It is hard for us nowadays to imagine our country without the National Health Service. Since 1948 we have been blessed with medical care funded through general taxation. For most of human history medical care was only available to those who could afford it, and only a limited amount of ailments could be treated. It is hard to imagine how precarious life was, and how great was the desire for healing.
Our Gospel reading this week focuses on Jesus’ pastoral ministry. It has three distinct elements: healing, prayer, and preaching. As soon as Jesus and the four disciples leave the synagogue in Capernaum, they go to Simon and Andrew’s house, where they find Simon Peter’s mother-in-law sick with a fever. It is serious, and life-threatening. Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up, and she is immediately restored to full health. In fact, she gets up and looks after them! Mark’s account is simple and straightforward, and goes along at a tremendous breathless pace. The healing is miraculous and instantaneous — it takes your breath away. It is a powerful demonstration of the reality of God’s love for us: if we let God be at work in our lives then wonderful things are possible, but we have to trust Him.
Suddenly all the sick of Capernaum are at the door. These are people who long for healing, and in their midst is the one who heals. It is wonderful. Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God by His deeds, as a place of healing, where humanity is restored by God. It must have been quite busy, as St Mark states that,
‘the whole city was gathered together at the door.’ (Mk 1:33)
As wonderful as it is, to see an entire community transformed, it should be recognised that it comes at a cost: physical, emotional, and spiritual. We think of the great emotional, physical, and spiritual cost to those working in the NHS and as carers (both paid and unpaid), many struggling to cope and becoming overwhelmed. Many of whom desperately need some time out to recharge their batteries and find the strength to carry on. They need our prayers. This is why we learn:
‘And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.’ (Mk 1:35)
Jesus gets up early to pray to God, to spend time with Him. Prayer is not an optional extra, it is absolutely necessary. Jesus is only able to heal because he spends time with God in prayer, deepening His relationship, and finding strength, the strength to heal and to preach the Good news of the Kingdom. It reminds us of the need for prayer and quiet in our own lives — we need time to be with God, to talk to Him, and to listen to what He has to say to us. Even during lockdown we can be distracted by the business of life. If we want to be close to God and let His power be at work in us we need to find time to be silent and find our own deserted place, if only for a few minutes, to let a healing encounter take place. God meets us when we are alone, when we are silent, when we are vulnerable, when we no longer rely on our own strength but hand ourselves over completely to Him. This is not an easy thing to do, but it is the only way for God to be at work in us: we need to make space for Him. Just as often happens in our own lives, Jesus does not have long to be close to God, as people come looking for Him:
‘And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.”.’ (Mk 1:36-7)
Jesus is the person everyone is looking for. So many people are longing for healing, for the Good News of the Kingdom of God, and for Jesus. There is a deep-seated emptiness which only God can fill. The healing which Christ offers is the fullness of life, how life should be lived.
‘And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is what I came for.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.’ (Mk 1:38-9)
Jesus moves His disciples on. They need to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God in word and deed, by preaching and healing, to the people in the other towns. This is Jesus’ mission: ‘for that is what I came for.’ (Mk 1:38). Jesus came to announce the Good News of the Kingdom of God and to make His words real by healing the sick, fulfilling the messianic prophecies of Isaiah 61. His message is clear:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mk 1:15)
Repent and believe the Good news: turn from sin, love God and your neighbour, and experience the healing which God longs to give you. Which of us can say that we don’t need Christ’s healing in our lives? I know that I do. The truth is that we ALL do. If we are close to Him in prayer, if we listen to Him, if we have the humility which says, ‘I need God’s help’, then we can be open to the transforming power of His Love: so that the healing work begun in Galilee might be continued here, now, among us.
Let us listen to His words. Let us be close to Him in prayer. Let us come to Him, to the One who loves us, who heals us, who gives Himself upon the Cross to die for us. To the One who rises again to give us the promise of eternal life in Him. Let us come to be healed, and restored, so that we might have life, and life to the full in and through Christ. Let us live out our faith, and proclaim Him, so that the world may believe, and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now, and forever. Amen.