Healing and Hunting
Mark 1: 29-39
We are kind of set up for “presto” healings, aren’t we? Jesus walks into the temple and demons start calling his name before he even starts healing and then Jesus says, “Come out of him!” and the man is healed (Mark 1: 25). Presto! New man! Voila! That was in last week’s reading. This week Jesus enters the house, heads for the bedroom of Simon’s mother-in-law, holds her hand, lifts her up, and the fever is gone (v. 31). Presto! Ta-da! Spoiler for next week: a leper says, “If you choose you can make me clean” and Jesus reaches out his hand and says, “I do choose. Be made clean!” (vv. 40-41). Presto!
Of course Jesus never says Presto or Open Sesame or anything like that. He mostly says things like “Your faith has made you well,” “Go and sin no more,” or “Be made clean.” But reading these stories at such a remove, they seem easy, don’t they? They seem uncomplicated, quick, maybe even magical. Expelliarmus!
What about when it’s complicated? What’s it like when the healings take longer? What about the people who need to be healed of something less obvious than demon possession or being in bed with a fever? Like a broken heart or jealousy or a mean spirit? I wonder what those healings would look like.
I guess we do have the story of the rich young man, who you could say needs to be healed of his greed or idolatry of money (Mark 10: 17-22). I mention this story because I always wonder what happens to him after he walks away. Jesus gives him the answers he is looking for, but the man really wanted easier answers. He isn’t ready yet to walk away from his money and power and things to follow Jesus. Part of what I love about that story is that Jesus allows the man to walk away. Jesus doesn’t force him to follow, he just holds the door open and lets the man decide.
So part of me wonders if that’s the whole story. Maybe that was the moment a seed was planted. Maybe it took 5 months or 5 years or 5 decades and then the rich man finally got to the place where he could walk toward God instead. Let’s just say that’s so. Well, I would call that a healing. A pretty monumental healing. And I suspect that many of us in need of healing are in need healing like this – long, slow, coming-around-to-it-over-time healing. Healing that might start with a conversation or a moment or a hard question and then finally comes to take over and make us whole some time down the road.
I love reading these stories – the Presto! healings. They are quick and direct and hopeful and it’s easy to see the whole story in a few paragraphs. It’s easy to see how something awful might actually be turned around into wholeness and new life. But sometimes it’s hard to figure out how they apply to the places where we are in need of healing. If the “formula” is Jesus + sick person + pithy statement = (presto!) you’re healed, then should we stop expecting healing since Jesus is not walking on earth in a body like he was back then? Are we supposed to be memorizing a formula?
Maybe that’s why the disciples go hunting for Jesus. After a busy time of multiple healings, Jesus seeks out some alone time to pray. I doubt he is there very long before the disciples catch up and try to bring him back to town. Actually, they “hunt” for him, with all the danger and violence that word implies. It’s not a search party for a lost Jesus, it’s a posse to wrangle him and get him back to healing folks, where he belongs. And it seems that’s what the disciples intend to do – hog tie him and bring him right back to Capernaum. When Jesus was in town healing, Mark tells us “the whole city was gathered around the door” (v. 33). You can imagine the disciples, who left their nets right there on the lakeshore and took off after Jesus. You can imagine them thinking, We’ve finally caught some people! Just like Jesus said we would. Word is spreading, people are getting it, and Lord knows there are more people who need healing. This is clearly the headquarters of our ministry – let them come to us now!
But Jesus doesn’t go back to town with them. What happens? He says We need to keep moving. We need to go out to the other towns nearby and proclaim the good news there, too, because that’s why I’m here (v. 38). Jesus isn’t a one trick pony or a man with a good formula. Jesus doesn’t say Presto. He isn’t interested in going back to the crowd he’s already won over, to perform his top 10 healings over and over again, like a sad, scriptural Las Vegas show. He wants to spread the message far and wide that the kingdom of God has come near. You can live in the grip of life rather than the grip of death. You can be made whole.
Maybe this is part of what it looks like when the healing is complicated and takes longer than a few minutes. Maybe it looks like a group of fishermen and tax collectors and prostitutes and hometown boys and people they find along the way, traveling together to the next place with the love and grace and power of God in their midst. Maybe it looks like this crazy imperfect church (or Wesley Foundation), reaching out when we know there are no magic incantations, when the best thing we can do is be silent while we reach out to include someone who has heard all the wrong words before.
Maybe there are no “presto” healings after all. Maybe even the briefest encounter makes countless ripples. Maybe the physical healings are only the tip of the iceberg – the part we can see above the surface, but there is so much more hidden healing underneath.
Don’t be impatient. Don’t worry too much about formulas. Don’t worry about the folks back in town waiting for the 8 o’clock magic show. Be ready to ask for what you need to be made whole. Be ready for what God gives you when you ask. Be ready for wholeness to transform your life, so you hardly recognize it and yet you know it as if it’s always been yours.
Thanks be to God!
© 2012 Deborah E. Lewis