8 Feb 2009
“‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.’” (Mark 1:38) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
This past week at Frontier there were over 100 students absent on one day, and that’s not counting faculty and staff. Mid-week I got hit by something too. I just want to know which one of those infected kids gave it to me. A bunch of them come through my house coughing and hacking, and when I find the one responsible they’re going to come over and make me chicken soup and bring me orange juice. My whole day Thursday was sleeping and watching television because of this plague. I called up Sharon at work and told her to start making my funeral arrangements. As I sat there on Thursday watching day time television, however, I started to feel better just because I wasn’t as ill as the people the advertisers were trying to reach. I was amazed how many drug commercials run during daytime TV, how long the list of side-effects can be for any one of them – side effects that I thought sounded a whole lot worse than the original ailment, and also how many lawyers run commercials just in case some medicine does more harm than good. After listening to all that all day Thursday, my cold didn’t sound so bad after all.
And since we’re talking about being sick, a friend of mine was telling me that he had to make a visit to the doctor’s recently. He and I are starting to close in on the grand old age of 50, and he was joking about the pills that he has had to start taking. Problems that he once associated with his parents are now his own. He’s in the doctor’s office and he unconsciously lets out a cough: One single, dry cough. That’s it. The doctor starts asking him about the cough, to which my friend replies, “What cough you talking about?” “Do you cough often?” the doctor continues. Again, my friend asks, “What cough?” “Is it always a dry cough? Do respiratory problems run in your family?” the doctor wants to know. My friend is already feeling bad about the other ailments that brought him to the doctor’s in the first place and all the pills he has to take for them, and now his doctor is asking him about his lungs too. We’re starting to fall apart.
As I’m sitting down to the computer to write today’s sermon, my Lysol wipes nearby to disinfect the keyboard, my box of Kleenex next to me because of my runny nose, I read of Peter’s mother-in-law. I empathize with her. She doesn’t have an ailment like leprosy or a handicap like being blind, or any of the other big problems that Jesus fixes with His miracles. She just has a fever, but the fever has laid her up. If she could have, Peter’s mother-in-law would have been watching day time television with me on Thursday. This case of Peter’s mother-in-law is the story of Jesus’ first miracle in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus enters Peter’s home, finds the mother-in-law ill, touches her hand, and the fever’s gone. Even today I’m still not back to feeling my regular self, and as I think about today’s Gospel I can’t help but feel how cool it would be to healed immediately and completely because of my faith in Jesus. Then there wouldn’t be the trip to the doctor’s, there wouldn’t be the medicine that makes my stomach feel not so good. Instead, I’d just be better.
And how many people in this world of ours wouldn’t love a religion as uncomplicated as that. Put your faith in your god, and then your god makes everything better for you. I think all believers struggle to one degree or another over the question of why good people suffer. And I’m sorry to say that there aren’t any easy answers to that question. When you’re sick, the illness takes on a life of its own. Everything else seems to fade a bit. It becomes the center of attention. Because of this universal tendency, when Mark talks about the fever of Peter’s mother-in-law, he makes the fever sound like it was a person, that it was conscious of what it was doing, that it made a deliberate choice to pick-on Peter’s mother-in-law as opposed to someone else. Mark says “the fever left her,” like it was an entity that went off somewhere else to find someone else to get sick. We take our illnesses and diseases very personally. “Why me?” is a constant question of those who are severely ill. And the question reflects an attitude that the illness is personal and chose to afflict any particular person as opposed to any other. When we have this conception of sickness, illness and disease as personal, we also can have the conception that a personal god should be able to step in and take care of it immediately.
Now I can’t go into detail here in a sermon because there just isn’t enough time, but there seems to be real evidence that Jesus was a miracle worker, a healer with extraordinary gifts. Since we now begin the season of Pre-Lent, let me mention just the evidence of Jesus’ enemies. They have no reason to fudge in favour of Jesus. If He couldn’t work miracles, they’d be only to glad to say, “Hey, show us just one.” Instead, at the cross, they’re left saying, “‘He saved others; He cannot save Himself.’” (Mk. 15:31) Jesus’ enemies can’t argue against all the evidence of Jesus’ miracles, and so by reading between the lines it’s safe to say His miracles are real. And yet even with this power, the good still suffer.
But if we’re willing to try and understand the purpose of our faith as it gets reallycomplicated, we might begin with today’s Gospel. All of Capernaum was coming to Jesus to be healed. Jesus was popular and respected. Yet in the middle of the night He goes off by Himself because something isn’t right. When the disciples find Him in the morning, Jesus tells them they must move on to new places, to preach the gospel to new people, and then Jesus says, “For this purpose have I come.” Jesus didn’t come to be defined as a miraculous healer. These were gifts He could share, but even more importantly He came to bring God to us, and us to God. May we find the ability to trust in God deeply enough to see this promise as Jesus’ most powerful miracle and as His purpose. For this we pray in Jesus’ name.