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TITLE:     Won't You Help Me with This?

SCRIPTURE:    Mark 1:29-39


Today's Gospel asks this question: "Won't you help me with this?" Jesus is concerned for our health, our complete health. He wants us to experience healing, first, to the degree it is possible for us to do so in this life; then, completely in the life still to come. And he wants us to become his agents in the healing of our neighbors, a healing that can happen when we serve one another.

Consider today's Gospel. It is thought to represent the reminiscences of Simon Peter. It opens with the two brothers, Simon and Andrew, welcoming Jesus into their home, along with other disciples. The brothers tell Jesus that Simon's mother-in-law is sick with a high fever.

Without a word, he takes her by the hand, helps her up from her sickbed, and her fever disappears. The woman is healthy again! She asks no questions, engages in no speculations. She expresses her gratitude through service. She puts lunch on the table for her family and her guests.

This story is remarkable in several respects. Certainly it's remarkable that Jesus cures this woman, and does so in a way that allows her to return to normal immediately. But it is also remarkable that Jesus touches this woman. He is, after all, a rabbi, and rabbis in that time and place simply do not do that. Finally, the woman's response is remarkable. Rabbis are not allowed to be served at table by women. But Simon's mother-in-law -- we never learn her name -- goes ahead and violates this rule. Jesus has set her free, not only from physical illness, but also from social constraint.

The news of her recovery spreads like wildfire. As soon as they can, people from all over town bring their sick relatives to be healed. The house is now surrounded by a surging, moving mass of humanity. Jesus goes out and heals each sick person. In Luke's version of the story, we hear that he lays hands on them. But in time, Jesus becomes weary. Once the crowd disperses, he goes off and sleeps for several hours. He's up again before dawn, however, and goes off to spend time in solitary prayer.

This interlude is soon interrupted by the arrival of Simon and those with him. Here Mark's Gospel does not call these men disciples for the simple reason that they are not behaving as disciples. They act simply as spokesmen for the townsfolk. Indeed, Luke's version of this story reports that it is the townsfolk themselves who interrupt Jesus.

And what do they want? They want him to remain. There are still many in their town who need healing. These people who confront Jesus sound desperate. According to Luke's account, "they would have kept him from leaving them." (Luke 4:42) But who can blame them? They are pleading on behalf of their sick relatives. Would we not do the same?

If we listen carefully to Jesus' response, it may surprise us. "Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do." Jesus is saying that he must leave this town. He will perform no further healings here. He will go to some other town instead, and start the process over again.

This decision is in line with what Jesus has come to do. It is not his aim simply to cure people of their diseases, wonderful though that is. He honors physical health as God's gift, but recognizes that God gives even greater gifts.

Jesus wants to heal not just the body, but the whole person. He wants not only to help individuals, but to transform the world.

Jesus does not want patients who become well and then return to business as usual. He wants disciples who accept a new life and extend his ministry out through space and time.

He wants people he heals to go forth and heal others, disrupting in every corner the forces of destruction, and establishing that reality he calls the reign of God.

With one exception, we don't know what happens to the people Jesus heals that day. The one exception is Peter's mother-in-law. She learns from her encounter with Jesus that God does not will suffering, but wants suffering to come to an end. She learns also that she can serve as an instrument of God's purpose. From Jesus she gains a new power in her life. That power makes her bold enough to overcome constraints. It makes her willing to meet the needs of others.

When he heals her, Jesus says nothing to Simon's mother-in-law. Yet somehow she hears his question, "Won't you help me with this?" And so she begins a new life, marked not by conventional servitude, but by transforming freedom, the true liberty of God's children which empowers her to help others because Christ has helped her. She dies to her old, constricted self, and is born again to an abundant life. She becomes a blessing to those around her.

Christ still heals as he did on that day. He not only heals our bodies, but our souls, our minds, our hearts, our memories, our relationships, our families, our social structures. Christ still heals. He does so through physicians, nurses, counselors, clergy, teachers, parents, friends who meet for a cup of coffee, and governments that struggle to make peace.

All true healing is the work of Christ. It is for each of us to ask ourselves now, "Where is Christ at work healing me?" "In what aspect of my life do I feel his touch, do I see his light? How is Christ now at work in my life to change me so that I become the person God wills for me to be?"

Each of us would do well to spend some time with this question both today and in days to come: "Where is Christ at work healing me?"

As an answer to that question comes into focus, an answer unique to each of us, then we may hear still another question: "Won't you help me with this?"

"Won't you help me," asks Christ, "by becoming more cooperative as I heal you, and by offering yourself as a more conscious instrument for the healing of your neighbor?"

It's as though Christ tells us, "Get up from where you lie sick with fever, and express your gratitude by responding to the needs of the people around you. Let the reality of my compassion extend ever outward, like the ripple of a stone dropped in still water."

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