Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 9, 2003
The Gospel: Mark 1:29-39
Sermon: "God Does Not Cause Suffering"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, "Everyone is searching for you." He answered, "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." And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.
Mark 1: 29-39
God Does Not Cause Suffering
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany - February 9, 2003
The woman was watching over her husband in the hospital bed. She wasn't sad and crying. She was frustrated and angry. Her husband had Alzheimer's and had not been himself for a long time. She was frustrated because she did not know what to do. She was angry. She was angry at God. She felt God could heal her husband restoring him to the way he was and God would not. God has not answered her prayer.
Down the hall a family had gathered. The grandmother of the family was dying of cancer. They were not frustrated but they were angry at God too. They were angry for the same reason. They did not want their grandmother to die. They felt God could heal her if God wanted too. They wanted to know why God wasn't responding.
Similar incidents like these happen around the world every day. People pray for miraculous healings and divine intervention from God. They believe God can heal and that God will even stop death if they believe hard enough or pray hard enough.
Today's readings can even make the situation worse for some people. Jesus walks into the home of Simon and Andrew. Their mother is sick with fever. Jesus touches her and the fever leaves. She is restored to health. Then the entire town comes to the door that night. They come with the sick, the infirm, the possessed. Jesus cures many of them. He may have touched them. He may have spoken to them. We don't know how he healed them.
Eventually they leave and Jesus goes off into the wilderness in the morning to pray. The people came out looking for him. There were more people to heal. There more people to touch. Yet, Jesus says it is time to move on to the next town. He is not to be the local faith healer. He has a message to proclaim and so he must move on.
I am reminded of the scene from "Jesus Christ Superstar" where the actor who plays Jesus walks into the area designated for lepers. They come to him. They press on him. He touches them but at the same time he feels overwhelmed. He feels he can not touch them all.
We struggle with the dichotomy. Jesus can heal with a touch but not everyone is healed. We feel cheated today. Jesus walked on this earth two thousand years ago. He doesn't walk physically here now. He doesn't appear at doorways and touch people. He doesn't turn to people in conversation and proclaim sick relatives well. So we feel cheated from the opportunity to have been physically present with Jesus. So, we believe that Jesus can heal with a touch. If Jesus and God can heal that easily and healing doesn't happen, then we ask a hard and horrible question. If God doesn't heal a person, then does God will that person to suffer?
The question does follow a logical pattern, but it doesn't make sense when we look at Jesus. Jesus, God Incarnate, could have come in a different way. God has come to people in a cloud, in a burning bush, in a pillar of fire and in other ways as well. However, God comes to us in Jesus in flesh and blood. Do we ever think about what that entailed? Jesus was a baby, so he knew what it was like to be wet. He knew what it was like to be hungry. Jesus grew up as a child, running and playing. He had to have scraped knees and elbows. He had colds and viruses. Jesus even went through the teenage years. We know Jesus went through temptation in the wilderness. Can we imagine what that must have been like for him? We know that we gets tempted by the desire for power, prestige and wealth. We want it, but we don't have the ability to get it. Jesus, on the other hand, had the power to get it all. He chose not to. Instead, Jesus turns to service. He turns to serve God and as a result saves us.
OK, Jesus was like us I hear you say, but how does that address this question of healing now? Well, in our question concerning whether God wills suffering we forget one thing. Even though Jesus had the power to heal, even though Jesus had the power to cast out demons, cure lepers and even stop death, Jesus suffered and died.
Jesus, God Incarnate, did not escape suffering and death. All through Jesus' ministry he was chastised by people who did not believe in him. He was ridiculed and called a liar. In Jerusalem, he is accused of being a blasphemer when he is the only one telling the truth. He is tortured. The soldiers beat him and whip him. His own people turn against rum. His disciples run away and deny him. Finally, Jesus is taken to Golgotha. He is stripped before the people, the ultimate indignity. He is nailed to the cross, and he dies. Not even the Son of God escapes suffering, pain and death in this world. The one who has the ability to heal with a word or a touch dies on the cross.
It is not that sin and death win in this battle. It is not that God wants us to suffer. The reality is that God works through all of the pain, the suffering, the illness, and even death to bring eternal life. God uses love to work through them. God uses love that breaks the bonds of suffering and pain. God uses love that has the incredible power to raise Jesus from the dead and offer us eternal life. Suffering and pain is not God's will for anyone. Instead, God works beyond the suffering and pain of this world and offers us eternal life. God's will is for us to live in the presence of God for eternity.
Today's lesson reminds us that God is at work in the world. God has not forgotten us. God does not want suffering for us. Yet, sometimes this world offers suffering to us. When that happens God is our hope. God is our saving help. God is always there.