These are anxious and worrying times when we find ourselves confronted with the reality that sickness will affect us all at some point during our lives. Yet we recall that Jesus took on our human flesh and our frailty. He knows what it is to suffer and is with us in our suffering. He is compassionate. That’s why they brought those who were sick to him. As we hear in the Gospel of Mark: That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. (Mark 1: 32-33)
Earlier in the chapter, Jesus was in Capernaum, and on the sabbath, he went to the synagogue and began to teach. The Bible says he taught them as one who had authority. He even healed a man possessed of a demon, much to the annoyance of the Pharisees, and the amazement of the people gathered there. It was with that same authority that Jesus spoke words of healing. Sometimes people for whom life had become a total nightmare—whose personalities seemed taken over by alien powers—confronted Jesus; indeed, they seem to have had a kind of unique way to recognize him, knowing who he was and what he’d come to do. He’d come to stop the nightmare, to rescue people, both nations and individuals, from the destructive forces that enslaved them. So, whether it was shrieking demons, a woman with a fever, or simply whatever diseases people happened to suffer from, Jesus dealt with them, all with the same gentle but profoundly effective authority.
This is how Mark begins to tell us both about how Jesus became so popular so quickly and of how the course of his public career pointed inevitably to its dramatic conclusion on the cross. There is no doubt that Jesus quickly attracted huge crowds, and that his authoritative healings were the main reason.
The Herald of Free Enterprise is probably not a familiar name to many of you watching this service. It was the name of a passenger ferry that sank on 6 March 1987, shortly after leaving the harbor in Zeebrugge, Belgium. One hundred ninety-three people lost their lives as the boat’s car deck doors were not shut properly. The water began to pour in; the ship began to sink, and panic set in. People were screaming as the happy, relaxed atmosphere of the boat turned in minutes into something worse than a horror movie. All at once, one man—not a member of the crew—took charge. In a clear voice, he gave orders, telling people what to do. Relief mixed with the panic as people realized someone at least was in charge, and many managed to reach lifeboats they would otherwise have missed in the dark and the rush. The man himself made his way down to the people trapped in the hold. There he formed a human bridge: holding on with one hand to a ladder and with the other to part of the ship that was nearly submerged, he enabled still more to cross to safety. When the nightmare was over, the man himself was found to have drowned. He had literally given his life in using the authority he had assumed—the authority by which many had been saved.
Mark tells us that Jesus had joined in a struggle against the forces of evil and destruction, forces that, like the dark, cruel sea pouring in on top of frightened and helpless travelers, seemed sometimes to be carrying all before them. Jesus came to be the human bridge across which people could climb to safety. In the process, he himself paid with his own life the price of this saving authority, a human bridge with outstretched arms carrying people from death to life, that was simply part of the integrity of his action.Now, more than ever before, the church needs to learn again how to speak and act with the same authority. When we do, I believe we will find both the saving power of God unleashed once more and a similar heightened opposition from the forces of darkness. To understand this is the key to Christian testimony and saving action in the world that, despite its despair, has already been claimed by the loving authority of God in Jesus.
Shalom to you my friend,