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  • Writer's pictureFather Nicholas Lang

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Although it’s clear that this ever-mutating virus is still hanging on, we pretty much find ourselves on the “other side” of the most serious pandemic we likely will ever experience. Many who weathered the illness have said they’ve never felt so ill and depleted before.


From high fevers of 104 and above to debilitating fatigue lasting sometimes months afterward, COVID-19 brought us face to face with our own mortality in ways that made us think more deeply about who we are, our time on earth, and how we spend that time. It also created within us, as a people, an existential fear and anxiety that has taken years to begin to dissipate.


In a sense, our culture has suffered from a kind of “feverish” uncertainty –a restlessness of mind and spirit that has caused major upheavals within jobs, homes, churches, and relationships. When you feel anxious on a “soul level,” everything in life can feel unstable, unsure, and troubled. 


In the Gospel selections from Mark read during these several weeks after Epiphany, we are privy to the revelation and manifestation of just what Jesus is all about and what he wants to do for us. And we are invited to keep on the lookout for the way Jesus is revealed in our lives and in our faith community.


As we explore the ministry of Jesus in the very first chapter of Mark, we find that it is principally one of healing, restoration, and the removing of impediments that keep people from knowing a richer and fuller life and the experience of God’s all embracing, unconditional love.


Today his disciples ask him to help Simon’s mother-in-law who is burning up with fever. He went to her, took her hand, and raised her up and she got out of bed and fed them all dinner. News like this travels fast and soon the whole city lined up at the door bringing their needs, their ailments, their injuries, and their hurts.


Why does this season call our attention, week after week, to the healing power that God in Jesus brings to our world? Is it, perhaps, to remind us not to take this great blessing and gift which he has given to the church and to claim the power God has given to the church and make use of it?


The early church included healing as a part of its principal ministry—just as Jesus did—and the disciples continued to pray for and heal the sick as they were taught to do directly from their Master. Writing in the first century, the Apostle James invites those who are ill to call in the elders of the church to lay hands on them and anoint them with oil.


The root of the word healing in New Testament Greek, sozo, is the same as that of salvation and wholeness. Spiritual healing is God's work of offering persons balance, harmony, and wholeness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.


Through such healing, God works to bring about reconciliation between God and humanity, among individuals and communities, within each person, and between humanity and the rest of creation.


Healing is not magic, but underlying it is the great mystery of God's love. The laying on of hands by the ministers of healing shows the power of touch, which plays a central role in the healings recorded in the New Testament. Jesus often touched others-blessing children, washing feet, healing injuries or disease, and raising people from death. Contact through touch brings a 'natural' comfort. 


Anointing the forehead with holy oil is a rite invoking the healing love of God. The oil points beyond itself and those doing the anointing to the action of the Holy Spirit and the presence of the healing Christ, who is, God's Anointed One.


I do wonder if COVID did not create a culture of “feverishness,” what felt like the fragileness of life, a fever that causes restlessness, depression, grief, and anxiety. Perhaps it has also made us realize the need for healing on many levels and the opportunity we have as 21st century disciples to channel the power of healing that Jesus has gifted us with.


Two thousand years after Jesus lived among us, he still wants the principal ministry of the church to be one of healing, restoration, and the removing of any and all impediments that keep people from knowing a richer and fuller life and the experience of God’s all embracing, unconditional love.


Someone once wrote that the temperature of the spiritual life of the church is the index of her power to heal. I’d bet the farm that Jesus agrees.


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