Mark’s Gospel, more than any of the three others Gospels, is the Gospel of healing. I’ve mentioned that when we did an introduction to this book: Mark spends little time to detail Jesus’s teaching (comparatively to Matthew, for example). Mark focuses of what Jesus does, and we see that right from the beginning – We’re still in Chapter 1! – Jesus is busy doing healing and casting out demons.
To me, one of the messages we can take away from that is that we are reminded of the spiritual nature of healing. And it’s very interesting to be reading that in a time of a pandemic, where we are very preoccupied with healing – as individuals and as a country. We can’t wait to be healed, and by that most of us mean we can’t wait to have a cure, to receive the vaccine, we can’t wait for the virus to go away. And of course, this is very natural to wish that and to do everything that is in our power to accomplish this goal. Yet in the meantime, we have also to remember that healing is also spiritual.
What do we mean by that?
You probably remember, it wasn’t a long time ago, that when he was elected, President Biden told the Nation that it was “Time for healing”, and in those words I think most of us could understand it wasn’t only about the pandemic. There are a lot of things we need to heal from as a nation: racism, bigotry, division, social and economic injustices, lack of purpose, lack of solidarity, isolation, individualism, greed, lack of respect for the earth and so on. We need bodily healing, but we also need spiritual healing because by our way of living, whether it’s because of addictions, stress, selfishness, lack of respect for our bodies, for our neighbors, for our natural resources, we make ourselves sick, but we also make sick those around us – and today it’s even realistic to say that by our way of living, we make sick people who live thousands of miles away from us.
We need spiritual healing as much as bodily healing.
And I think that at Jesus’s time, that’s also the way people thought about sickness. There were, as today, obvious and serious diseases or handicaps, like leprosy, paralysis, epilepsy, blindness and so on, but people knew there was more to that, there were also all the things that made their souls sick and kept them in bondage: possessions and demons – and we see that as Jesus addressed the ills of the body, he always addressed the ills of the souls, and he cured the bodies by curing the souls, the hearts, and the mentalities not only of the individuals bound by sickness but also, and mainly, by healing the community around them.
If we’d have to describe the way Jesus heals people, it’s not only by making them disease-free, but he very literally de-possess them, set them free from the bondage that isolate them – whether they isolate themselves – ashamed or angry – or whether they are isolated by others – rejected and seen as contagious, unclean or dangerous. Healing, forgiveness of sins and proclamation of the good news are all woven together in the Gospel: It’s all about liberation and reconciliation in the depths of our beings, with God and with one another.
Now, how do we do that? How can we receive spiritual healing or participate in the spiritual healing of the world as follower of Jesus? Can today’s Gospel help us a bit with that? Well, I’d like to think so.
I really love that, among the throngs of people who come to him to receive healing, we have in our Gospel a “snapshot” of how Jesus brought healing – how he healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. I think I’ve mentioned to you that Mark was a disciple of Simon Peter and Mark’s Gospel is basically Simon Peter’s memories. And Simon Peter remembered probably very vividly that day we’ve just read about– the excitement and the joy of receiving Jesus in his house, and then the disappointment and the pain of finding the mistress of the house incapacitated and unwell. Actually, the commentaries of the Gospel agree to say that the way her illness is described, “a fever”, probably meant that she was not just “unwell” but rather seriously ill. As for Simon Peter’s mother in law herself, she was probably quite disappointed and even ashamed to be found in bed, unable not only to entertain the guests, but even unable to greet them at the door. I don’t know if it ever happen to you to be sick on a day you have been expecting for a long time – it is quite frustrating if not infuriating. We can only imagine how Simon Peter’s mother in law must had been excited in the days before about finally be able to meet Jesus, and how much she probably had wanted to have her house and table ready and to look her best, only to be found in bed unable to stand up.
Jesus though, maybe the only one in the crowd, isn’t disappointed or irritated. If she cannot greet him, he comes to greet her, gently touch her hand and raises her up. As he does that, the Gospel mentions, “the fever left her and she began to serve them”. This passage has often been negatively interpreted: She does what women are expected to do, serving her family and waiting on the men in the household. Yet I don’t think this is what it is about. I think she is just back to herself, back to being a Mom and to have the joy to have hers sons and their friends at her house and be able to feed them and to spend time with them, laugh and talk at the table with them and be proud and amazed at who they are and what they do.
And I wonder if it isn’t the way Jesus is doing healing all along: He lifts people up, he frees them from whatever it is that keep them down, make them unable to appreciate and enjoy life and disconnect them from their true selves. Freeing us from all that bind us and bring us down, Jesus brings us back to our senses, to who we are and to what we are called to do to serve and love one another.
In this sense, there are many different kind of healing. You don’t have to be healed in your body to be healed in your heart or in your soul. Or maybe you look very healthy on the outside, but you’re still in need of spiritual healing because you have troubles living with yourself and with others, you have troubles receiving joy and energy to live the life God has called you to live.
So how can we do that? How can we receive and bring healing?
Well, the first clue we have in our passage is that, in order to bring healing, Jesus took time to pray, and he did it a certain way. For a long, long time, I used to think that there was no right or wrong way to pray. But the more I think about prayer and practice prayer, the more I think that, even if it’s always better to pray than to abstain from praying, the more I think there are better ways to pray than others. And we can certainly take example on the way Jesus used to pray: He took time to be on his own with God – to meditate, to still his soul, to listen to what God had to say. How often our prayer life are anxious monologues, talking at God about what we need instead of receiving what God wants to give us! Sometimes we need to talk at God in order to release our negative feelings, and it’s all right and a good thing, and sometimes we need to talk at God about all the things we want to do or the people we care about, but let’s also take the time to listen and give time to God to give us attention, restore our strengths, and renew our energy. Let us accept to be greeted by God before we greet him, as Simon Peter’s mother in law let Jesus serve her before she could serve Jesus.
Second clue is that Jesus shows us that healing happens through gentle care and lifting each other up. Even when he addresses the demons and the strongholds that possess us, Jesus show care and concern for the people. When I see that, I wonder how often is it that we see the good in people before we try to “exorcise” them of all the things we don’t like in them. I wonder how often we are really concerned about lifting each other up– although it’s something we could all use in this time where a lot of us feel depressed or de-energized. Do we remind others of their gifts, of their value, of the good things they do for us or bring into the world, or is it easier to judge and to criticize or to make others feel bad about themselves? The Gospel reminds us that we cannot heal on our own. We cannot be truly healed until everyone else is healed too. As we have heard so many times in the past year: “we are all in this together”