Monday, February 6, 2012

The Mother-in-Law Miracle

In Nomine Iesu
St. Mark 1:29-31
February 5, 2012
Epiphany 5B

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

If I were to take a poll, asking people to name their favorite miracle performed by Jesus, I wonder which miracles would rate most favorably. Which miracles are most meaningful to modern Christians? The raising of Lazarus, walking on water, water into wine, and a multitude of healings would probably crack the top ten, I suppose.

But now, turn the question around. Which miracles seem to be more minor in nature? Which seem to be less significant? And which miracles would most Christians fail to mention—or even to remember? I suspect that the “Mother-in-Law miracle” we heard about today is one of those events which barely rates as a blip on the miracle radar. But St. Mark saw fit to tell us. The Holy Spirit saw fit to inspire St. Mark to devote three sentences to the miraculous healing of Simon Peter’s feverish mother-in-law. And I, for one, am glad.

Simon Peter had a house in Capernaum and that’s where Jesus and four disciples headed immediately after Jesus healed the man with the evil spirit in the synagogue. They went from the synagogue to Peter’s house immediately. “Immediately,” by the way, seems to be one of St. Mark’s favorite words. He uses it forty-five times in his sixteen chapters. With Mark we are always “immediately” into the next event before finishing the last one. Mark puts the pedal to the metal, always speeding onward to Calvary and crucifixion.

Peter’s mother-in-law was sick. Probably a touch of the flu. And you know how that goes: running a temperature, coughing, congestion, aches and pains. You feel miserable for a while, and staying in bed is probably your best option—along with some vitamin C, chicken soup and a few aspirin. It’s really not a big deal—especially when compared to that diseased and demon-possessed crowd that was starting to follow Jesus wherever He went. And yet, there is Jesus, in Peter’s house, making His way back into the back bedroom where grandma is napping with no make-up on, no dentures in, a stale piece of toast on the nightstand, with some little mutt barking in the background. (At least, that’s how I picture it.)

Jesus is there for her and her alone. She—who probably doesn’t matter that much to that many—she matters to Jesus. And Jesus has come to make that abundantly clear. Jesus who battles with devils and demons—Jesus who raises the dead and preaches with divine authority—the Son of God, the Savior of the world—He also bends down at an old lady’s bedside, takes her by the hand and lifts her up. The fever disappears without even a word from Jesus. Simply a touch and the fever is gone. Grandma’s feeling good enough to do what grandmas do best—she puts the coffee on and sets out some sandwiches and cookies—maybe some celery sticks with cheese whiz. (At least, that’s how I picture it.)

Now, as miracles go, this is rather unremarkable. Almost not worth reporting. In fact, it’s almost more astonishing to learn that Peter was married and had a mother-in-law. People recover from fevers all the time, big deal. Yes, big deal. From that day on that dear old mother-in law was never the same. For she came to know that day that she—yes, she—was precious to Jesus. She with her arthritic joints and missing teeth and thinning gray hair—she was precious to Jesus. The kingdom of God had come to her in the man her son-in-law was following around lately, Jesus of Nazareth.

Do you know what she knew? Do you know that you are precious to Jesus? The evidence is all around us; but we tend to ignore it. For whenever we bounce back from a fever—when the flu finally subsides—we chalk up our recovery to vitamin C, antibiotics, and an immune system made durable by doses of vitamin D. But what we fail to see is the true source of all our healing. The Great Physician might as well be the invisible physician because we almost never acknowledge that He—Jesus—is the One who heals all your diseases.

Beloved in the Lord, learn from this minor miracle that Jesus Christ is behind every healing of every disease. And hear this: Even if Jesus had never set foot in Peter’s house and gone to the old lady in person, her healing would still have been the work of Jesus. For every healing, no matter how it happens, is the work of the Christ. The miracles simply leave out the middle man—be that the doctor, the pharmacist, the specialist, the therapist, the surgeon, the nurse. The miracles are intended to make it plain that Jesus is the master healer. He stands behind every medical practitioner whether they know it or not. Through them all, Jesus is working for your good. Jesus is working to keep you in good working order, so that you can be busy serving those around you—just like Peter’s mother-in-law did when Jesus healed her.

Now if Jesus stands behind every healing, then behind every disease and sickness stands our sin. Every illness, whether life-threatening or just annoying, is a mirror of our mortality, a not so subtle sign to remind us that the wages of sin is death. As sons and daughters of Adam, we are fallen people who live in a fallen world. The misery that we feel when we get sick is the misery we should feel over our sin. If only we were as careful to avoid sin as we are at avoiding germs and viruses and bad bacteria. Sickness, sin and death all belong together. But, so do healing, health and resurrection. Think about this: Every healing—every time you bounce back and get better—that, my friends, is a little resurrection reminder—a reminder that the Jesus who suffered for our sins on the cross is also the One who will give us ultimate healing on the day of resurrection.

The miracles of Jesus are important; but Jesus didn’t come to fix the world’s problems through miracles. He didn’t come to deal with demons and disease and death by means of miracles. No, Jesus came to die. On His cross, Jesus drags all our demons and diseases into the black hole of His death—swallows them all up forever. Jesus’ ultimate healing work was not to dole out band-aids, but to die and rise again. Death and resurrection is the way the Savior works.

And it’s precisely because of His death and resurrection that every prayer for healing that you’ve ever prayed will be positively and affirmatively answered on the Last Day, in the resurrection of the dead. Whenever we pray for health and healing, that prayer is always answered by God with a “yes.” We just don’t know exactly how that “yes” will come to pass. Perhaps it might happen quickly like it did for Peter’s mother-in-law, and you bounce right back to work. Or maybe you spend a whole week in bed. Or maybe the rest of your life. Or maybe you will die.

But then and there, at that moment when you die, God’s “yes” will be wonderfully revealed to you. You will not be alone; for Jesus will be there too—as He always is. He will reach down to you as He did with Peter’s mother-in-law. He will take your hand into His hand, and raise you up to be with Him forever. And then, all those prayers for health and healing will find their “yes” and their “amen” in the wonder of your resurrection. All your sighs and groaning and prayers—Jesus heard them all, and in His death and resurrection He’s already done something about them.

Let there be no doubt: you are precious to Jesus. He loves the whole world, it’s true. But that love and healing is always applied personally, individually, one at a time. Jesus never performed any mass healings—never cured a whole crowd with just a wave of His hand. Nope, it was always one at a time, with a Word and a touch from the Savior. In Holy Baptism—by water and the Word—He made your body to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. Again today Jesus comes into your messy world through the power of preaching and His Word. Whatever your aches and pains today—whatever fills you with weariness and worry—whatever sins may trouble your conscience—Jesus comes to you personally, today, with healing. “Take and eat, this is my body. This is my blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” And then you get up, back on your feet. You depart in peace and head off to serve others as you have been served—knowing and believing that by the grace of God you are precious to Jesus. Amen.

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