These few verses in Mark’s gospel exposes a conflict in people’s expectations of Jesus and in Jesus’ own mind I suggest, of the priorities and direction of his ministry.
In short – what was his mission for?
Let’s take the healings at face value. Let’s not worry about whether some or all of them happened or not, or whether demons exist or not. The important thing is that many people believed he could. And if so......If Jesus could heal your ailments and those of your children, even your mother-in-law, it’s a fair assumption that this would be what people wanted you for, and any underlying message would be lost.
If a mystery man turned up in Gainford or Winston tomorrow and could demonstrate that he could cure painful afflictions just by touching you, I’m sure we would be queuing in the streets to be cured.
We wouldn’t necessarily care whether he was a Christian, Buddhist, atheist or whatever he was – it would be the healing we were after and any underlying message he had, however true, however deep, however meaningful, would be entirely secondary.
I can picture it now “You believe this and that – brilliant – could you just cure my kidney stones for me – keep talking I’m listening – honest.”
This essentially was the dilemma. The message behind and underpinning the healings was being drowned out. That the physical healings themselves were symbols of a much more dynamic, permanent and spiritual healing – which is the core message of the gospel – was being missed.
The healing of Peter’s mother –in –law was in private and known to only a few people. But word got out, as word always does in villages and people started flocking to him to be healed.
I like to think that this dilemma played on his mind and he got up very early while it was still dark, went to a deserted place to pray for guidance, for a sense of direction, for some clarity.
He could have stayed there permanently healing people, if we take the story at face value, but after communion with God, he became clear about what was truly necessary.
He had a comfy job for life there in Capernaum. Simon and his companions were hunting for him to bring him back to satisfy the crowds that were forming, but after communing with God he was clear that his mission lay in proclaiming the imminence of the kingdom of God – of which healing is integral, a greater healing that the physical healings point to but don’t fully encompass.
The physical healings were signposts to a greater healing – the healing of the division between God and man and between people and their neighbours and between people and their environment.
Healings were portents of the great healing which in Biblical shorthand is also known as the Kingdom of God. Preaching the kingdom of God was what Jesus was about. If a few signs and symbols helped to smooth the path along the way, all well and good, but they couldn’t be allowed to overshadow that one central message.
When the disciples found Jesus they wanted to take him back to Capernaum for more healing – because crowds had gathered, but Jesus knew where his destiny lay. Instead of returning to the circus He said “Let us go to the neighbouring towns, that I may proclaim the message there also, for that is what I came out to do”
It was the message that he deemed important. So there was a tension in Jesus’ ministry according to the Bible between his essential message and the fact that a lot of people actually just had heard that he could cure people, and they wanted him purely for that.
His essential message was that Love was central to life and Loving God and loving our neighbours was the way we should seek to walk this path of life. Love and forgiveness heals broken relationships whether they be between you and God or you and your neighbour. Love can be stretched to breaking point but it cannot be broken. Love casts out fear, loneliness, low self esteem, brutality and injustice and restores us to a healthy peace filled frame of mind which allows us to flourish as human beings. This is the message Jesus was desperate to preach. If the healings helped draw attention to the message, all well and good, when they overpowered the message and became an end in themselves the message is lost.
When anything comes between the human being and the kingdom of God and becomes a distraction or an end in itself, the Bible calls this idolatry. But it is not just idols of bronze or stone that come between people and God. Religion can mask the face of God very effectively. Take just a cursory look at the hundreds of thousands of people slaughtered in God’s name, from the crusades to the rivalries between Christians to find that out for yourself. The message of God’s love can easily get crowded out
How many idols have we set in place that comes between us and God? What part of our life and religion, none of them bad things in themselves (church, doctrine, creeds, churchmanship, denominations, buildings, rituals etc.), have conspired to drown out that essential message and become more important than the message itself?