The Rev. Kirsten Snow Spalding preacher and presider
In today’s Gospel we see Jesus healing. Usually, when I focus on the healing miracles, I think about Jesus’ power, and the revelation of Jesus’ identity in the manifestation of his healing works.
But this week, I found myself thinking about the people who came to Jesus for healing. Maybe I was identifying with the sick people in the story because this week I suffered an injury and I had to take a sick day and lie in bed. I hurt my back, working out at the gym with my 15 year old. I was in pain last Sunday, but the pain got worse and worse and on Tuesday morning, I couldn’t get up. My husband lifted me up, and a friend took me to my doctor. My wonderful doctor said (in a very dry way), “Well, there’s nothing I can do for you except pain medications. Your back will heal. All I can be is empathetic.” After a day in bed, I was in less pain, and I was able to go about my work on Wednesday.
So, as I waited for the doctor at Kaiser in Oakland, I thought about the people waiting for Jesus. As I lay there in bed at home, I thought about Simon’s mother in law.
What does this Gospel passage tell us about God’s way of healing? How does God work when we are sick, in pain, troubled in mind or spirit, or when we see people around us who are hurting, in need of healing? And what about communities that are in need of healing—families, schools, neighborhoods, or congregations?
First, this Gospel story tells us something about healing in the context of family. Jesus didn’t say to Simon and Andrew, “bring that woman to me at the synagogue. “ No, he goes to her. And he doesn’t magically discern that she needs healing, her son-in-law, Simon brings Jesus to her. I imagine this scene with the sons and daughters around her, worrying about her fever, they bring Jesus in because they believe that he will help. And he does.
I hear in this message that God’s healing work is not done to one person alone. It requires that friends or family members identify the need for healing and take the step of helping the person get the healing they need.
When I was working as a chaplain in the hospital, I remember that the nurses and doctors always asked the patients about their support networks. When I spent time with people, I would ask about who was waiting for them to come home from the hospital. Sometimes, I would hear about people who were estranged from family members, or people who felt that they were all alone. Sometimes people would tell me about their prayer group at home. I remember one heart patient who showed me his website, Caring Bridge—a social media website that allowed a circle of close friends and people more distant connections to pray together on line for him.
My role as a chaplain was sometimes to help people see that they had people who cared about them, simply to reinforce that the person was not alone as they faced their illness.
The second thing that I notice about the story is that Simon’s mother-in-law doesn’t stay in bed giving thanks to Jesus after she’s been cured of her fever. Instead, she gets up and begins to serve them—I imagine her getting out of bed and making Jesus a meal, or finding him a comfortable place to sit or sleep. But I think she’s not just serving Jesus, she’s serving Simon and Andrew and James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
And this seems to me to be another part of God’s healing work. God’s healing work isn’t a one way gift. God heals and people receive healing, but in response to this healing, God’s people are called to work alongside God. There is a circle of caring that begins with one person who has an experience of being cared for. They respond by caring for others. When I think about the people I know who are healthiest in body and mind, they are also the people who care the most about others and the people who are most willing to do for another. There is something about serving that is healing for the person who is doing the healing, and again there is a sense of healing in community—healing that begins in one person and then extends out into the family or in the community.
I think about how sometimes I with a group of people, and it seems that everyone is having a hard time. Many people in one group are sick, or are struggling with money, or are in conflicts. And then I find another group of people and it seems that all of them are thriving—their children are happy, their friends are aging gracefully, they don’t have much money, but they have enough to live comfortably. When I am in a “healthy” group, I find that there is a focus on service—from a healed community there is energy to go out and heal.
In the next verse of the Gospel story, Simon, Andrew, John and James, after seeing how Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law, went out and told the story. They brought all the others who needed healing to Jesus. I imagine that the community is there to support the healing and to celebrate it. But in addition to illustrating the need for healing in community, in this part of the story we have another response to healing work. The brothers’ response to their mother-in-law’s healing is to go out and spread the word. This response comes from a sense of bounty. Simon and Andrew, John and James know that Jesus has healing enough for everyone. They don’t say, well, our family got what she needed, now I’m done—no instead they go out and spread the word. I imagine them going from door to door, meeting people in the street, seeing friends at the Farmer’s market or at the kids’ soccer game. Each time they meet someone, they say, “You should know about this amazing thing that has happened. Jesus came and rid my mother in law of fever. If you know of anyone who needs healing, bring them over. He can heal you too.” And pretty soon, a big crowd has gathered.
What would that look like here? Maybe you might meet a friend at the farmer’s market or at the soccer game and say, “You know, we’ve been doing such good work at Nativity. We’ve been collecting soup for the food bank; we joined with the other congregations around Marin for the MLK Day environmental project; we blessed our space together last Sunday. You should come over and see what we’re doing.” Our elders might say to another elder that they meet at the doctor’s office or at the senior center—yes, I’m feeling some aches and pains, but I know I’m not alone. I have a great community of friends who care about me at Church. You should come and join us.
Then, back to our Gospel story, after his day of healing, in the wee hours of the morning, Jesus goes out to a deserted place to pray. After his work, he seeks solitude and in that solitude he prays to God. Even Jesus, the healer, needs support and he finds that support in his prayers to God. I have a friend who teaches at the School for Deacon’s and she talks about caregiver fatigue. It is sometimes exhausting to be the one who is doing the healing. But in the quiet, with God, there is renewal. The past couple weeks since I’ve started coming to the Thursday morning Eucharist, I’ve been noticing how in that quiet little service, I find new energy. The work that I still have to do on Thursday, Friday and Saturday is more focused, and I am more joyful because I’ve been to this prayer group. When my family takes a few minutes each evening to pray together—to give thanks, to ask for what we need, to voice the concerns of the world—in those moments, we are renewed. Whatever has hurt us, or exhausted us over the course of the day, we are somehow able to put it aside after we’ve prayed together.
Jeannette Hill and I attended a workshop yesterday on Lay Pastoral Caregiving. The workshop leader said, make sure you go into your caregiving meetings prayed up. Fill yourself with prayer before you go to give to someone else.
As we prepare for Lent, maybe this is a part of the story that will suggest that it might be time to try a new Lenten prayer practice. Join us on Thursday mornings, or begin to pray the Daily office, try out Evening Prayer with your family, or pray Compline. Join us for the Stations of the Cross on Wednesday nights. Or consider simply taking ten deep breaths with your needs, your hopes, your thanksgivings in mind. Find a moment to go off to a deserted place and find renewal.
And then finally, as the Gospel passage concludes, the brothers go out to find Jesus, and Jesus tells them that they can go on to the next town now, that he will continue proclaiming the message; . . . “for that is what I came out to do.” So at the end of the story, Jesus says, it’s not just about physical healing, it’s about proclaiming the message of God.
And we can see that we leave here, feeling renewed, encouraged, supported, and loved by God. When we get physical relief from our pains, or our sicknesses because of good care by our doctors and other medical professionals. When we have a moment of real healing or reconciliation with a family member—this is God’s healing work in us. But it is up to us to name it as God’s work. We can proclaim the message, offering hope to people who know God’s love, healing those among us who need it most.