Sermon - Last Sunday After the Epiphany
In the Name...
I understand that doctors have now discovered that there is a gene for shyness. Yes. They would have found it sooner, but it was hiding behind some other genes.
St. Mark begins Chapter Nine by telling us that one day Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain and was there gloriously transfigured before them. We all know the story and I'm sure it was wonderful for Peter, James, and John. But, have you ever thought about the other nine disciples? Matthew and Judas and Andrew and the rest. They'd been left behind. Jesus hadn't taken them up the mountain. How do you think they felt about that? I mean, how would you feel if you'd been one of them? So, the boss has favourites? Doesn't he like me anymore; doesn't he trust me; what does he have to say to them he can't say to me? I've worked just as hard; I've been just as loyal. We know the thoughts.
And, as we read on in the next part of the chapter, it seems that while they were sitting around, brooding over their lot in life, they were asked to drive a demon out of a sick boy.
Well, that shouldn't have been difficult. That’s the sort of thing they had been doing for a while. But, when Jesus returned from his hike, he found them in a shouting match because they weren’t doing too well. In fact, they couldn't do it at all.
Imagine how much worse that must have made them feel. Not only are they excluded from the private pow-wow with Jesus, now, it seems, they can't even do what they used to. They feel powerless, so they get angry. And that's usually why we get angry. Because we feel put upon, or out of the loop, or in the midst of situations we can't understand or control.
Here, the disciples feel they should be able to heal this boy, but, for some reason they don't understand, they can't. So, Jesus says, "Bring the boy to me" and that should be the first thing we do when we find ourselves in a difficult situation. Bring it to him, not because we aren't good enough, but, because some needs require a specialist. Does a urologist feel inferior if he has to refer a patient to an oncologist? Of course not. As Christians, we're all in the healing business and, like doctors; we're gifted in different ways. Jesus, however, is the Great Physician and the ultimate referral.
But, strangely, Jesus doesn't rush to heal the boy. He turns to the father and calmly engages him in long conversation about the boy's condition. How long has he had this illness, what are the effects, who's the insurance provider - well, not quite, but, it seems that way.
We may wonder why Jesus does this. Obviously, the consultation isn't for him to figure out what he needs to do. It has to be for our benefit. It seems that the boy suffers from epilepsy. That's a physical problem. Like a broken leg. The demon, though, is something else. That's a spiritual problem. And that's the first thing Jesus wants his disciples, and us, to understand. Physical problems and spiritual problems are two different things.
When a person is physically ill it's not only the body that gets weak. The person's spirit can also be weakened and just as weak bodies are prone to infection, so too, weak spirits can get spiritual infection. St. Peter warns us that demons roam about like lions seeking whom they may devour. They look for people whose spirits are down and try to take advantage.
Depression, self-pity, anger, these are spiritual weaknesses which can end up affecting our bodies. For example, there have been cases where people who have witnessed horrible, traumatic events go blind even though physically their eyes are still 20/20. Their minds shut down the processing of sight, and therapy, not medicine or surgery, is needed to restore their vision.
Evidently, in this case, a demon had taken advantage of an epileptic boy and was causing him some emotional grief. Which leads to the key thing Jesus says to his disciples, "This demon can only be cast out by prayer."
In the Gospels it is recorded that Jesus' disciples once asked him, "Lord, teach us to pray." and Jesus taught them the Our Father. Now, these men were born and raised devout Jews. They prayed all the time. If anybody knew how to say prayers for every aspect of daily life, they did. So what was Jesus teaching? Jesus was teaching them that prayer wasn't about words, it was about relationship. The Jews saw God as their Lord, their King, their Judge, etc., but, their Father, in a personal, individual sense, was a new concept. Jesus says that a life of prayer means a life of living in relationship with God as close as that of a child to a parent.
Prayer doesn't mean magic words. Healing doesn't come by saying the Lord's Prayer a hundred times. But, the power of healing comes when your life, your will, your being, is in a close filial relationship with the source of all Healing. In other words, when you yourself are well in spirit.
The disciples at the base of the mountain lost the ability to use the power they had been given because they were brooding and complaining. They weren't living close to the Father. So, when they were asked to make someone else well, they couldn't. They couldn't cast out the demon because they had become spiritually sick themselves. They had become so self-absorbed with their grievances they weren't able to reach out and help anybody else.
Living a life of prayer, a life of relationship with God, is what allows us to exercise all the ministries which God has given us to do. Healing is one of them. Discerning between physical and spiritual needs is another. And if we find we're not able to do everything, then knowing when and how to refer patients to those who can is, itself, an act of faith and devotion. Our Father loves us and wants the best for all of us. He wants us to be whole in body, mind and spirit so that we can make others whole.
Jesus has made all of us doctors of spiritual medicine. So, let's practice it, then, by living in prayer with Our Father as close as we can. No need to be shy about it.
In the Name...