“Touch me. Heal me through and through” – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

“Touch me. Heal me through and through” – 5th Sunday after the Epiphany

“Jesus entered the house of Simon where his mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. Jesus came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she got up and she began to serve them.” Mark 1:29-31

Jesus touched the mother-in-law’s hand. Jesus’ touch healed the mother-in-law. The mother-in-law got up and served them.

Jesus touched, Jesus healed, and the recipient of the healing got up to serve, I imagine not as before, but so as to share and live out of the healing and the wholeness which she had received from Jesus. She had been made into something new.

Jesus touches us. Jesus heals us. We get up and serve Jesus, sharing the healing and wholeness we have received from Jesus with our world. This is one of the deepest cycles of faithful living, shown to us by Jesus in the texts.

It’s very clear, especially in the gospel of Mark, that healing is central to Jesus’ ministry. His first act of public ministry is the exorcism of the unclean spirit residing in someone in the synagogue – Jesus healing the division within the person that evil has created. His second act of public ministry is a healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, both a physical cure, as the fever left her, and a healing in heart, mind, and soul, which showed up in her desire to immediately serve.

Jesus touches us. Jesus heals us. We get up and serve Jesus.

There are so many ways Jesus touches our hearts and heals us. Some of the ways are directly from Jesus – in our deepest moments of prayer and in the receiving of the Eucharist, we feel the touch of Jesus and we are changed. Some of the ways are directly from others – for isn’t it true, that when someone else shows us kindness through a smile or a touch of the hand or a random act of kindness by a complete stranger, our hearts are turned toward showing others kindness. Somehow, we can perceive Jesus’ kindness within their actions. Isn’t it true, when people reach out to us in our time of need, that gratitude and generosity seem to organically and spontaneously blossom within us. The reaching out of others into our hearts is Jesus touching us. For isn’t it true that, when people show us love, our hearts become more loving. We are touched by people’s kindness, generosity, and compassion, all of which is of Jesus, and we are healed, for we now have a different heart, one which is beginning to overflow with all that is of Jesus. This means that some place within us has been healed, some cracks have been filled, some desires met, some longing fulfilled. Our desire to share this kindness, generosity and compassion is our act of getting up and serving Jesus. It happens by grace and it is the way our world becomes healed.

Sometimes we don’t imagine that we need any healing. We think we’re complete or full or “together”. But the fact that Jesus went off into a deserted place after one intense day of healing tells us that he and we live in a place of needing to being restored and made whole. Life can be draining, can be overwhelming, can fill us with distractions and demons. Our lives, like Jesus’, can feel hordes of people are hunting us down, if you, like many, get hundreds of emails a day which seem to require your immediate attention.  After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus was so clear of his identity and connection with God. He heard the words of God, “You are my beloved”, but after a long day of healing which began in the synagogue, continued in a private home, and then moved out onto the threshold of the community, he needed to come back, touch into God again, and be restored – to be made whole again, given the energy, for his next acts of ministry. This cycle of returning to be fed, which we do on a daily basis if you engage in daily prayer, especially contemplative prayer or meditation, or on a weekly basis as we come to worship as a community, is taught to us by Jesus. We all need to be restored, forgiven, loved, and healed, so we can continue the life Jesus calls us into.

When I was in the discernment process regarding ordained ministry as a priest, my spiritual mentor strongly encouraged me to create a concise statement of why I felt called to be a priest. It was excruciating and deep spiritual work to uncover a place of clarity about what I believed priesthood was all about and why I felt called to it. Here’s what I ended up with: I feel called to bring God’s love to God’s people through caring and pastoral relationships; I feel called to bring God’s Word to God’s people through teaching, preaching, nurturing and forming people in their faith; and lastly, I feel called to bring God’s healing to God’s people through the sacraments. Somehow, I understood the sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist contained and set free God’s healing, offered to God’s people. I am certain I didn’t know why I thought that or how that happened or had any theology to put around it as I might now. But I knew it to be true. I would speak of it now that the sacraments, which are the outward expression of inward grace, to be the places where Jesus touches our hearts, always and forever. Jesus touches our hearts in many ways and through many people, but here, in baptism and the Eucharist, we are certain of the grace of Jesus touching our hearts, and if our hearts are touched by God, we are changed, and if we are changed by our encounter with the divine, then it is always toward healing, restoration, reconciliation, wholeness, for that’s what God is all about – bringing us back to our original state of goodness. I think this is why when I put the bread in your hands, I touch your hands and abide there for a moment. Not because I think I am providing Jesus’ healing touch, but because as your priest, I am re-presenting Jesus to you, and if I touch your hand, perhaps you will feel Jesus touching your hand, and you will be healed.

