Mark 1: 29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and
Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 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.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. 36 And Simon and his companions hunted for
him. 37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for
you.” 38 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.” 39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Imagine with me a world where there is a social order that preferences and gives power to people that are considered healthy or well, and marginalizes and casts aside those who are considered sick or unhealthy. In this same society you won’t be surprised to hear that it isn’t just those who have the common cold, but it’s those that are considered disabled, labeled handicapped, called old and elderly, those people that are forgotten and left without help. Those who are young, called fit or athletic, those who fit the decided level of intelligence, those with college degrees and master’s degrees, those people make up the highest goods of this society, they are the ones that are put in front of cameras in order to show the “others” that they should be like them. In this same world it isn’t just that those who are young, healthy, and intelligent that are portrayed as the best of the world, but they are actually given better jobs, they are paid higher wages, they are able to get around better because they don’t depend on things like hand rails, ramps, or seeing eye dogs to simply walk into a building. In fact, the entire world that
the supposed greatest people live in is actually built for them so that they can succeed and flourish. But not only is it built with them in mind, it is built in such a way that they can live the better parts of their lives without ever seriously acknowledging that those other people even exist. Those “others” are placed outside of the community in group homes, hospitals, and sometimes they must use separate entrances away from everyone else, they are forgotten.
If you’ve been imagining with me so far, I bet you’ve realized that this world we’re talking about may not be too far off from the world and society we’re living in now. I’m sure some of you know all too well the ways that some people are cast out of society based on things that are completely out of their hands, things like age and ability. And I must admit that I don’t even necessarily know or understand this as well as many of you. I am young, white, I’m not disabled, I have one degree and I’m about to get another, and while I may not be just super athletic as you can see I am still at least relatively healthy. As I describe the world we live in now I am very aware that I am of those well off people that I mentioned. And yet, though I occupy that space of power that I’m talking about, I believe that Jesus in the passage today offers his own take on a world that gives power to those who are healthy and well, and marginalizes those who aren’t.
As Jesus and his disciples enter the home of Simon and Andrew, he learns that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. We don’t know how long she’s been sick, what exactly is going on with her, if this sickness is debilitating her life, or if it’s something that’s fairly minor. But Jesus, regardless of any of these things, takes her hand, and her fever is gone. I think there’s something important about the physical touch that Jesus uses, something to hold on to that he’s entered her home, a generally private space, and physically touching her hand her fever is gone. Back in 2010 there was a study about physical touch done, and you’re not going to believe this, in NBA—the national basketball association. And what the researchers were wondering was what makes some teams better than others, not just wins and losses, but better teammates overall. They were able to determine that the single most important thing that determined how well a team was going to do that season, was how much they physically touched each other. High fives, back pats, hugs, handshakes, and everything else. The team that did these things the most were more likely than not to win and play better as a team. The two teams that touched each other most were the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics, which were the two teams that made the finals.
So there’s something very special and important about actual physical touch, as we reach into other people’s lives, as we become embodied with them in their struggle, being wholly with them, something special happens.
Verse 32 then says that at sunset, which would be at the end of the Sabbath, all those who were sick or possessed were brought to Jesus in order to be healed. Not only were all of them brought, but it says the whole city was there gathered around the door. Now, this is a hyperbole. Obviously not every single person in the city was there, but the writer is showing the vast number of people who were there were in need of healing because they were suffering some ailment. That everyone in the town was in need of some kind of healing further shows that Jesus’ primary place in which he did his ministry was with those who were economically poor, sick, and oppressed. as I said earlier, if everyone who was poor, sick, and experiencing disability was also oppressed and disenfranchised then we are talking about a town that as a whole has a been cast aside and forgotten by those with power and authority, and yet that is where we find Jesus.
