It’s flu season, and this year it seems like it’s particularly bad. Of course, there’s not much you can do when you have a virus, other than getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of liquids. There are now some anti-viral medications that seem to help too. When we get sick, normally we head to the doctor to be treated. What we’re really seeking is for help in “feeling like ourselves again.” Sometimes, depending on the illness or ailment, it can cost quite a bit to be made whole again.
Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, in the Gospel reading for today, was also sick (Mark 1:29-39). The text says that she lay ill with a fever. So, Simon, Andrew, James, and John tell Jesus about her. Then, Jesus comes to her and heals her of her fever. He didn’t charge her, he didn’t make her wait in a waiting room, he didn’t ask for her insurance card and co-pay, he just healed her. It was of no cost to her.
And, what did she do in response to what Jesus had done in making her whole again? “She began to serve them.” In response to the healing grace that she had received, she served “them;” not just Jesus, but his people as well, for in serving them, she was also serving him. So, look at the flow of events: God acts, and then the recipient of His grace responds.
Then, Jesus heals many others “who were sick or oppressed by demons.” He heals all who are brought to him, freely, without cost to them. It’s interesting that the text says that the sick and oppressed were brought to Jesus. I don’t get the sense that the sick and oppressed came to Jesus of their own power; they were brought. Someone who is really sick has to be taken to the doctor.
And since the sick and oppressed can’t come to Jesus of their own power, Jesus then tells his disciples that they must “go on to the next towns” so that he could preach there as well. And then he goes throughout the region of Galilee, “preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” Jesus is brought to those who are sick and oppressed, healing without cost to them and making them whole.
Physical illness certainly impacts our lives. And that’s not even the only thing we have to deal with, as we see in the Gospel reading. There’s also sin and evil in the world. We have our own sins for which we suffer the consequences in various ways, and then there are the sins of others which intrude into our lives. We have conflict at work, broken families, friends estranged from each other. We can run down the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many we break each day. We lust, lie, cheat, steal, covet, envy, and slander.
All of these things – sickness, decay, and evil – ultimately come from the same source or, rather, the same event. They come from the original Fall of Adam and Eve into sin, which brought decay and death and evil into the world. Their sin marred God’s good creation, and it brought physical decay as well as moral decay. That’s not to say that sickness is God’s punishment; rather, the fact that the world is not as it should be is a symptom of the corruption which Adam and Eve brought into it. We were not meant to decay or die, but their sin brought these things into the world.
Their sin also marred the image in which they were created; they were created in God’s image, but fell from this perfection in their sin. So, we are less than Adam and Eve were when God first created them, because we are their descendants, born into the fallen image of Adam. We are flawed, and at death our souls and bodies are separated; these things were not meant to be. But, Jesus came to make us whole again, to make us “ourselves.”
Notice again the flow of events in the Gospel reading: preaching and then healing. Preaching brings the Word of God to those who are sick – physically or morally – and then they are healed. In the Gospels, this is very physical and immediate; God in the flesh – Jesus – comes to those who are sick and oppressed and immediately heals them. In our own day, we no longer have Jesus walking the earth with us. But, we do still have him here with us. Preaching and the Sacraments gives him – the Word of God – to the hearers so that he may heal them; God’s actions are mediated. And God’s actions are also mediated through doctors in their vocations and medicine which comes through the God-given ingenuity of humanity.
In the case of doctors and medicine, their healing costs money. It can restore our physical health, but cannot stave off death forever. So, God has promised to redeem us from death, and – in fact – he has already defeated death through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is through these means of Christ that God makes us whole.
And this God-given healing is given without cost to you. God does not ask for a payment from you; He doesn’t ask for insurance or a co-pay, because the payment has already been made. Jesus Christ himself has paid for your healing. He gave his very own body and blood for it. He is the only truly, free universal health plan. And you have this benefit card, because it was given to you in your Baptism, when God killed the image of Adam in you and rebirthed you into the image of Christ, who is himself the image of God.
So, you are no longer ruled by sin and death and the devil; you are no longer under their domain. Instead, you live within the domain of God, with Christ as the head of all things. And you, as Christ’s Church, are still bringing the Lord to people so that he may heal them. The Church brings His Word to sinners. The Church baptizes sinners into His family within the waters. The Church brings His body and blood to them as well, in the Lord’s Supper. The Church does what Simon, Andrew, James, and John did in the text today; the Church brings to Jesus “all who [are] sick or oppressed by demons,” and Jesus heals them without cost to them, because he’s already paid the bill.
Now, in Jesus’ day, when he walked the earth, this healing was direct and immediate, as I mentioned. The sick were made well, and the demons were cast out of the oppressed. In our own day, this action is mediated. God acts through His Word of grace – the Gospel in its spoken, written, and Sacramental forms – to heal and cast out. And you don’t necessarily see the effects immediately. But, the Great Physician is healing, nonetheless.
For you have but a partial restoration now. Christ has forgiven you of your sins and gathered you together as His people through Word and Sacrament. However, you still struggle with sin, you still get sick, you still die. But, already in the Church God is looking upon you as you will be.
Baptism has a “now, not yet” character to it. In Baptism, God clothes you with the righteousness of Christ to make you whole again. But, you don’t always feel whole, you still don’t feel quite like yourself. This is why you need to look outward from what you feel to what the Lord says instead, to his objective Word of grace through Christ. Your salvation does not depend upon how you feel. No, instead, your salvation depends on what the Lord says; His Word says that you are saved, freely, without cost to yourself, despite how you may feel. His Word says that He is making you whole again in the resurrection when you will be restored to the image of God.
You may not feel restored and healed, but you are, because Christ says you are. You may not feel that your sins are forgiven, but they are. You may not feel that you will live forever, but you will. You may not feel that God loves you at times, but He does. So, cast your gaze outward on Christ and not inward on yourself, for in Christ you have all these good things. He is the one who heals and restores you and gives you light when everything else seems so dark.
What the Lord began in your Baptism, he nourishes in the Lord’s Supper. He heals you, he joins you with himself and with each other. He brings you out of your frail, sick, sinful bodies into a new body, the body of Christ, His body of people whom He is redeeming and restoring. And, in the Lord’s Supper we experience this restoration as we commune with God, each other, and creation itself.
And so in faith you respond, just as did Simon’s mother-in-law, serving God’s people. You have been Baptized into salvation; you received freely from God and then go out into the world to serve as His instruments of care. Through vocation you serve others, and in doing so, serve God; not to earn your salvation, because you received it freely, but rather in response to the grace you have received.
And this treatment will go on until your deaths, when sin, illness, and oppression will die with you. And then the restoration will be complete on the Last Day when the Lord raises you from your graves and you fully become the people you began to be in your Baptisms; restored, whole, resurrected, perfected people. People who are truly human, having been restored into the image of God.
For that is God’s plan for you, to take what you are now – fallen, sinful, decaying, flawed humans – and make you whole again, no longer under the thumb of sin, decay, and death, but under His care instead. He has already begun this healing process. He started it in your Baptisms, He continues it through Word and Sacrament, and He will complete it on the Last Day when He raises you from your tombs to be with Him for eternity, living with Him and with each other in a fully restored creation. Amen.
(Image: Christ Healing the Mother of Simon Peter, By John Bridges (fl. 1818-1854) – kunstkopie.ch, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5187357 )