Healing Every Sickness, by Pastor Fred Kinsey
Back in my first parish in Upper Michigan one sunny June day, I called up Dale Fredrickson, the church Council’s brother-in-law, to ask that he bring his 2 sons to Vacation Bible School. But he was out fishing on Gibson Lake. Dale had never attended church before, but he knew everybody at Bethany Lutheran Church, small town and all. So, I went down to the lake shore to visit him. He was fishing with his eldest son, Ricky, and they had had a good day: three northern’s and two walleye. Perfect for a fish fry!
So I called out to Dale. Hey, we’re having a family picnic out in front of church this Sunday. You oughta bring those fish and come! Bring your family, Denise and your boys, and we’ll play some volleyball, and have an opening service for Vacation Bible School, and the boys can come to VBS during the week!
So that Sunday Dale took the plunge and left his many fears behind – fear of having never been to church, fear of not being good enough to come, fear of looking weak to his friends by attending a place where people actually confessed their sins and sang songs about God – and he showed up! Everyone had a great time eating, and worshipping outdoors. And the volleyball was really fun, that is, until in one rapid exchange batting the ball back and forth, four of us, two on each side of the net, all went up after the volleyball and collapsed to the ground. And everyone got back up, except Dale’s son Ricky, who lay on the grass moaning in pain. It was his arm – bruised and broken. The ambulance, being 12 miles away in the next town, Dale immediately ran to get his car a block away, and his wife called their doctor. Luckily they both worked in the hospital, and the doctor met them there. It was only a broken arm, but Dale drove as fast as he could down the rural highway, not wanting to prolong his son’s pain any longer than necessary. I’m just glad he didn’t pass any police cars, or deer, on the road!
On reflection, maybe Dale hadn’t anticipated everything he might have to give up, and was risking, when I had called to him at the lakeshore, to come and follow Jesus in coming to his local Lutheran Church!
Today’s gospel story, is the calling of the first 4 disciples, in Matthew, two sets of brothers, all fishermen. Simon Peter and Andrew were subsistence fishers. They had only their nets, fishing from the shoreline. James and John were slightly better off. They had a family business and worked for their dad, Mr. Zebedee, who owned a boat, which enabled them to seek larger catches, and so hopefully larger profits. But either kind of fishing, like the carpentry Jesus came from, was never going to make you rich.
When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been arrested, he knew it was now going to be up to him to continue to announce the prophetic message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” He had been baptized by John and anointed by God to carry on this mission. But he was a different kind of ruler than all the rest. He started far from Jerusalem, Israel’s largest population center. Instead, he “withdrew” to the little fishing village of Capernaum on the NW side of the Sea of Galilee. When Jesus found the 2 sets of brothers, he called to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” And “immediately they left their nets and followed him.”
They had little idea how risky it was going to be. But the call, by this anointed one, this great light, this charismatic leader, this miracle worker, and healer, was too enticing.
And yet, the question for us may not be, are you willing to give up everything, to take a risk, and follow Jesus? Though that’s a good one! The question might better be, are we willing to be Jesus’ healers in the world?
“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people,” says Matthew. “So his fame spread… and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, broken arms, and [Jesus] cured them.” This is the kind of leader Jesus was. Building power amongst the people from the ground up, that they might have whole and salvific lives.
Why were there so many people who were sick in Galilee and Israel?
The reason is well documented, by now. Up to 90% of the people in Palestine lived hand-to-mouth jobs, subsistence living, like Simon Peter, his brother, and the Zebedee’s, that Jesus called from their fishing nets. And of course, they had no microscopes then, and so knew nothing of germs. Most of the diseases – that took 30% of their children and another 60% of adults before the age of 30 – we have since found cures for. Hygiene was poor, food insecurity was high, and water was scarce and often unhealthy. And, absent the knowledge of scientific explanations for these diseases and conditions, sickness was seen as a curse, and a sign of ill-favor. And good health, on the other hand, was a blessing from God.
And so, in Jesus – a healer who went around every town “curing every disease and every sickness among the people,” God’s anointed – he was enacting, in word and deed, the realm and kingdom of heaven, on earth.
In addition, Jesus, according to Matthew, was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. He was a great light shining in the darkness of all this sickness and poverty in Galilee. The prophet Isaiah, back 700 years before Christ, had predicted that Galilee was about to be lost to the Assyrians, contrary to popular belief, but a light would come to save them at a later date. And so as Jesus arrived in Galilee to start his public ministry after his baptism, this same land of Zebulun and Naphtali that Isaiah talked about, was again being occupied by another tyrant, Herod, of the Romans – and the people who sat in darkness needed another light.
Warren Carter, Professor of New Testament, Brite Divinity School, describes it like this link : “Rome asserted control over the land and sea, [over] their production, and the transportation and marketing of their yields, with [binding] contracts and [heavy] taxes. Jesus disrupts these [4 Disciples’] lives, calls them to a different loyalty and way of life, creates a new community, and gives them a new mission (fishing for people). His summons [and announcement] exhibits God’s empire at work, this light shining in the darkness of Roman-ruled Galilee.”
So the anointed one, Jesus, was calling the disciples, not just away from their families and their jobs, but into a whole new way of life, right in their own town. This is the call of our baptism, to dive deeply and deliberately, submit ourselves, to the life of healing the world, and of being fishers of people.
The realm and kingdom of heaven is, in the world, but not of the world, as Luther says. The world of sickness and death that is created by elites, leaders who believe their success proves their blessed status, is rejected by Jesus, who calls us away from that life that lords it over others – and inaugurates the realm and kingdom of heaven in the midst of this world.
Dale Fredrickson’s son Ricky, wore a cast on his arm for six weeks, after that volleyball incident! But not even that could keep Dale from becoming a follower of Jesus, and a healer in the world. He worked his way up to Building Chairperson and Council member, and became a loyal disciple of Jesus in the community. And I became his regular fishing partner!
Maybe when we hear the call of Jesus to follow, the hardest thing is not what we fear we have to give up – but it’s accepting, that we truly receive the joy of new life, and that we can reflect that joy, as members of the realm and kingdom of God – as fishers of people, and healers in the world.
May God bless the world, through us!