Sunday, May 26
Sunday, February 08, 2009|
For That is What I Came to Do
It was on one of those special reports they put on the local news every so often – the human interest kind. A woman who thought she had the flu because of dizziness and headaches came to find out upon going to the doctor that she was dealing with advanced cancer! Maybe you heard her state her philosophy concerning her illness. She said “some people ask ‘why me?’ but I say ‘why anyone?’ No one wants cancer, but I’m going to fight it any way I can.”
Do you want a cure for what ails you? Who doesn’t? Who among us does not have an ailment of some sort we would like cured – even if it’s just the aging process itself? Some go from doctor to doctor, seeking one who will have the secret cure. Others try all of the diets and join the spas that claim to offer health. Still others will go to foreign countries to try cures that our doctors cannot or will not offer. Most of us are willing to try the new and improved medication that is supposed to bring faster and better relief. For our emotional and personal hurts, we buy the most recent pop psychology book and believe for a time at least that it is the way to cure our ills.
I’ve tried plenty of them. Many years ago there was a bran muffin craze guaranteed to bring down cholesterol – much the way oatmeal and cheerios claim to do so today. I perfected my bran muffin recipe and ate them religiously a couple times a day. My cholesterol did drop a little – but I gained about 10 pounds eating all those muffins!
Where is there a human without an ailment? Scratch a human life, and you find a pain of some sort just under the surface. Probe for just a few minutes, and you will hear a sad story. Peek into the personality, and you find scars of old wounds and the beginnings of new ones. A human without an ailment is like a car that never runs low on gas or a television that doesn’t need tuning – they just do not exist.
Mark tells us of human beings like you and me swarming to Jesus to find a cure for what ails them. First Jesus drives the demon from the man that was possessed. Then he rushes off to the home of Peter’s moth-in-law. He quickly relived the woman’s’ fever so that she could be up and serving once again. And then they begin to come – the sick, the possessed, the diseased and the crippled. He healed one illness, then another. He commanded the departure of a demon. Another possessed person was brought to him.
Now the room was crowded with those seeking a cure for what ailed them. It must have been a terrible display of humanity, the sights and the smells of illness all around. And they kept coming. A hand reached out from here. A moan was heard from there. When morning finally broke, Jesus stole off to a lonely place to pray. But they would not leave him along. Peter followed him there, along with others. “Everyone is searching for you” he said. The demands of the suffering humans seem to have no end in this story.
It just goes to show that if one comes offering a cure for what ails you, that person will be swamped with human yearnings for health and well-being. The pharmaceutical companies know that very well.
Mark seems intent on impressing us with the way in which Jesus responded to human hurts. As you read through the Gospel of Mark, you cannot help but marvel at the number of stories devoted to Jesus’ healings. Nearly half of the verses in the Gospel of Mark relate to Jesus’ healing ministry. The message is clear; “Jesus relives the whole range of human ailments.” No one is excluded. Without regard to who we are, Jesus brings health and healing. Mark wanted us to know that God wants us well!
In Christ we are made aware that God aches to free us from the prison of our ailments, whatever they may be. In Christ God wants to restore us to wholeness. God will not be content with us in our broken, hurting, and stifled existence. God will not rest as long as there is one suffering human creature. God will use every means possible to reach the ailing with a gift of healing and hope. That is what it means for this God of ours to reign in the world – it means that God wants ailments cured, illness healed, deformities reconstructed.
Yet there is a problem in this Gospel, as there is a problem in life in general with this proclamation. Peter has seen the marvelous healings and goes looking for Jesus in that lonely place he has found. Peter thought Jesus should return and continue the intense healing activity of the day before. Peter felt Jesus had no business withdrawing from those he could heal. Jesus’ response to Peter is puzzling. Given what he just accomplished, we can’t quite understand his answer; “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came out to do.”
“That I may preach there also.” Jesus had a message to proclaim. Jesus’ response to Peter was that his mission was not to try to cure what ails everyone in Capernaum. He must instead move on to other villages and proclaim his good news. Certainly he would continue to heal but his primary reason for coming there was not to heal, but instead to announce a message – to announce news of the kingdom of God.
We come to realize that Jesus’ healing ministry was but one expression of the gift of God’s continuing presence with us. But his most important job was found in his preaching about the reign of God in our lives, no matter what our condition. What God is offering us in Christ is not an instant cure-all but a presence, a love, a power. Above all, God offers to reign in our lives. God does not give us a quick fix for our ailments. God give us a person.
Perhaps you don’t see the wisdom in that. Peter certainly didn’t. Instead of an instant cure – God gives us a person.
But there is wisdom there, wisdom that looks beyond the immediacy of this day and this time, that looks to a person. Jesus, by his words and his actions, draws a line in the sand, and that line remarks the place where healing meets its limitations, and true salvation begins.
Preacher Peter Gomes makes this point just a little differently. He speaks of optimism and hope and the distinction between them.
The cynic Ambrose Bierce, defines optimism as “the doctrine, or belief that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong…an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death.” More to the point, a Methodist preacher, responding to America’s unique religious manifestation of cheery religious expression says, “Christianity did not come into the world with a fixed, silly grin on its face and a vapid “Cheerio!’ on its lips. At its center was a cross. That heritage must be saved from being perverted by the bright-side boys, whether in the pulpit or out of it.” Peter’s undaunted optimism that somehow Jesus could or would take away every physical and mental malady of every person he met, was countered with Jesus’ need to go on and preach – for that is what he came to do.
It is true, when you think about it, that even if Jesus had cured everyone he met, that they would still have ailments. More would come. And no matter how much healing goes on, there is, in the end, death – the final ailment that has no cure. And that is why Jesus had to go on with his preaching. In his words he brought not just healing, not empty optimism, not cynical feelings of good will; he brought true hope into the world by sharing the message of God’s love and salvation. Hope is in some ways more elusive, more fragile, harder to identify. But we know it when we experience it. Hope lifts us above the ups and downs of the day to day of our lives and entrenches us in a person who does not desert us or disappoint us or leave us desolate.
I like what Gomes says. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer once warned against cheap grace, and I warn against cheap hope. Hope is not merely the optimistic view that somehow everything will turn out all right in the end if everyone just does as we do. Hope is the more rugged, the more muscular view that even if things don’t turn out all right and aren’t all right, we endure through and beyond the times that disappoint or threaten to destroy us.” Paul says it a bit differently . He reminds us that genuine hope, a hope worth having, is forged upon the anvil of adversity, and that hope and suffering are related through the formation of character. We realize that hope is more than optimism. Hope is the stuff that gets us through and beyond when the worst that can happen – happens.
I think that is what Jesus was telling Peter that day. Healing is OK. It made those people more comfortable. But the ailments will return – everyone has them. It was through God’s word incarnate – the person of Jesus Christ, that true hope and salvation will come. And Jesus had to move on and preach that message, while there was still time. Amen