I understand my role as your priest to bring God’s healing to you, the people of God, through the sacraments. And I also understand your role, your vocation, everyone’s vocation, as bringing the God’s healing to God’s people, in whatever part or role of life God has called you into.

Now, the interesting thing to me in this story to me is that when the breathless disciples finally find Jesus in the deserted place, they implore him to return to Capernaum, since there is now a whole other crowd of people clamoring to be healed. And Jesus doesn’t go back. He moves them forward into others areas of Galilee. When I was praying with this text, I found I had a great deal of sympathy for and connection to this second group of people wanting to be healed. I was imagining who they may have been. Maybe they were the ones less connected to the community, whom no one bothered to tell Jesus was among them and healing the multitudes who showed up on the doorstep of Peter’s mother-in-law’s home. Maybe they were the less able-bodied, who couldn’t get there in a rush, who got pushed to the side by the more-able bodied, who were cast away. Maybe they were the ones who needed more sleep and had gone to bed before they heard the crowd gathering. Or maybe they were the most righteous, the ones, who although sundown had settled upon the town and the restrictions were lessened, spent the night continuing Shabbat in prayer. I wonder how they felt, when Jesus didn’t come back for them. Perhaps neglected. Perhaps denied. Perhaps cast away from the healing grace of Jesus. He could have come back. But he chose not to. I imagine all of us have had times when we’ve felt rejected, not chosen, not cared enough about for someone to turn around and save us.

With Jesus’ act of not returning to Capernaum, he left behind the potential in that town for real division. It could have turned into a town of those who were touched by Jesus, and those who were not; those who were healed by Jesus, and those who were not; those who had, those who had not. It was up to the community to decide what to do. He hadn’t left them instructions. He hadn’t explicitly empowered those healed to heal others. Somehow, he trusted that those who were healed, like Peter’s mother-in-law would get up and serve, as someone touched and healed by Jesus, forgiven, healed, restored, and overflowing with the grace of Jesus, so that others would be healed. Because of their healing, not just physical cures, but spiritual healing, their hearts had been changed, and Jesus somehow trusted that this would make a difference, they would now bring Jesus’ touch and healing to those in need.

That’s our call too. Each time we have been touched by Jesus, each time we have been healed by Jesus, we are called, not to wait until we’ve been affirmed or empowered or given permission to heal, but to take the grace and extend it to whomever God puts in our paths.

There’s a part of me that wonders why Jesus didn’t turn around and go back to Capernaum and heal the rest of the crowd, why Jesus didn’t go through all the world and heal everyone? Wouldn’t our lives now be better if there had been a moment in time, in Jesus’ time, when all was made well? I was pondering this rather deep question while I was sitting in the chapel at Holy Cross Monastery this week, being drawn to the image of Jesus behind their altar, the large icon in the shape of the cross, with Jesus hanging on it. I looked at Jesus’ expression for a long time and saw kindness, and a reaching out to people in need, and love – and I realized – “Oh, Jesus did heal everyone. That’s the purpose of the cross, his death and his resurrection.” We share in the touch and healing of Jesus in many ways, through and among others, but I believe most deeply in the receiving of the Eucharist. The last morning that I was at the monastery and as I came forward to receive the body and blood of Christ, as I stretched out my hand, words formed in my heart. God gave me the deep prayer, “Touch me, and heal me through and through.” I offer that prayer to you, I invite you to try that prayer on your heart to see if it fits – asking Jesus as you take your pilgrimage to the altar today, or as you approach the healing ministers during the Eucharist today, and allow Jesus to touch you, heal you, so you can leave, as our post-communion prayer will affirm: sent forth a people forgiven, healed, renewed; that we may proclaim your love to the world and continue in the risen life of Christ our Savior.

Jesus touches us. Jesus heals. And we get up and serve from that place of wholeness in the name of the One whose grace heals the world. Amen.

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