A man recently told me the story of when he was a young boy and his parents would invite his neighbors over each Sunday for dinner, and then they would all sit around the table holding hands as they said grace. The man told me, that one Sunday, one of the loneliest guests, an elderly widow, had said after the prayer was done, “Can we hold hands a little bit longer?”
I love this story because it tells a truth about human loneliness and the desire for connection.
“Can we just hold hands a little bit longer?”
There is something in the Scripture today about hands. About hands that share healing and love in the midst of loneliness and sorrow and sickness.
We don’t know much about the woman in today’s story. We know that she was Peter’s mother-in-law … did you know Peter was married? Now you do. We know that she stuck in bed and that she couldn’t get out. We don’t know if other things weighed on her mind, if she was worrying about the future, or if she was lonely or if she was scared. And into this place, Jesus shows up and the first thing he does is gently, tenderly takes her hand. I imagine his hand is warm, and dirt stained. And as the woman grasps and slowly standing up. With that warm hand in hers, the fever leaves her. She is healed. And I have been thinking about this passage all week. We are called to be like Jesus and Jesus heals.
So what does that mean for us? What I was trying to wrap my head around is the question: What does healing look like? Could you describe it? As I was pondering this question: What does healing look like?
I kept coming back to this image of Jesus dirt worn hands … hands with callouses and maybe some stubby finger nails. The first thing that Jesus does in this story is to take the woman’s hand in his, offering his love.
This was no small task. Because, the thing is, for a male Jew in first century Palestine it was considered taboo to even touch an unrelated woman. And it was considered unclean to touch someone who was sick. And it was considered a religious violation to do any kind of work on the Sabbath. And so Jesus violates all of these boundaries just to touch this woman. So that she would know that she is not all alone. It seems that Jesus is teaching us that healing has something to do with relationship.
In the book Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing and Raising the Dead, a doctor named Julie shares the story of a Yemeni woman that she sees at her clinic who literally just leaps on the table and starts telling Julie her whole life story through the translator. The Yemeni woman is looking for healing. She always complains about muscle pain, terrible pain and Julie isn’t really able to treat it. But, Julie shares, the Yemeni woman tells me she loves me and I know that she gets something from our visits. And I do too. I can’t cure her, Julie says, but I love her.
Is that healing?
The book Jesus Freak tells another story. This time it is a story about a nurse named Martha who is relatively new to the job. She comes across a patient who she absolutely adores. She describes him as a really big guy who had sores all over her body …sores that happened to be really smelly. Yet Martha explains in the book about this man’s laughter. She explained that he would laugh really hard when he told a joke. Stupid jokes, like he said he wore size fifteen shoes, but he was one those people who bends over double when he laughs and even if it isn’t funny it’s catching. We both just keeping laughing and laughing until the tears start to come down our faces.
Is that healing?
Perhaps healing doesn’t always come in form of a cure. Perhaps it does not always come in the form of physical healing, although it can. While Jesus might not have shown us how to heal every ill, or make a blind man see or dry every eye, Jesus does show us how to offer our hand in love, how to enter into a way of life in which the broken and sick pieces are held together in love. In which strangers hold hands just a little bit long. In which laughter is found in places of suffering. In which healing happens even while physical pain continues.
In the Scripture today, Jesus invites us into relationship with the Divine, to feel the flow of love and light flow into the dark and wounded and lonely parts of our soul. And so I imagine that that is what Peter’s mother-in-law experience, that experience not only a healing of her sickness, but a healing of her soul.
And once she had that powerful experience that, the Scriptures say: “She began to serve.” The woman immediately becomes an agent of what she had just received: grace and mercy and healing. She serves not out of obligation or social expectation but out of a place of freedom. She served out of place of holy love that empowered her to give what she had received. Jesus not only healed the woman but called her to go forth and heal others. It is like Jesus is deputizing those he encounters on his journey because Jesus is about more than healing certain sick people, Jesus is about healing the brokenness of our entire world. And so everyone that Jesus touches is conscripted into this Kingdom-building process that we might go and do likewise.
And so the next part of our text tells us that “they brought to him all who were sick and possess with demons.” And then the next verse says the whole city was gathered around the door because, in the end, we are all in need of God’s healing love. And when the mother-in-law, saw a whole city’s worth of sick and demon possessed outside her door, I would like to imagine her pushing up her sleeves and touching and healing and loving speaking truth to them. She transmits what was given to her. She gets up and serves. She’s been deputized.
Because, in the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, “That’s the thing with the kingdom of God, there is no personal treasure to be had…there are only gifts to be shared.” That is what we see in this video below.
“That’s the thing with the kingdom of God, there is no personal treasure to be had…there are only gifts to be shared.”
Bolz-Weber continues on to remind us that God’s desire for the wholeness and healing of all creation was started in a world changing way in the life of Jesus and it continues through you – through the hands on which rest the waters of baptism and the hands which receive the Bread of Life and Cup of Blessing, which transform us into the hands of feet of Jesus. My friends, your hands are what God has to work with here. Hands that, no matter what your story is, have as much to receive as they have to give. Just by merit of being here, you’ve been conscripted into this beautiful, redemptive story of God’s love for all of humanity. (This paragraph is a paraphrase from Bolz-Weber’s Sermon on Jesus’ Dream Team: Rank Fisherman, Demoniacs and Sick Old Ladies).
Jesus offers us a hand, God’s healing love pours over us. Can you imagine what that feels like? Can you feel Christ’s love palpable in this room, in this community, in this very moment among us? My friends, receive the Good News of God’s redemptive story and healing love. And then go forth and share it with the world. In the name of Jesus, Amen.