HE LIFTED HER UP: Readings & Homily for today here - sorry, preached “off the cuff” as usual, so no transcript available. What follows is a kind of addendum, a reflection upon a reflection. It probably won’t matter which comes first, the audio of the preached homily or these after-notes.
I – Not to help angels
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested. - Hebrews 2.14-18
II – Jesus Heals Many at Simon’s House
As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
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. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
A Preaching Tour in Galilee
In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’ He answered, ‘Let us go on to the neighbouring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’ And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons. - Mark 1.29-39
IT IS CLEAR that he did not come to help angels – Hebrews 2. This is good news indeed for people like me. And probably like you. Human people. The descendants of the very human – and very marvellous and extraordinary – Abraham.
Today’s eucharistic readings speak of what Psalm 46 calls “a very present help in trouble”.
The help that the Life of God offers to us is not a fanciful or ethereal sort of a help, not the kind of help that’s only offered to winged and feathered angels. The help on offer here is of a very practical kind, and it’s to be available to one’s mother-in-law, or indeed to anyone struck down by “fever”, or depression, or the ‘flu, or any of a billion other vicissitudes of life. It’s a help that the Divine Life offers to all humankind through “God’s only Son”, through God’s “CHRISTOS-anointed” – yes, through Jesus from Nazareth, but also and absolutely (on his say-so) through the universally “breathed into” Body of Christ: that’s to say through me and you.
The sacrifice for atonement that’s seen in Jesus is an at-one-ment, a-being-at-one-with the suffering that’s experienced by me and you and every other child, woman and man upon earth, too. And that very sacrifice models the human self-emptying that can change the world, that can “lift her up”, from the slough (or, OK, just from her bed!) of despond so that it can be said of all of us: “she began to serve them”. Eventually it came to be said of this closely-identifying Jesus himself: “he was lifted up”.
God’s only Son? The Body of Christ?
There’s a danger in so over-divinising God, so over-divinising Christ, that we fail to see “Immortal, invisible, God only wise” – a danger that we fail to see “Christos”, anointed, right here before our very eyes in Simon’s mother-in-law, or in any and all who could conceivably be described, for any reason, as “poor”!
There’s an equal danger in so personalising “the devil” that we fail to recognise the common-or-garden evil root causes that so trouble the lives of “those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.”
And that we should be willing to see God in humble and ordinary humanity is exactly what the Divine plan is all about. That’s precisely where we’re to look for him. In shepherds and star-gazers and carpenters and teenage mums. And even in the mirror (seeing through a glass, darkly, but then … )
Is anybody on earth, under the terms of such definition, not a member of the Body of Christ? Was Jesus often to be found praying in a deserted place that the crowds he was surrounded by might come to rely not upon magic tricks administered by him, as though he were some kind of quack or magician, but upon one another, upon the “Body” of God’s presence in the very hearts and flesh of all humanity – sometimes joyful, sometimes suffering, sometimes sick and dying, sometimes laughing and learning and thriving.
Was Jesus of Nazareth praying that we might come to rely upon God incarnate – in one another? I think so. I think that’s why he was disinclined to perform for the crowds. I think that’s why he was inclined to move on when people started to look only to HIM for healing. Healing is not so much a once in a lifetime magic trick (or one-off miracle, sign or wonder) as it is full and wholesome communal (or bodily) living.
This morning’s homily (audio link) has been an attempt to honour the importance of Jesus of Nazareth in the lives of every child, woman and man upon earth – in the way that Jesus himself lived and practiced. By being incarnate. By being the Word and the Presence and the Practice of God in human flesh. By exercising compassion and encouraging others to extend the bounds of that compassion to every heart and soul and mind and body. By preaching and by LIVING a message, a gospel, of HOPE. By turning attention away from quacks and magic tricks to the fullness of life already at work in each of us by the generosity and grace of the God who fashioned each of us, and all things.
Through the tender mercy of God: whereby the day-spring from on high hath visited us …
The Benedictus: Luke 1.68-79
He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
Compassionate and tender. Contemplative and reflective. We’re to do and to be likewise. We’re to be the only Son of God now on earth, until the reign of God be fully and eternally come.