Jesus cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons.Mark 1:34
When I was 15 or 16 years old, I developed a rare, chronic illness that kept me home for the better part of the school year. My parents took me to many doctors and hospitals that year, but never got a complete answer as to what was making me so sick. I eventually got better, thankfully. It is now a rather distant memory. And I no longer look back at that year with regret, but instead with an awareness that it is part of what made me who I am today.
But still the question lingers, why? And I know that I am not alone in asking that question – why do we get sick? And as people of faith, as Christians, I know that many of us ask a similar question: why does God allow us to get sick? And especially in the midst of this pandemic, with some people getting very mild cases of this virus, while others are being hospitalized and even dying from it. Why? Today’s gospel reading brings us to this question, and helps us, I believe, to think about it in new ways.
God Doesn’t Want Us to Be Sick
At the beginning of this gospel reading (Mark 1:29-39), we have the first instance in Mark’s Gospel of Jesus healing someone who is sick. He has cast an unclean spirit out of a man. But he has not healed someone who is sick. Until now.
He goes to Simon Peter’s house after leaving the synagogue, and there he finds Simon’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. And Jesus went to her, and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and the fever left her.
By that very evening the word got out, and everybody was bringing their sick to Jesus. And he healed them. And he cast out their demons. And all of this tells us very clearly and very powerfully that God does not want us to be sick.
If we are sick, or if a loved one is sick, it is not because God wants them to be. Jesus could not resist healing those who were sick. And he made the healing of sickness a sign of the presence of the kingdom of God, and an important aspect of his ministry on earth.
God does not want us to be sick. And when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness, all sickness will be banished forever. As the Book of Revelation puts it, when God’s kingdom comes in its fullness:
God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.Revelation 21:3-4
So Why Do We Get Sick?
God does not want us to be sick. And one day, God promises us that sickness itself will die. But what about now? We still get sick. Why?
The first thing to remember is that even when we are sick, God still cares for us. In fact, more than ever. God cares for us as a parent cares for their child.
Martin Luther once wrote that:
When a child is sick or suffers from some trouble, it is sicker to the parents than to itself; its trouble strikes the parents harder than the child because the child is not its own but belongs to the parents.
I know that’s true, because it was true for my parents the year that I was sick. And once I became a parent, it proved to be true all over again. When my children were sick or suffered in any way, my wife and I suffered with them, and for them. In fact, it was much harder than any illness I have had.
Well, in the same way, whenever we are sick, God cares for us, as a loving parent cares for their child. God cares for every single one of God’s children, no matter their illness, or how they got it.
But the question remains, why doesn’t God just heal us? Just as Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up. Why doesn’t he do that for us?
To answer that question, we really have to back up and ask, why do we get sick in the first place? Why is there sickness in our world? And the answer to that is the same as the answer to the question, why is there death in our world? And we have a clear, biblical answer to that: There is death in our world because there is sin in our world. And sickness is really just a sign of our mortality. Before there was sin in this world, there was no sickness or death. The cause of sickness is the same as the cause of death. It is the result of the sin and brokenness in our world.
Whether we are sick or not, we all will die. There is no way of avoiding it. We can live a healthy, safe life. And we might live longer than we otherwise would have. And our quality of life might be better, physically. But we will still die. Sickness and death is a consequence of humanity’s sin. Now, this doesn’t mean that God punishes us for specific sins by making us sick. I don’t believe that. But it does mean that without a Savior, death awaits us all.
Why Does Jesus Heal Anyone?
So, why does God allow us to be sick? When you stop and think about it, a better question might be, why does God allow healing? Why does God’s Son heal anyone who is sick? Why do any of us enjoy the health that we have? And the answer is of course that God loves us. And so, even though we as humans brought sin into the world, God sent his Son to take care of that sin by dying on the cross.
Sickness and death do not have the last word in our life. God does. And that last word will not be sickness or death, but will be life in Jesus’ name.
Jesus heals those in Capernaum to offer a clear sign that God cares for us. But that is not the full reason that Jesus came. In today’s gospel reading, it is very telling to see what happens after Jesus heals all those who were sick. It would have been easy for Jesus to stay there, and continue that healing ministry in Capernaum. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he gets up early the next day, and goes to a deserted place to pray. And when his disciples finally find Jesus, to tell him that everyone is searching for him (most likely because they are hoping to have their loved ones healed by him), Jesus says to them,
Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.Mark 1:38
That Is What I Came Out to Do
That is what Jesus came to do. To proclaim the message of the gospel. And the message of the gospel is bigger and more important than simply healing the sick. The message of the gospel is that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is coming to us through Jesus. That’s the message that Jesus came to proclaim. And it’s bigger than the healing even of many who were sick. And today, the message of the gospel is also bigger than the healing of we who are sick.
Now, don’t get me wrong. God still heals many in our day who are sick. Many times through doctors, medical research, and medicine. Other times, through more obvious miracles. But the kingdom of God means more than that. It means an end to all sickness and all death, an end to all suffering and all pain and all mourning. No more tears. Only joy. That’s what God intends for us. And that is why Jesus came.
But the only way for Jesus to do all that is on the cross. That is where the final healing takes place. On the cross. And in the forgiveness of our sins. That’s why Jesus didn’t just stay in Capernaum, but left there to proclaim the message of the gospel throughout Israel, before going to the cross for us all.
And that is why he invites us today to believe this good news. Because whether we are sick or well, depressed or happy, rich or poor, deserving or not, God offers to us ultimate healing through the forgiveness of our sins. Through the death and resurrection of his only-begotten Son.
What about today’s sickness? What about this terrible pandemic? It is still a mystery. Some of our physical afflictions will be taken away from us now. Others in eternity. For now, as scripture reminds us, we see through a glass darkly. We don’t know why.
Instead, we are invited to trust and believe. Believe the good news that God cares for us all, and has a plan to bring an end to all sickness and death in our world.
Closing – Raised on the Last Day
To put it another way, today’s gospel reading is just a preview of that glorious day to come, when Jesus returns. On that glorious day, we will all receive the same gift that Simon Peter’s mother-in-law received, the day Jesus found her in bed with a fever. Do you remember what Jesus did for her? He took her by the hand and lifted her up. And that is exactly what Jesus will do for us all, in the Resurrection to come on the Last Day. He will take each of us by the hand, and lift us up, and welcome us into his arms of eternal grace and life.
That is God’s plan for us all. That is why Jesus went to the cross for us. There is no greater promise, and no greater gift. Thanks be to God. Amen