A Sermon for Year B, Proper 9. Based on Mark 6:1-13
By Nathan L. Bostian
Now, I do not know about you, but if I walked into a hospital chapel, and heard that reading from Mark, I would be wondering something. I would be asking questions. I might even be scratching my head.
Because a hospital is a house of healing. It is supposed to be an environment where our diseases can be diagnosed, and treated, and hopefully cured.
But then I walk into this chapel- a place where we are pray for the healing of the patients, and wisdom for medical caregivers- I walk in and hear this text read:
"And Jesus could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief."
What am I supposed to do with that text?
If I am patient, what am I supposed to do with the fact that there were some who Jesus couldn't heal?
If I am the loved one of a patient, what am I supposed to do with the fact that it seems like Jesus couldn't heal people because of their "unbelief"?
And if I am in the medical profession, skilled in the healing arts, what am I supposed to do with the fact that the Greatest Healer of all time couldn't heal certain people?
This is a tough text. This is a text to wrestle with. This is a text that makes us turn to Jesus and ask him "God, what is UP with that?"
It would be easier to deal with another passage where Jesus heals the multitudes, no questions asked. It would be easier to talk about the 8th chapter of Romans, where Paul says that NOTHING in all creation, neither trials nor tribulations nor life nor death, is able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.
It would be easier. But I don't think it would be the text God wants us to wrestle with today.
And in Church- especially in a Church where you read through all of the Bible, even the hard parts- sometimes we have to deal with readings that challenge us in the depths of our need.
Sometimes we have to deal with texts that make us wrestle, strain, struggle, sweat, and maybe even shed a tear or two.
But the promise of Jesus is that He is right there beside us, wrestling, straining, struggling, sweating, and even shedding tears.
So, let's be honest. Not everyone gets healed the way we want them to get healed. It doesn't matter if it is Jesus, or the latest multi-million dollar medical technology.
Not everyone gets healed.
And some of us may be struggling with that today. We might have a loved one who is not doing very well. We may be someone who has been looking to be healed for a long time, but it just doesn't seem to be coming. We may be someone who helps others heal, but no matter what treatments you try, there are still some patients you can't help.
And I don't know about you. But I know how I might feel. I might be hurting, physically and emotionally. I might feel scared. Or afraid. Or frustrated. I might even feel a little angry.
Maybe even more than a little bit.
And I might have questions that God does not seem to be answering.
And the reality is that in Jesus Christ, God is right there with you going through it all with you.
God did not stay up in heaven, unconcerned and untouched by all we go through. God did not stay on his Throne, afraid to get dirty with his children.
No, God did the unthinkable: In Jesus, God became one of us. God put skin on. God got his feet dirty.
In Jesus, God faced real human pain, real human frustration, real human fears, and real human death. Saint Paul's letter to the Philippians puts it this way:
"Jesus, who was in Reality God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of humans. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name."
Jesus knew what it was like to not be healed, because he faced suffering and death with us. And Jesus knew what it was like to not be able to heal others, because some would not trust him.
But Jesus also knows that this is not the end. Sickness and pain and death do not have the last word. Lack of healing does not have the last Word. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we KNOW what the last Word is.
The Last Word is Life. The Last Word is Love. The Last Word is Hope.
And so, when we read passages like ours today, we ALWAYS have to keep the Last Word in mind. That's what Jesus did. And that's what kept Jesus going.
When confronted with the struggles of real people, it was Jesus' Word of Love that kept Him going. When confronted people's lack of faith, and rejection, and suspicion, it was Jesus' Word of Hope that kept Him going. When confronted with His own mortality, it was Jesus' Word of Life that kept Him going.
So, with that Last Word in mind, what do we learn about healing and hope in our Bible reading today?
The first thing we learn is that personal trust is what allows the healing work of Jesus into our lives. Our passage today says that when many were not healed, it was somehow connected with their "unbelief".
In fact this "unbelief" amazed Jesus. It flabbergasted him. Here he was, offering to heal and make whole, and all folks could do was make fun of him, for his background and upbringing.
It would be like if I stood here offering to give you a million dollars, and instead of taking it you just stood there and made fun of how bald I was, and how funny the collar of my shirt was.
Why would they react like that to Jesus?
There was probably a lot of reasons they were skeptical and offended by Jesus, but they all boil down to what the Bible calls "unbelief".
