A Blessing for Most?–Mark 1:34

and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

As I write this, I’m watching students take a final exam. Frankly, there aren’t a lot of things duller than watching people take exams. Exam day, coming at the end of the semester, as the burden of studies is lifted from their backs, should be a day of great relief and happiness. For many of them it is, but for some–for example, the young man seated just to my right–it’s a day of excuses and worries. In the class testing right now, many of them have done brilliantly. Another significant group has performed solidly. They’re not literature types, which is fine, but they’ve studied hard, gritted their teeth, and written the papers. They hand in their exams fairly confident of a B. That’s not too bad.

I’d love to come in to an exam and say, “You’ve all done great. Just answer these questions and you’ll be happy with the outcome.” All I can say, though, is “Many of you have done great.” Hearing that “many,” the young man to my right would be thinking, “Yeah, many but not me.”

This student has made his own situation. To his credit, he owns that situation. But what about the people who came to the door in search of Jesus in Mark 1:34. Those “many” with sicknesses or possessed by demons. Do you notice that Jesus apparently didn’t heal all of them. Had he healed them all, my guess is that the text would say that he healed “all.” In fact, back in Mark 1:5, we read that “all the land went out to him.” Surely that doesn’t mean that absolutely every man, woman, and child in the land came out, leaving nobody back home. If Mark says “all” when he means “a whole lot,” wouldn’t he say “all” when he meant “all”?

Why did Jesus not heal “all” of the people who came to the door? What did those people think? We can’t really answer these questions, but they make good fodder for winter-night discussions. The best answer I can answer is essentially the one that Job received: “He’s God and he doesn’t have to answer to the likes of us.”

Blessings seem to come to people who don’t deserve them, while bad stuff falls on some marvelous homes. Why? I don’t know. Why is my family so healthy, while others seem to endure a parade of illness? Why does God seem to bless “many” of his most loyal followers but not “all”?

Mark offers no answers here, nor does he record any answer from Jesus. In fact, Jesus never seems to acknowledge the question. Apparently, this apparent “unfairness” is just the way that life goes. Perhaps there’s a divine logic that we cannot perceive, but perhaps it’s just life.

What I do know is that our call is not to decide who is saved and who is not, who is healed and who remains ill, who is blessed and who is not blessed. Our call is to respond to Jesus without question. I’ll trust him to work out the details properly.

Get Well and Work!–Mark 1:31

So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

As I read today’s verse, I’m sitting in my office in a secular college, surrounded by a host of feminists, many of whom I consider friends. Still, I wonder how they might spin this healing to conform to their ideology. “Obviously Jesus only healed Peter’s mother-in-law to preserve the patriarchal hierarchy and put her in her place as servant rather than served.” Of course, the reason that Mark records that reaction of Peter’s mother-in-law is to provide evidence of the healing. This was not some healing in the mind–“Yes, I do believe I’m feeling better.” Jesus healed this woman so thoroughly that she could hop up and start handing out whatever one handed out to house guests in the first century.

On the other hand, as the father of three daughters, I don’t want to be seen as perpetuating the gender roles in place during Jesus’ day. I’m perfectly comfortable with women playing a broader role in our society than simply staying in the house except to run down to the well and hoss water back on their shoulders.

The real message in this healing, I believe, has little to do with gender roles, feminism, or anything that Gloria Steinem might have advocated or resisted. Instead, I’d like to draw our attention to the response of Peter’s mother-in-law to  the blessings of God’s Son. Lying there, burning up with fever, she was physically delivered by the touch of his hand. And her response? She got straight to work serving Jesus and his followers.

Many years ago, I was healed from a much more serious illness, one that would result not in physical death but in spiritual death. Christ touched me, through no real actions of my own, and healed me of the curse of sin. I’d love to say that I immediately jumped out of my illness and got to work serving him, but that would be an exaggeration. My gratitude, while always present, has not always been at the front of my mind. My ministry, while never closing down, has not always been as selfless and dedicated as it should be.

Imagine what the Christian church could look like if ever redeemed person, got up and starting serving the cause of Jesus with the enthusiasm and energy that we imagine this lady showing. We’d be overflowing with home visits and evangelism activities. Classes would never lack for teachers. Budgets would never lack for dollars.

We don’t know anything more about this woman than what Mark tells us here. Perhaps her enthusiasm waned. Perhaps she rolled her eyes when Jesus and the boys strolled into the house in the future. Really, that doesn’t matter to us. Our fever has been cured. We should jump up and serve.


Heart Condition (Hebrews 3:15)

As has just been said:    “Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15)

My neighbor called me yesterday to tell me about his recent medical experience. It seems that, feeling short of breath and achy, he headed to the hospital only to discover the need for a five-fold bypass. Jim, a machinist during his working years, puts me to shame when it comes to keeping his farm machinery lubricated, sharpened, and otherwise in good working order. Apparently, his attention to the maintenance of his heart did not rise to quite the same level. To his credit, he knew to head for help when the negative symptoms appeared.

Despite transplants, surgeries, and artificial replacements, the human heart should not be neglected. Damage to it cannot be laughed off the way a broken nail can be. Typically, a first heart attack diminishes the maximum performance of that heart in the future. Jim will certainly be better off with his newly rerouted arteries, but he’d have been better off still had the surgery not been required.

When the Bible speaks of the heart, of course, it is not referring to that blood-pumping organ. Instead, it uses the physical heart as a metaphor for mental and emotional attitudes of love, concern, and openness. “Do not harden your heart,” does not mean to eat lots of anti-oxidants and exercise regularly. It means to we should respond to things–our own disobedient nature in this case–in the way God would respond to them.

My prayer is that Jim will recover nicely. Perhaps he’ll quit smoking and make it to the gym with perfect regularity. He might wind up stronger despite his surgery than he was before. Happily, such improvements can happen. Despite damage, the hardened heart can be softened. Let it be so with all of us.