Jesus has just left the synagogue after teaching the people there as one with authority & after curing a man possessed with an unclean spirit. He enters the home of Simon Peter & Andrew, encountering Peter's mother-in-law, who is sick with a terrible fever. This simple description from Mark’s Gospel of how Jesus heals Peter's mother-in-law not only gives us insight into Jesus' ministry & his proclamation of God’s kingdom, but it tells us a great deal about how we are a part of Jesus' ministry as his followers, how living out the values of our faith can bring wholeness and healing not only to ourselves, but to others.
Think of this incident of healing Peter’s mother-in-law. You know, when we get sick here in modern America, we usually go to the doctor or to a hospital if it is a serious illness, or we get a prescription of medicine to help us get better. Yet, when I worked as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador for 3 years, far from a hospital and modern medicine, we often turned to a curandero for help, a traditional folk healer who often used physical touch, herbs, & other natural remedies to cure people from both physical & spiritual ailments. I remember one weekend I was visiting a small village deep in the jungle when I came down with a terrible fever. I felt like I was on fire. The family I was staying with called the curandero, the village's folk healer, who gave me a boiling hot herbal mixture to drink. He then prayed over me and wrapped me up in wool blankets in order for me to sweat out the fever during night. When I awoke the next morning, I was full of energy; the fever was just a distant memory.
The people of ancient Israel who heard this Gospel story would have been very familiar with the tradition of the folk healers that was prevalent in their society, just like the folk healers I encountered in Latin America. The poor in ancient Israel had easy access to such healers, resorting to them frequently. These folk healers often laid their hands on the sick people, using touch as an important component of the healing process. The ancient Jewish people saw these folk healers as brokers of the gift of healing from God.
In this particular healing story of Jesus and the other healing stories told in the Gospels, Jesus does more than cure people from physical disease. When we are physically ill, it involves a loss of meaning in one's life either from a physical impairment or from the loss of function in life. We can see that the fever that debilitated Peter's mother-in-law kept her from fulfilling her role as the mother of the household. When Jesus heals her of her fever, she rises at once to serve her family and her visitors.
Well, just what implications does Jesus' healing of Peter's mother-in-law have for all of us living in Mississippi in the 21st century, in a place & time so different from ancient Israel? Just as Jesus, the healer, restores meaning to the life of Peter's mother-in-law, he gives meaning to our lives, he heals us from our infirmities, he leads us away from those things that keep us from God. Even beyond this, today's Gospel message challenges us to believe that we have the power to be a healing community of Jesus' followers, to bring the love of Christ to both our lives and the lives of those we interact with wherever we are.
Jesus was present in incarnate form in ancient Israel, proclaiming the kingdom of God and touching the lives of the people there in so many ways. We need to realize that Jesus is still incarnate in our world today in curing the sick, in preaching the Good News, and in expelling demons from our lives. Jesus does this through you and me, through the members of his Church who are now the Body of Christ present here on earth. If we, as a Church, truly live no longer for ourselves, but for Jesus and his people, then Jesus who lives in us will be free to continue his mission of healing & salvation to all the world.
In the midst of our modern lives, our faith still calls us to Jesus, to the Good News of new life in him. St Teresa of Avila lived way back in the 16th century. She is considered one of the greatest mystics who ever lived. Yet, a prayer that she wrote is very rooted in our earthly presence, telling us how we can embody Christ, as Christ lives in us in order to help us to change the world and change the lives of others: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands but yours, no feet by yours. Yours are his eyes through which Christ's compassion must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which he is to bless us now.” It is important for us to realize that as we do not live through our own power, we also do not bring healing or love to the world through our own power. We bring love, compassion, and healing to others through Christ living in us, through the power of the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In Mark's portrait of Jesus in today's Gospel, we are given a reflection of what we are called to be, of the love and healing we are to bring to the world. Like Jesus, the integrity in which we live out our Christian faith in our daily lives should give witness to the faith we profess. It will give hope & light not only to own our lives, but to the world.