Gospel Reflection for Feb. 7, 2021, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jesus lived at a time in history when disease was rampant and it didn’t take much for someone to be struck down and die from an infection or ailment that today would not even get one admitted to a hospital. People looked for all sorts of elixirs and cures and, while some were successful and quite beneficial, others only complicated matters more. Things will not change that quickly throughout history, and perhaps, it even gets worse over the ensuing centuries. The medical care that we today take for granted is very recent in Western history, owing much to physicians and scientists like Fleming and Lister.

One popular method of seeking health and healing was to consult a miracle-worker or faith healer. While many of these were (and still are) charlatans playing on the weakness and desperation of the masses, there have always been those who through the power of God are able to bring healing and wholeness to the infirmed.

We have seen a quick introduction to the public ministry of Jesus. He preached in the synagogue at Capernaum and does so with authority, unlike the ordinary teachers of that time. He expelled a demon from a man in the synagogue which amazed the assembled causing them to wonder who indeed this stranger could be.

Going next to the house of Simon Peter Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law who had been sick with a fever. News of him spreads quickly. Before they realize it, Simon’s house is overrun with the infirmed. In Jesus they recognized someone and something extraordinary. They brought their sick to him hoping to be healed.

To some extent it is his healing ministry that draws much of the focus of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus expels demons and heals the sick. While there are sections of parables and aphorisms, Mark places a great emphasis on Jesus bringing healing to a world broken by sin and overcome by the kingdom of Satan.

There have been those who dismiss the miracles of Jesus, including Thomas Jefferson cut the miracles out of his own version of the New Testament. There are those who claim that Jesus, and many other miracle workers, prey on the weakness of those suffering from hysteria or psychosomatic disorders. While that might well be the case for some healings, the healings accounted for us in the Gospels go well beyond the psychological. Jesus cures those who suffer from permanent, often disfiguring and even fatal illnesses. He is not a miracle worker as are some others. He is the worker of miracles.

Today we place our trust more firmly in the medical arts. Over this past year we have come to recognize ever more fully our reliance on medical experts, infectious disease specialists, and other technicians as we confront the pandemic of our times. Yet we know that, ultimately, they do not have the final control or power over this or any disease and affliction. It is the author of life who alone brings life and death.

What we often miss is that our greatest needs for healing are often not physical, even if they have a physical component. Jesus knew this as well. He told people he was “forgiving their sins” because it was their sins that held them bound. He touched those, like the leper, who were untouchable. Even here, healing the mother- in-law of Simon Peter is a sign to the crowd of the authenticity of his healing ministry, and as a sign of Jesus’ compassion for the suffering. This miracle, as insignificant as it might seem in the overall context of the other miracles in the Gospels, does nonetheless demonstrate the desire of Jesus to bring healing, hope, and restoration to those who are afflicted.

In our own sinfulness, our brokenness, and the turmoil of our world, it is this sense of healing and peace that is so deeply needed. While we might not see the genuinely miraculous happening before our eyes each day there is no doubt that miracles can and do happen. Not all miracles involve a cure from a dreadful or terminal disease. Many are brought to physical, emotional, and spiritual wholeness and health through the mystery of God acting in their lives. We need only the courage to present ourselves to him.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel