Text: Mark 1:21-46 (Jesus heals many people)
Jesus heals. This is both a summary of the Gospel reading we just heard and a hope that many of us have when we are suffering. Today I reflect on what the phrase “Jesus heals” might mean.
Unlike the people mentioned in today’s Gospel reading – a person possessed by an evil spirit, Simon’s mother-in-law who is sick with a fever, and someone with leprosy — we don’t have Jesus in the flesh to heal us. Nevertheless, we still proclaim that Jesus heals.
In the first half of Chapter One of Mark, Jesus announces the Reign of God. In the second half of the chapter, which we heard today, Jesus teaches and heals. A traditional way to view Jesus’ miraculous healing is as proof of his ability to lead us to the kingdom. We also expect that the kingdom of God will be one in which our physical, emotional, and social ills will be healed.
In God’s kingdom, leprosy will be a thing of the past. Mother-in-laws won’t die of a fever before their time. Social evils like poverty, loneliness, and war will be a distant memory.
But how do we get to the kingdom; and can we access God’s healing even as we remain subjects of the earthly kingdoms into which we have been born?
I believe that spiritual healing occurs on the journey to God’s reign. By walking a spiritual path, by engaging in ministries of outreach and teaching, and by joining with others in struggles for justice and love, we open ourselves to healing.
The healing we receive on paths of faith, hope and love is not miraculous. All of life can strike us as a miracle, including the ability of our immune systems to heal infection, destroy tumours, and control inflammation. When we are injured, sick, or troubled, we can usually rely on the power of our bodies and minds to be healed.
But regardless of how well or poorly we fare with the various ailments that afflict our bodies and minds, we remain mortal. This is the human condition.
Our trust in God does not require us to believe in divine interventions more miraculous than natural repair mechanisms.
What trust in God gives us, I believe, is courage to engage in journeys of love with family members and fellow pilgrims. These journeys connect us to reality with all its blessings and wounds.
Yesterday, I chatted with Evelyn Day about the goal of Truth and Reconciliation between non-native and native Canadians. Evelyn, Dave Elliot, and I were at Mill Woods Library to staff a table for the church at a Resource Fair. Evelyn and I talked about the ancestral shame some non-natives feel when we learn about the history of colonialism and how it devastated First Nations people; and about the shame some native people feel about the (understandable) inability of their ancestors to prevent their children from being removed to residential schools.
This shame can prevent us from engaging in the work of truth and reconciliation. But if we accept the grace to feel it and move to other feelings that lie beneath it, we might find ourselves able think and act more freely.
All of us, both native and non-native, are negatively impacted by the wounds of the past. These wounds are not distributed evenly, of course. But all of us are affected.
The good news is that both native and non-native Canadians can be freed and healed by the work of truth and reconciliation. The goal is not an easy one, and we may never fully achieve it. But by taking up the struggle in our hearts, minds, and actions, we open ourselves to ways of being that are less aggressive and more caring.
One example is the sacred circle that is part of many First Nation traditions. In such circles, we are encouraged to listen more deeply and empowered to speak more freely. In listening and sharing, we might express some of our shame and grief and touch greater compassion and care with all with whom we share the journey.
Even though the goal of truth and reconciliation is one that might not be fully achieved, walking towards it can help us grow in love and gain new insights and friends with whom healing can flow.
Similar dynamics are at play in other spiritual and social movements, I believe. The second one I will mention today is the struggle for peace.
This past week, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved their symbolic Doomsday Clock ahead by 30 seconds to two minutes to midnight. This group of scientists first created their metaphorical Clock in 1947 to warn humanity of the danger of nuclear war. This is only the second time their clock has been this close to midnight. The first time was in 1953 after the USA and the Soviet Union began testing the first hydrogen bombs.
If we ever needed to find a symbol of the burden of past wounds, the existence of nuclear weapons would do. The fact that we live under the shadow of civilization’s destruction can lead us to feel shame and helplessness.
Nevertheless, many people struggle for peace and disarmament. The early 1960s was a moment of peak activity to Ban the Bomb, perhaps because of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
In the early 1980s as a recent graduate, I got involved in another wave of activism against nuclear weapons. In 1982 and 1983, I went to large demonstrations in Toronto and New York against the Cruise Missile and took training in civil disobedience from the Alliance of Non-Violent Action. Our demonstrations and actions didn’t stop the deployment of more missiles. But I don’t regret being part of the movement.
I met people there whom I loved, and I was moved by the Spirit that flowed through our actions. The movement didn’t achieve its goals, but the participants grew in awareness and love. We refined our sense of what was sacred and we regained some of the self-respect that living in the shadow of nuclear war can destroy. By accepting the courage of the Spirit of those times to protest nuclear weapons, we strengthened our hearts and built more loving communities.
Perhaps that was so, you may say. But where does Jesus fit in social movements for reconciliation or peace? Some people who join them bring explicit Christian teachings with them, while others do not.
I see the Spirit of Jesus even when it is not explicit because of the central act of Jesus in the gospels. This is the journey he undertakes with his friends from Galilee to Jerusalem, a journey that occupies the second half of the Gospel of Mark, and one that we retrace during Lent in the seven weeks before Easter.
Jesus undertakes the journey to Jerusalem without any illusions of worldly success. Nevertheless, he calls his friends to take up their cross and accompany him to his fate. It is a journey that is both doomed to failure and graced with eternal success. The Jesus movement doesn’t unseat either the religious elite or the imperial rulers it confronts. But it heals its participants, I think. By walking the path with others, they move from loneliness to community; from shame to respect; and from fear to faith. Just by participating in the journey, they are healed.
Happily for us, the journey continues.
Every time we take a leap of faith to create a family, a church or a social movement, we accept God’s grace to be healed right here and now.
No family is without dysfunction. No church avoids disappointment. No social movement completely achieves its goals of peace with justice. But by joining the movement, we align ourselves with sacred values of compassion and love. We see Christ in the faces of family members and fellow pilgrims. We open ourselves to healing. We enter God’s eternal kingdom.
Where can we find Jesus’ healing powers today? On pathways to peace and justice while walking with our brothers and sisters.
Thanks be to God.