Now, when the Bible uses words like "unbelief" or "belief" or "faith", we often think of that as something you think about. We think about belief as something that means having right ideas about God, Jesus, the Bible, and so on.
And so we falsely think, if we don't have the right ideas, then God rejects us. We mistakenly think if we have the wrong beliefs, then Jesus won't heal us.
And if we can just memorize and know the right facts about Jesus, then we can get healed. We can get God to do what we want, when we want.
But that is NOT how it works. That is not what the Bible means by "belief" or "unbelief".
When the Bible talks about belief or faith, it is talking about trust. It is not talking about having right ideas. It is talking about if you desire, depend on, hope in, confide in Someone else. It is talking about if you cling to Jesus, and won't let go.
Let me put it this way: I have a 10 month old baby boy at home. When he sees mommy or me, he crawls over to us, and wants us to pick him up. He clings to us.
When he cries, and knows we will answer him. When he hurts or is hungry, he trusts us to care for him.
Does he have a lot of right ideas about us? No.
Other than knowing I am the large, smiling guy with the beard and the shiny head, he knows no facts about me. He doesn't even know my name.
But he believes in me. He trusts me. He has faith.
That was what was missing from the folks in Jesus' home town. It wasn't that they didn't have right ideas about him. They had all the facts: They knew who he was, who his family was, and probably the whole story of his childhood.
But they didn't trust him. They didn't have faith in him. They didn't run up to him, and embrace him, and cling to him. They would not let him touch them, and it is the touch of Jesus that heals.
Think about it: In almost all the stories where people are healed by Jesus, what do they do? They touch Jesus. They embrace Jesus. They cling to Jesus.
They didn't memorize all the right facts about Jesus, and pass his pop quiz before he would heal them. They touched him, and trusted him with their needs.
That is how trust is really shown: When we allow someone to touch us, and share in our pain. When we allow Jesus to touch us, and share in our pain.
And that brings us to the second thing about Jesus' healing that is hard for us to understand: When we DO come to him, and let him touch us, then why doesn't God heal us the way we expect?
Why doesn't God make healing planned and predictable and punctual? Why do we have to wait? Why do we have to worry?
The truth is, life is messy. And when Jesus is at work in our lives, he works within our messiness, in messy ways that we cannot predict.
Or to put it another way: God heals us in many ways. When we let Jesus touch us, he is ALWAYS at work healing us, but often not in the way we expect.
For example: At the very end of our reading today, Jesus sends his disciples on a mission. And that mission was to continue Jesus' mission, and do the exact same things that he did.
What were those things?
It says that the disciples proclaimed repentance, cast out evil powers, and healed the sick. This is exactly what Jesus did.
These may seem like three separate things, but they are all part of healing the entire person. They are three parts of the same healing activity that God does in our lives.
First of all, you have "repentance". To repent is to change one's heart, to get rid of harmful ways of living, and to embrace healthy ways of thinking.
When the disciples proclaim repentance, they are healing people's hearts and minds. That is emotional healing.
Second of all, there is casting out demons. This means to get rid of evil powers that have rooted themselves in someone's spirit. It means to free them from bondage to wickedness and sin. That is spiritual healing.
And third, there is healing the sick. That's physical healing.
Emotional healing. Spiritual healing. Physical healing. All are part of the same healing touch, when we embrace Jesus in faith.
We may want physical healing, and that does not happen. But Jesus is still at work in that experience, bringing us emotional healing or spiritual healing, if we will open ourselves to it.
If we will trust him to touch us at the core of our soul.
I know that is difficult. I know it is hard to want one thing, and have God give us another. And Jesus knows it too.
And that is why he walks with us through the hardest of times, and gives us the Hope of His Resurrection.
And not only that, but we also know that if we let Jesus touch us, He will be at work healing us. It might BE a spectacular physical healing.
But often, it will be in ways that are invisible to the outside world. Even in ways we are not aware of. But Jesus will be there. Healing us with the Hope of His resurrection.
So, I encourage you today: Let the Last Word of Jesus be the Word that gives you Hope. Remember that sickness and pain and death do not have the Last Word. Resurrection does. Hope does. Jesus does.
And I invite you to trust Jesus to touch you with his healing touch. Let him touch you with the touch that can cure disease, drive out evil, comfort the heart, and even raise the dead.
Embrace Jesus. Cling to Him. Trust in Him. Amen.