5th Sunday after Epiphany
5 February 2012
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is somewhere beyond Eden, several thousand years ago. Eve and Adam are frantic, nearly beside themselves, as one of them or one of their children are the first person to even come down with a fever. Touching the burning forehead, seeing how weak their loved one is. It is unpleasant for a family to begin with, and then, if hey had never experienced it before!
Then, ponder that first generation horror, knowing that your own sin had led to this. Your rebellion had brought the very existence of sickness into this world. That you, your spouse, and your children would not be suffering if you had not rejected God and His Word.
Now, you cannot point to a specific sin, and say that God is using a certain illness to punish you for it. He does not keep a chart at the end of your bed, noting your spiritual health and the rewards and punishments you deserve. Sickness is a result of sin, but not as a vindictive tit for tat. It is just a part of this fallen existence.
It seems so simple now. Such a little thing. It is just a fever. In today's Gospel reading, we'd say to give Peter's mother-in-law some tylenol, or even aspirin, and let her sleep it off. But it is not that simple. Those medicines are not yet discovered in the first century. No one really knows the cause of fevers; just that they can be deadly.
In the greater scheme of things, such medical conditions have been difficult until the modern era, with its major advances in the health sciences. Less than a hundred years ago, many thousands died in the influenza epidemic.
And do you remember Beth in the novel, Little Women? The book is set in the time of the Civil war -- just 150 years ago. Beth was deathly ill with scarlet fever. The fever finally broke, but she was never the same. Weakened, perhaps with a resulting heart condition, Beth March spent a mere six years more on this earth.
Granted, this was more than just a fever from an everyday infection, but without modern antibiotics and fever-reducing medicines, any fever was quite scary. Simon Peter isn't thinking, "If Mom doesn't take care of herself and get some rest, she'll stay sick longer." No. The reality in his mind is that she may very well die if Jesus cannot do anything.
They have just witnessed the Lord cast out demons. They have heard Him speak the Word of God with authority. Can He do this too? Immediately they tell Jesus about her. This is urgent, Jesus. She could die!
And what does the Lord do? He takes her by the hand, and what? NIV misses the mark here and simply says, "He helped her up." Yes, He did. ESV says, He "lifted her up." That is better. But the word that Mark uses to record this event is that Jesus "raised her up!" No she had not yet died, but it would have been possible. The Great Physician is the Lord of Life who Himself would rise from the dead. He is foreshadowing the amazing, miraculous rising that He would do later on.
This baptized Jesus is walking around, absorbing all the sicknesses and frailties of others, taking them on Himself. When He goes to the cross, He pays for it all, and defeats death, so that it cannot hold Him, and He victoriously rises! That is the beauty of this image of Christ our King: it reminds and shows us at the same time, the cross, on which Jesus took these illnesses and sins and paid for them, and our risen Lord, victorious champion over sin, death and the devil!
But you can be just like a person suffering from a fever. Sometimes when you have a fever, you don't realize you are burning up. Sometimes, while your body is hot with fever, you are feeling fine, or even chilled. "I'm fine," you say. I'm not that sick. Yet even a little sick, is still sick. And the next thing you know, you are so sick that you can't get up and function. You cannot do anything right.
Sin is indeed a sickness. It makes you ill to the point you cannot see your ailment. But Jesus has come, and brings healing. He renews and restores you through His holy gifts.
The physicians of this world realize that washing and cleanliness make a great and favorable impact on health and healing. In Holy Baptism, you were give the perfect, holy washing that cleansed you and rid you of impurities.
The doctors give you verbal instructions on what to do to care for the body and get better. Jesus speaks His Holy Word, which does what it says and bestows forgiveness and life to you.
Your physicians will prescribe medicine for you to fight the infections and hasten your recovery. Jesus is the Great Physician, who gives you the Medicine of Immortality -- the Sacrament of the Altar. Through His Holy Body and Blood, Jesus enters you, becoming that medicine, preparing you for perfect health and wholeness of a holy, resurrected life with Him, body and soul.
Jesus uses His gifts all the time, raising you up in body and soul. He is raising you as He gives forgiveness, life, and salvation. And He is preparing you for the day when He will raise you up from your grave, to live with Him and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
Dear friends in Christ, what a joyful gift! You are healed! You are raised in Christ! He has restored you to heavenly health, and joyfully anticipates your perfect body's existence with Him in eternity. Amen.