Sermons

Sun, Feb 04, 2018

Illness and identity

Series:Sermons

He walked through the door and into the room...

looking like someone who had just seen a ghost:

pale...

shaking lightly...

visibly upset.

Naresh- 

a theological exchange student from India-

had only been here for a few weeks...

and this was the first time that he had ventured out on his own--

having caught a tram into town and back.

Something had obviously happened that upset him--

but I didn't know what--

and it took a little coaxing before, finally, he told the story.

Seemingly pausing between each phrase...

as he drew a breath and measured his words:

on his way home...

on the tram...

there was a young man...

and a young woman...

and they were kissing...

in public!

It was a scene that-

for him-

was utterly shocking, outrageous, and offensive.

 

Some weeks later, he announced excitedly--

to the surprise of us all--

that, when he returned to India, he was getting married.

After congratulating him, I gently chided...

"You never told us you were seeing someone back home..."

And, with a puzzled expression on his face, he replied,

"Oh, I've never met her.

Our parents have arranged it.

I'll meet her when I get back".

 

Long before I did any work in anthropology and social psychology...

those two incidents taught me a very valuable lesson-

one that I have never forgotten-

that the way that we perceive, understand, and react...

and what we expect...

varies enormously...

depending upon our past experiences in life...

our upbringing...

and our culture.

 

The people in the New Testament world were not like us.

They had a different upbringing.

They had different experiences.

And they had vastly different cultures.

They didn't think scientifically or medically.

They didn't have modern diagnostic techniques...

like ultrasounds, MRIs, or blood-tests.

So they didn't think in terms of disease... 

or microscopic pathogens...

or abnormal changes in cells or organs-

things that are present whether you know about them or not.

Rather, they thought in terms of illness--

and illness was about perceived abnormalities.

You were ill, if others thought that you were acting strangely.

You were ill, if others thought that you looked different.

You were ill, if others perceived you to be--

in some way--

abnormal...

and told you that you were...

so that's how you saw yourself as well.

Being 'ill' came to define you, such that you lost your identity.

People stopped referring to you by name.

You simply became... 

the lame man...

the woman with a discharge...

the blind person...

the person with an unclean spirit.

Being 'ill', you lost your identity...

your value...

and your standing in the community.

You were prevented from interacting with others...

going about your normal activities...

doing what you had always done...

fulfilling your normal role-

in your family and your community.

That means that you may not have been able to earn a living--

placing strains on your family who would have to support you...

given that there was no social security system back then.

So, in the first century world... 

being ill was not about having a disease or a condition.

Rather, illness was a state of being-- 

a state in which you were labelled as devalued and useless...

a burden and a nuisance.

 

In this morning's reading from Mark's Gospel, Simon's mother-in-law is ill.

She's in bed--

apparently incapacitated...

unable to leave her house...

unable to go out into the community...

unable to fulfil her normal role.

In truth, we don't know what's wrong with her.

Our translation says that she had a 'fever'.

But don't be misled!

Perhaps she did have what we would understand by the term "fever"...

and perhaps she had an infection of some sort. 

But, then again, she may simply have had a hot flush associated with menopause.

Or she may not actually have been sick by our standards...

or by our understanding.

We simply can't know.

And, in the end, it doesn't matter.

Because that's not why they approached Jesus.

An important member of their family was perceived to be ill.

She was incapacitated...

devalued...

unable to fulfil her normal function...

unable to be a worthwhile member of her community...

which meant that the whole family was impoverished-

economically and socially.

It was in that context that Jesus came to her...

spoke to her...

took her by the hand and helped her up.

In the process, however, he did much more than that.

He healed her--

which means that...

as someone with authority... 

he declared that the community's perception would no longer define her.

He declared that she was a person of value and worth.

And he restored her to her rightful place in her family and the community...

so that she resumed her normal role.

 

At various times, all of us get sick.

We get infected by bacteria and viruses.

Our bodies go haywire and attack themselves at a microscopic level.

Our organs stop working properly or even shut down--

especially as we grow older.

And so we go to doctors, who treat us...

trying to manage the problem or, if possible, to cure it...

trying to get our bodies to work as they should.

But, in reality, that doesn't always happen.

And our diseases can turn into illnesses.

We can begin to see ourselves as devalued...

worthless...

a burden...

a nuisance.

We can struggle with the inability to do what we want...

the inability to do what we have always done.

And we can actually stop living.

Which means that, often, we too need healing.

We need for Jesus to take us by the hand...

and to lift us up;

to restore our sense of dignity;

to declare that we are not defined by our weaknesses or our limitations;

that we are not constrained by our infirmities or our inabilities;

that we are valued...

worthwhile...

accepted and loved;

that we are whole in God's eyes.

And none of that depends upon us being cured--

because healing is about perception and meaning.

Being whole means being able to face life with dignity, purpose, and hope.

Being whole also means being the people that God intends us to be--

not just feeling good about ourselves...

but making known the welcoming...

healing...

liberating love of God...

that we, ourselves, have experienced--

in order that others might find courage to face the future;

that they, too, might find the healing and wholeness that they need.

Powered by: truthengaged