Text: Mark 1:29-39
Date: Epiphany V + 2/4/18
In our short Epiphany season this year we don’t even get any further in Mark’s short Gospel than the first chapter. The message has been short and quick which is St. Mark’s style. Jesus is baptized, He calls His first disciples, then we hear and see Him preaching repentance and the kingdom of God and healing, first a man with an unclean spirit, and today St. Peter’s mother-in-law and then the sick or demon oppressed of the whole city of Capernaum.
When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law we’re told “He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up.” Jesus touched with His hands many of those He healed while demons were expelled simply at His mighty command. Imagine the scene of the whole city gathered at the door and Jesus healing many with various diseases and casting out many demons. I don’t think He made a great show of it like you see so many faith healers on television today. At the end of this chapter (which we will not hear this season), Jesus even touches a man with leprosy!
The next day Jesus arose very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and went out to a desolate place to pray. Simon and his friends searched for Jesus to tell Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” Whereupon we are told Jesus’ surprising response, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” So that is the question of this text, why did Jesus come? Was it just to preach and heal? No, there was way more to it than that.
Both in what He preached and said and what He did Jesus is the Epiphany of God, the revealing of the one true God come not to judge and condemn us but to forgive, love and save us. As the Proper Preface for the season in the communion liturgy says, “In [Your Son], being found in the substance of our mortal nature, You have manifested the fullness of Your glory.”
Jesus is the God the prophet Isaiah wrote about, saying as in today’s reading, this is the God through whom all things were created and made, who sits above all even over earthly rulers such as princes and kings and prime ministers and presidents. And He has been ruling over all of them from the beginning, even though, as Isaiah says, “when He blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble” (Is 40:24). The prophet says the Lord is beyond compare as the creator by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power. Yet this mighty and all-powerful God has created all and created you out of love. That night in Capernaum Jesus did not grow weary but in fact gave power to the faint, for He is the Lord of the promise: “but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (Is 40:31).
This need for renewing of strength, this weariness, this fainting describes what is missing in all people because of sin: separation from God, from His life, from His love. As St. Augustine famously said, speaking for all, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord.” That rest happens not by taking some time off, sitting back in your favorite recliner, or taking a nap. True rest happens only in the forgiveness of your sins, and this is why Jesus came.
For all of this will reach that conclusion, the forgiveness of sins. Though at first many were impressed at His preaching and healing and casting out demons, His coming actually meant the beginning of a war, the great warfare against the devil, death and our own sinful flesh. We will see the increasing opposition He will encounter even as Simeon said at His infant presentation in the temple, “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Lk 2:34). That opposition will happen not only from His enemies but even from among His friends, His own chosen disciples. That opposition happens even from us in the struggle of our divided loyalties between the things of this world and the things of God, between taking our life for granted, treating it as my own ignorant of how death is stalking us all the way and that our life is not our own but is ever in God’s hands, God’s life-giving hands.
Those same hands that touched Simon’s mother-in-law, that healed many of various diseases including even those suffering from leprosy, those same hands would ultimately be nailed to a cross of crucifixion thereby bringing healing to the whole world. There He would die as a criminal, as a sinner, He would die not His own death but ours. That’s where sin and death met their match and forgiveness, holiness and eternal life were given and made available.
And now it is His sacred, life-giving hands that wash us in Holy Baptism, place His own self, His body and blood into our mouths, even as He Himself speaks the Gospel of the kingdom into our ears. Today we receive His healing touch, His forgiveness of all your sins, His gift of strength and eternal life that cannot be destroyed even by death. For we have already died, being buried with Him and raised again in His death and resurrection in Baptism. This is why we proclaim His death until He comes even as we celebrate the life He gives in His body and blood. Yes, this is why He came, to heal and to preach…but more! That through His own sacrifice we may be saved and given the gift of eternal life.