5th Sunday after Epiphany _ Mark 1:29-39 February 4, 2018
In the 1st Century world of Jesus, sick people only had a few options.
The first thing they could do was try a folk remedy.
These varied from sensible potions and poultices to downright dangerous “fixes.”
The second thing a sick person could do was to pay for a physician to see them.
This was costly and therefore only accessible to the privileged, but was not much more effective than the folk remedies.
Another option for sick people in Jesus’ world was one or many religious healing practices.
Every ancient religion had extensive teachings on healing, and most of it cost money.
With these limited and ineffective options, sickness in the ancient world changed a person’s identity.
Sick people would stand out in a village.
They were often visibly scarred or marked.
Lepers were required to announce their coming by shouting or ringing bells.
Most sick people became beggars, or wholly dependent on their family members for food and shelter.
Being labeled a sick person led to very low status in society.
The identity of a sick person in Jesus’ day also carried with it the stigma of God’s judgment.
In this society, most illnesses were linked to some sin or indiscretion, rather than a scientific cause.
The sick person in our Gospel reading is Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was bedridden with a fever.
In our current day and age, the common cure would be a couple aspirin and some rest.
A fever in those times could be fatal.
The gospel writer doesn’t record Jesus saying anything.
We are simply told, “He took her by the hand and the fever left her”.
I must confess I am drawn to that simple statement: “He took her hand and the fever left her.”
And the result was that she rises up at once and the fever leaves her.
It is not a very dramatic scene; there isn’t any music or fanfare.
There aren’t any spells or incantations.
There is only a hand touching another hand.
There is only Jesus reaching out to this sick woman.
And then we are told that she starts to serve them.
She now has now regained her rightful place as the matriarch of the family and the strength to offer the customary hospitality to her guests.
Her identity is no longer a bedridden, fevered person, but a gracious host to a visiting teacher and his disciples.
Within the gospels we often hear about this ministry of touch, the simple act of reaching out to another.
There was the man who was born blind.
Jesus makes some mud with spit and with his fingers smears it on the man’s eye and he could see. There was the deaf man who couldn’t speak. Jesus touched his tongue and put his fingers in his ears and commanded, “Be open!” He touched a man terribly disfigured with leprosy; a man no-one else would touch and said, “Be clean”. He took the hand of the daughter of Jairus who had just died and said, “Little girl, I say to you, arise”. When children were brought to Jesus we are told he placed his hands on them and blessed them. When Peter sliced off the ear of one of the men who came to arrest him we are told that Jesus “touched his ear and healed him” (Luke 22:51).
So what are we to make of all this touching and taking the hands of others by Jesus.
He didn’t do it every time he healed someone but it seems that whenever he could he did.
In the opening pages of the creation story in Genesis God used his hands.
He “took some soil from the ground and formed a man out of it and he breathed life into his nostrils and the man began to live” (Gen 2:7). (The language here is the same as that of a potter moulding a pot with his hands).
I like how this creation account in Genesis wants to convey the special relationship between God and the people he puts on the earth.
There is a connection, a closeness, something personal, a special creative work different from everything else.
At the beginning of time God reached out and molded and touched the first people. Jesus reached and touched those people whom God loved so dearly and yet were so broken and hurting because of what evil had done in the world.
Jesus continues to reach out and touch us with his healing power and presence. He touches us with water at our Baptism, claiming us as beloved children. He touches our ears with his promises that give us hope and reassurance. When we are depressed, upset, discouraged or grieving he touches us and blesses us with his presence.
He will not abandon us in our troubles and promises that he will always be our refuge and strength in times of trouble.
On Ash Wednesday we will be reminded of his touch as we receive the ashen sign of cross. Today as we gather at our Lord’s Table we encounter our Lord’s touch with the body and blood as we eat and drink in Holy Communion and we are assured that Christ is right here with us in the middle of the muck and mire of our lives. His touch encourages us and strengthens us to deal with anything.
The Old Testament reading from Isaiah 40 is a song about the greatness of God.
It concludes with these wonderful words of reassurance and comfort telling us that even though he is the all-powerful God who “stretched out the sky like a curtain”, created the stars, and reduced powerful rulers to nothing, he is a God who touches the lives of people with his love and compassion.
There are times in our lives when our own strength is exhausted.
There are those times when we are either emotionally, physically or spiritually drained, or perhaps all 3 at once.
Isaiah uses words like “weary”, “tired”, “weak”, and “exhausted”.
There comes a limit to what we can endure.
Jesus talks about those who are “weak and carrying heavy-burdens”.
We can feel weary for all kinds of reasons. We feel weary because there is tension and uneasiness in our work place or at home. We are weary from some kind of chronic illness that seems to go on and on. We are tired and exhausted because there is some ongoing thing that is making us unhappy. We are heavy burdened because we have fallen into temptation and we are crushed by the guilt of having given in once again.
Isaiah is speaking to tired people.
He tells us about a God who reaches out and touches us in our tiredness and weariness.
God reaches out and touches our lives and gives us a strength that is beyond what we can muster up.
There is strength in knowing that we don't have to go it alone, that we are never forgotten or ignored!
We have a very special friend - Jesus - who watches over us at all times, care for us at all times, and who is open to having us come and speak to him in prayer at all times.
As Isaiah said, “Those who trust in the Lord for help will find their strength renewed.”
Or as the apostle Paul said, “I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil 4:13).
It is true that Christ is no longer visibly present with us as in the days of the disciples, but that doesn’t mean that his touching presence is no longer here in our world.
Christ reaches out and touches people in an even greater way than when he was here with his twelve disciples.
I say that because Christ lives in us and is present with us as we reach out and touch those around us.
His touch comes through your visit to the person in a hospital bed, through your words of encouragement and prayers, through meals being provided. His touch reaches out to the person loaded with all kinds of problems, and he uses your help and support to ease their anxiety and depression. Christ touches those who are burdened with a heavy conscience as you tell them of the wonderful freeing word of the forgiveness in Christ. His touch comes through your care for a child who needs gentle encouragement. His touch reaches out to a colleague, a family member who needs to feel that someone cares at that moment.
If any of you have been troubled by anxiety, difficult decisions, over-powering problems and have experienced the kindness and compassion of a friend, you will know what it means to have someone reach out to you and to feel that person's concern for you and help you through your difficulties.
If that has been your experience then you have experienced the encouraging, healing touch of Jesus.
Each of you gathered here this morning are our Lord’s hands and he reaches out to others through us and makes them whole.
God grant us the compassion and the desire to reach out and touch those in need with the love of Christ.
Pastor Stephen Blenkush
Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
Love like Jesus!