A further example of the kind of place that Jesus primarily did his ministry is found just a few verses later in Mark when a man’s friends were so poor, so desperate for their friend to be healed that they literally dug through a roof so that he could get in to see Jesus. Those who have power in their society do not give the help they could, so the people are forced to go to extreme measures for their healthcare needs. The people Mark is talking about are left in such a position that they can’t work, participate in the world, or be fully themselves. Here’s an important distinction that we need to make, many of these people I imagine do not just have a virus, they are experiencing disability, they are elderly, they are unable to participate in the world through no fault of their own, and Jesus provides a way for them to do that. Jesus’ healing is symbolic of the ways in which he has come to completely
disrupt and subvert the established social order of those who are healthy and those who are considered not healthy.
Now stay with me here, I don’t mean to say that these things didn’t happen. There are all sorts of things that actually did happen but that symbolize something much bigger. 500 years ago, Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door, but we know that that really symbolized the beginning of something much bigger—the reformation. 40 years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. kneeled and prayed in front of attack dogs and water cannons, but we know that his work symbolized so much more than that one act. Here again, Jesus heals the bodily illness of those that he meets in this poor and forgotten town, but it symbolized so much more. Jesus’ healing symbolizes that he came to overturn and subvert those powers and principalities that seek to kill and destroy. He came to bring justice and free the oppressed living in Palestine and around the world. The healings of Jesus were not powerful because they challenged to laws of nature, they were powerful because they challenged the very structures of social existence.
Imagine with me that society from earlier again. Imagine that those who were considered unhealthy, or old, or disabled, all of the sudden found that the world had been restructured so that they are able to be fully themselves and fully participate in the world and as whole human beings that are loved and cherished by God and those around them. That is what Jesus is doing when he comes and heals all those who are in this town.
However, Jesus does not stay there. Mark goes on to say that Jesus went out to the deserted place and prayed. There’s a contrast of the business of the home where Jesus is healing, and quiet of the desert where he is alone. The disciples come and find him, telling him that they must go back so that he can continue healing everyone, but Jesus says no. They must keep moving.
When I read this my first thought is to say “No, Jesus, Stay! You must stay and heal everyone else!” But it’s here that Jesus shows us again that the point is not the physical healing. This convicts us in the way that we think about disability and sickness. We look at a person who uses a wheelchair and we think “Oh if only they would be healed so they can really live their lives.” Or we see the person who has an intellectual disability and we say “Oh God if you would just heal them, then they could be fully human.” And I hope you’re hearing that this kind of thinking is wrong. Jesus is showing that the point is not that these people should be healed. The point is not that those who are experiencing disability or those who are considered unhealthy should be made into those that we think are well and ideal. The point is not that those who are elderly should be made into those who are young. Jesus’ point is that those people are good, they are whole, they are beloved just as they are, and we
must rearrange our world so that they can fully participate in it, as they are, being fully who they are. If you think about it, those who use wheelchairs are only considered disabled because there aren’t enough ramps or elevators in the world. Imagine if the entire world were made up of ramps not stairs, we might say that a wheel chair is actually the most efficient way to get around!
Jesus doesn’t stay in the town and continue to heal people. He moves on, continuing to turn the established social order on its head so that the last become first, those who are poor become rich, and those who are incarcerated are set free. When those who have the power and economic resources to help those who are in need, but choose instead to look the other way, Jesus comes and turns everything upside down. God touches the world, God becomes embodied with us through Jesus, overthrowing the social orders that humanity had set up so that
we might work to rearrange those social orders too.
I know that there are many of us here who are experiencing disability, we as a church are growing older and wondering what will happen. It is not lost on me that some of you may see yourselves in the society who is being forgotten and forced out of the picture. Let us together work to empower the humanity in each of us and reject those voices of society that tell us who is ideal and who is unfortunate. Who is Good and who is a problem. Let us together establish a community, a church, that recognizes the inherent worth of all of our members not despite their ailments, but because of them. Let us take each other by the hand and lift each other up so that we may serve together and project a world where all are welcome. Where all are encouraged to fully be themselves and be who God created them to be. Amen.
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