The Gift Beyond Healing
Sermon on Mark 1: 40 – 45 by Rev. Steven McClelland. Focus on why Jesus didn’t heal everyone and what that means for us. Check out Jody Sinkway and Bill Ucker following the sermon.
I know it’s a redundancy to say that the miracle stories in the Bible are amazing – the walking on water, turning it into wine, raising people from the dead. These stories offer comfort and hope, because they remind us that the way things are is not the way they will always be. They remind us that the worst thing is never the last thing that happens to us.
Jesus is living proof that God’s will for us is wholeness, not chaos and every miracle proclaims that truth. Every healing, every revival, every exorcism of evil is like a hole poked in the fabric of time and space. The kingdom breaks through and for a moment or two we see how things can be – but then its over.
The man healed of the demon has to figure out who he really is after being possessed for so many years. The man who once was covered in leprosy now has to find a new job. Begging is no longer an option. And Lazarus even though he has been brought back from the dead will still have to die all over again.
The problem with miracles is that it’s hard to witness one without wanting one of your own. Every one of us knows someone who is suffering. Every one of us knows someone who could use a miracle, but miracles are hard to come by. Not everyone who prays for one gets one and there are people who get them without even having to ask for them. Let’s be honest. Miracles are not based in fairness.
Who gets one and who doesn’t often appears to be random and arbitrary, because God rarely does the same thing twice. For instance, in the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel we have several healing stories layered on top of one another. The first is the story of a man possessed by a demon and the last is the story of our healed leper.
But the problem is most of us do not get a miracle like the one mentioned in our story. And one of the meanest things we do to one another is blame it on a lack of faith. And when we do that it’s because we’ve gotten mixed up with what causes healings in the first place. Most of us tend to think that it’s our faith that makes miracles happen. In other words, miracles are something that we have some control over. The only problem with this is that it’s idolatry. It’s just one more illusion we try and hold onto to tell ourselves we are in control of our lives, instead of realizing that every single breath we take is on loan to us from God.
Faith doesn’t work miracles. God does! To concentrate on the strength of our own belief is to practice magic. To concentrate on the strength of God is to practice faith. This isn’t just a matter of semantics. This is the difference between believing our lives are in our own hands and believing they are in God’s.
So I don’t expect any of us will stop praying for miracles. I hope not, because right now, there are people and places in this world that need all the healing miracles they can get. But every time you hear about one, remember that you are getting a preview of the kingdom.
Why everyone doesn’t get the healing they desire is a question as old as the Bible itself and no satisfactory answer has ever been offered. Job never knew why he suffered. Jeremiah never knew why he had to suffer, maybe it’s because suffering is as much a part of life as is health.
And while Jesus healed people of physical and mental illnesses that was not his main mission. His main mission was to put us into intimate contact with God. The incarnation is about salvation not physical comfort. So the mystery remains as to what the exact gift was.
Given the parameters of this brief healing story it is impossible to say much more than that the leper experienced the healing of his leprosy, which is no small thing. In rabbinic literature, healing a leper was considered as difficult as raising the dead!
Is it any surprise therefore, that the man could not contain his joy, despite Jesus’ firm command to tell no one? Who here could keep quiet about such a thing? And how could this man have imagined that he was doing Jesus anything but a favor by spreading the word?
How could he know that he was increasing the inevitable disappointment of the people over who Jesus actually was and why he came to be with us.
As God’s Messiah Jesus became such a disappointment to most people that they cried: “Crucify him!” If he wouldn’t give them what they wanted, they wouldn’t wait to see what he was going to give them.
What does this story mean for us? Perhaps Jesus sometimes denies us what we want so that he can give us what we truly need. In the end it’s not the healing stories of Jesus that we remember. It’s his death and resurrection.
Something far more enduring and lasting is what God is after for our lives. God wants to make us whole and give us eternal life. It’s the ultimate expression of preventative medicine. We may experience healings or know of people who have been healed, but in the end that is not what life is about or even where our hope rests.
Our hope rests in the one who has redeemed our lives from the pit of despair and death so that we might live fully with the time we’ve been given in the knowledge that this is but the first step toward the eternal life that Jesus offers all. Amen