s vision and power in every encounter.  The timeless call is to mount up with wings of eagles, to experience abundant life and share that life with others. To participate in the Cosmos. No healing is too small for Jesus.  No problem is too small for divine concern. We might think that the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law is even too small to record in scripture. Still, we can all relate to her need for healing, despite its apparent unimportance in the overall scheme of things. It isn’t cancer, heart disease, or MS, but it matters.

We don’t know all the mechanics of Jesus’ healing, but we have the need for person to person engagement and we have the need for the engagement to be more akin to small groups rather than globalized gatherings. Quantum physics tells us that the universe is energetic and while there is no evidence that Jesus practiced a specific touch-based healing we can assume that the same energy of love found in healing touch also animated Jesus’ healing ministry.  In an interdependent world in which spirit is embodied and the body inspired, we can’t limit the power of healing to change our minds and bodies for the good.   Mind and body are connected and in fact can’t be separated, so that changes in our bodies bring about changes in our minds. Healing is at the heart of the Jesus’ ministry, and the healings described in Mark 1 can be embodied in today’s congregational ministries.

Mark’s description of a day in the life of Jesus ends with the Healer spending a time in prayer.  Action is balanced by contemplation.  Healing power and social activism burst forth from stillness.  Here is the call to spend time in silence to gain energy and direction in our lives. Paul speaks of finding his theological and missional flexibility through his sense of God’s providence in his life. Isaiah speaks of the grandeur of God in contrast to human finitude.  Ironically, we gain a sense of stature by our affirmation and embrace of the grandeur of the universe and its creativity.  We are infinitesimal and hardly noticeable in a universe of 125 billion galaxies, and yet our actions can radiate across the universe and our planet, becoming a tipping point from death to life, ugliness to beauty, and alienation to reconciliation.  The intimate and infinite are connected, giving us perspective and the inspiration to become divine companions in healing the Earth. Isaiah also notes that “God’s understanding is unsearchable.”  The apophatic, without images (negative theology) and the kataphatic, with images (incarnational theology), require one another.  The beauty and the wonder of the universe proclaim the divine. That’s why we need poets as well as scientists and theologians. Historically, the kataphatic has been identified with becoming and movement, while the apophatic has been described in terms of unchanging being; but perhaps what is incarnational is living, moving, and creating.  We need to get beyond the dualism of being and becoming and like the yin-yang symbol see both as necessitated in a divine, human life.  Amen.

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