Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 8, 2015
For nearly 20 years, I have gotten great joy from participating in a competitive adult hockey league. In addition to playing, I also, along with a few others, help coordinate and manage the league.
We work very hard to make it a good league that provides older guys like myself with an opportunity to enjoy great exercise, and friendship, and to share our love of hockey. Pretty much everyone who participates in the league deeply appreciates, upholds and is grateful for this purpose.
However, every now and then, new guys show up to skate with us who just don’t understand what our league is about. They come out on the ice and don’t pass the puck but try to dazzle everyone with their skills, or they get all bent out of shape if someone bumps into them or looks at them the wrong way and they start shoving or swearing or whacking someone with their stick.
They just don’t understand what our league is about… and in some cases, they don’t care. They don’t get that we’re all friends… that we play nice. Eventually, some of these people figure out what we’re about and change the way they play… or they quit coming. In extreme cases some are told they’re not welcomed back.
It’s important to know and value the purpose of things. It can be very important to understand what something is about… what it is for… why something is. If we don’t we can miss out on some of the greatest gifts life offers.
That is especially true in matters of faith and the Kingdom of God.
Many people who were drawn to Jesus and who were embraced and healed by him failed to understand what he was really about. The failed to comprehend the deeper treasure and value of their meeting with Jesus.
Take, for instance, today’s Gospel lesson. There is a whole lot of miraculous healing going on.
The day began with Jesus in the synagogue where he healed a man with an unclean spirit (that was actually last Sunday’s lesson). Immediately after the synagogue service, they went to the home of Peter and Andrew. There Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of fever. Mark writes that, by evening of the same day, the “whole city” was gathered around Jesus… and there he “healed many” and “cast out many demons.”
Then Mark skips ahead to the next morning and tells us that Jesus got up, while it was still dark, in order to find some deserted place, to be alone and pray. It’s pretty clear that Jesus was overwhelmed by what had happened the day before.
When his disciples found him later in the morning and told him that “everyone is searching for you” — which indicated that that day was going to be at least as crazy as the previous — Jesus responded: “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.” In effect, Jesus was saying, “Sorry guys, I’m outta here!”
His answer reflects that he felt, in this early moment of his ministry, that things had gotten off-track. The crowds, with their demands and expectations for healing, were missing his primary purpose – the proclamation of the coming of the Kingdom of God.
The gospel-writer Mark makes it clear that Jesus’ healings and miracles, though they are expressions and signs of the Kingdom of God, are not the greatest treasure of the Gospel. Nonetheless, in this passage and throughout Jesus’ ministry, these very signs (healings and miracles) get such a strong reaction that the message Jesus is proclaiming is sometimes lost. It is like the people are saying, “never mind the Gospel, just give us the healings.”
That’s not difficult at all for me to understand. Being rescued from severe physical or mental illness… what can possibly compare to that? One minute, you or your loved one is in the hands of death, the next they are well and life itself opens before them. It’s not at all hard for me to understand how the message of the kingdom of God might get lost in the excitement and wonder caused by the healings of Jesus.
But we need to know that in our relationship with Jesus and in the gift of the Kingdom of God, there is something even more precious than that.
Jesus once healed a group of 10 lepers and they were all overcome with joy. In an instant, their lives were all dramatically changed and they were free — free from the ravages of an ugly disease, free to once again walk and interact and live among others in their community.
Of the 10, however, only one could see that hidden in this healing lie something greater than the healing itself. He understood that he had been touched by the power and love of the author of life, and so he returned to Jesus to worship and thank him.
This is the response Jesus desires of us: That we see in him the power and love of God; that we realize we need this power and this love to make our lives whole; and that we then turn to Jesus with open hearts to receive this power, that it might touch and transform our whole being… all that we are.
“Were not ten cleansed?” Jesus asked. “Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Jesus turned to the man and said, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Here Jesus spoke of being made well in a different and deeper sense than being healed of the disease of leprosy.
When we encounter Christ, that encounter should change how we see things; and it should change what we see… in Christ, in our neighbor, and ourselves… in life. It should change us, because that is what being “made well” means. That is the deeper healing that Christ has come to bring.
We who encounter Christ in our lives… in scripture, in prayer, in the sacraments, in creation, in our work, in each other… we must be like that one leper. We must continually return to God and open ourselves to the deeper gift he offers us.
You students stand in the midst of that kind of opportunity too. You are here – at YCC – for a reason. There is a purpose for your being here. And it’s a gift: A chance to be safe, while you think straight, see clearly, heal, grow, get strong… so that you can finally get living, as God has created and called you to live.
This place isn’t perfect. Teachers and staff aren’t perfect. But God is present everywhere here in the people and in the work that you are instructed to do. If you take the opportunity you have here, and pursue with all your energy the purpose for your being here, God will meet you in your work and in your pain.
Like yeast in bread or seed in the soil, he will bring forth in you healing and change and growth. He will show you and he will give you a greater treasure than simply freedom from incarceration. He will give you his love and power to find new life as a child of God.