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The Rev. Dr. John H. Pavelko


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 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mark 1:29-39

 Even You

 

Unanswerable Ponderings

The population of the world is estimated to be 6.5 billion and growing. I have a difficult time imagining 6.5 billion people in the world. And that number does not represent all the people who have ever lived down through history. The historical population of the world is impossible to calculate. How far back would you go? Even if you are a proponent of a young earth theory and only go back 6000 years to Adam and Eve, you have a problem. We do not know if everyone's name is listed in Scripture up until Abraham. Maybe somebody had children that are not recorded. If you believe in evolution you would have an even more difficult task calculating how many people have ever walked this earth before you.

How do you respond to such ponderings? How do those thoughts make you feel? Why do you think that you are so special in the vast historical sea of humanity? How is it that you can talk about knowing a personal God in view of the millions and even billions of people who have ever lived?

The Black Death or bubonic plague that struck Europe in 1400 is said to have reduced the population between 30-60% from an estimated 450 million to between 350 and 375 million. how can I say that this God answers prayer in view of the millions of faithful Christians throughout history who died after their prayers for relief from their suffering were not answered?

How do you think Peter's mother-in-law would have explained why Jesus visited her and not another sick person in the village of Capernaum? Did her son-in-law warrant special favors? Or was it simply because Peter's house may have been located within a very short walk from the synagogue? Archaeologists believe that they have in fact found Peter's house and it is in fact practically across the street from where the synagogue may have been.

We are told that after the Sabbath had ended Jesus healed many. While many is quite a lot it is not everyone. If Jesus only healed those people that were brought to him, does that make them more special, more significant or more important than the ones who were not healed?

Why Ask Such Questions?

None of my questions can be ever adequately answered but they are more than philosophical speculation. By asking them we challenge two distortions of Jesus. First, some have turned him into a magical wonder worker; a religious magician who offers a few magical incantations to cure everything from mild headaches to brain tumors or from indigestion to congestive heart failure. J. K. Rowling of the Harry Potter fame offered some particularly insightful wisdom on this in her first book. Hagrid the Hogwarts gamekeeper is sent to pick up Harry Potter and bring him to Hogwarts, the ancient school for the training of witches and wizards. Since Harry has been living with a non-magical family known as Muggles, Hagrid has to explain everything to him about the world of magic. Harry is surprised to learn that the magical community has a Ministry of Magic that has the responsibility of preventing the Muggles from finding out about the wizarding community. Harry asks Hagrid why, to which Hagrid replies, “Well, it's obvious isn't it? If they found out about us, they would want us to solve all their problems with magic.” The gospel of Mark is written to prevent Christian's from treating Jesus like a magical wonder worker.

The author of Mark devotes much of his material to presenting the miracles of Jesus. Remember last week's story and the healing of the demon possessed man. In the following weeks we will hear how Jesus heals a man with leprosy, a paralytic, calms a storm on a lake, casts out a demon from another man, heals a woman that has been bleeding for 12 years, raises a young girl from her death bed, feeds 9,000 people, walks on water and does a host of other spectacular things. But Mark wants to make sure that the reader does not fixate on the miracles at the neglect of his teaching.

Jesus is more than a miracle worker. He begins his ministry by teaching and only delivers the man from demonic possession when the demon forces the issue. After Mark tells us that Jesus heals the crippled man, he has Jesus teach about fasting, and tell stories comparing the kingdom of God to a sower, a lamp, the growing seed, and a mustard seed before he calms the storm. Mark wants us to make sure that we know that we should not even consider separating the healing ministry from the teaching ministry of Jesus. We should not depend upon the miraculous to bail us out of stupid decisions, or predicaments caused by immoral living. We have a responsibility to use our intellectual capabilities in applying the teaching of Jesus to the problems of our lives.

The Bible is not our magic wand. The oil we use to anoint the sick is not a magic potion and the words of our prayers are not holy incantations that cast spells upon the demonic. That said the pendulum can always swing too far to the other side.

I was having coffee with a retired minister and she was explaining how she dealt with a pastoral issue. She surprised me when she stated that she did not believe in an interventionist God, that is, a God who enters into the affairs of people to intervene. I was too shocked to answer how she approached prayer. Why bother praying if God is not about to do something? Why bother lifting up petitions if God is nothing more than a spectator sitting in his luxury box watching the games played out.

Mark sets the healing of Peter's mother-in-law alongside the story of the healing for the many for a variety of reasons. One I believe is to show us the personal attention he offers even while he attends to the faceless crowd. God is there for even you among a vast sea of suffering and pain. What a message. I do not know how he is able to bring it all together. I do not know how is is able to keep everything in balance. Jim Carrey brought us some humor to the matter in the movie Bruce Almighty. You may recall God, played by Morgan Freeman, decides to assign to Jim Carrey the responsibility of answering everyone's prayers that come in through email, faxes and the general mail. Carrey is overwhelmed after only a few short minutes of considering our requests.

Mark never attempts to answer how God maintains and separates the trivial, the selfish and stupid petitions and those that conform to his will. He never tries to describe the criteria by which God evaluates the merits of our requests. However, Mark does want us to know that he considers both the mundane and critical equally important. We do not know with certainty but Peter's mother-in-law probably would have gotten over the fever. Later that night, the people brought to Jesus many who were so sick, that they could not walk themselves. Jesus cured a women with a fever and those possessed by a demon. If he cares about such a vast array of people then he also cares for even you.

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