Healing Reciprocity, Mutual Flourishing

Mark 1:29–39 , preached by Rev. Jane McBride on February 07, 2021

The doorbell rang at church. The young woman standing at the door said the pantry was empty, and she wondered if we had more food. So I invited her inside to choose some items from our supply. We got to talking—about her struggles to make ends meet while working and going to school, about walking our dogs, about the loneliness of the pandemic, about the community kitchen—she noticed the boxes and piles and asked “What is all this stuff? What are you doing here”? We discovered that we’re both from the same hometown. I showed her the sanctuary and we commiserated about how much we miss singing with other people.

There was a warmth and a depth to the conversation that is unusual between strangers. Especially strangers of different racial identities. Because, as you can see, I have white skin—with a kind of reddish, ruddy tint to it—and blond hair. And she had deep dark black skin and lovely long braids. If you’ve ever thought, “It’s better just not to see color,” I hope you will see that rhetoric for what it is: a tool of white supremacy. Because it was clear to me that despite all the common ground she and I found in our conversation, our experiences of the world are vastly different.

White supremacy means that while she’s facing the problem of hunger, I’m weathering this pandemic just fine, financially speaking. Seeing color is crucial because it’s about celebrating everyone’s beauty, and honoring the fullness of each person’s identity. And seeing color means we understand that though race is absolutely an imaginary construct, it is also the fundamental organizing principle of our lives and it has real and concrete consequences. Seeing color is an essential beginning point for the work of healing our own souls and the soul of our community.

Today, I’m inspired by the scope and power of Jesus’ healing ministry, as portrayed in today’s action-packed verses from Mark. Let’s take a few minutes to consider the big picture. First, Jesus went into the home of his friends and followers, and he healed Simon’s mother-in-law in this intimate, familial setting. Then, Jesus tended to the needs of a crowd of people who gathered around Simon’s house. Perhaps it’s a bit of a hyperbole, but Mark says Jesus healed and liberated the whole town of Capernaum. Next, Jesus withdrew into private again. After holding all that pain, expending all that compassion, and sharing all that transformational energy, Jesus found a place to be alone, to connect to his source, to seek renewal and restoration. Jesus healed himself.

In the story’s last scene, Jesus’ sudden absence triggers a crisis for his followers and for the people of Capernaum. Where had their healer gone? What would they do without him? I imagine this might have been a turning point for Jesus as well. Was this the moment when he himself realized just how big and how deep the needs were, the moment when he confronted the hard truth that he simply couldn’t heal everyone? What I find amazing is that this crisis did not lead to despair. It provided an opening for an even more compelling vision of healing to emerge.

“Let us go on to the neighboring towns so that I may proclaim the message there also,” Jesus urged his anxious followers. What I hear in this is that Jesus shared a message of good news and a practice of healing that was empowering. He planted seeds of healing in Capernaum and then he moved on to do the same thing in other places, trusting that others would continue the work and the movement would grow. Everywhere Jesus turned, he saw new opportunities to heal and be healed, to invite an ever-expanding network of people into the wholeness of God’s realm.

My encounter with the young woman seeking food assistance left me with conflicting emotions. This moment of unexpected connection brought a joyous, almost a buoyant feeling. At the same time, I felt a familiar, fierce longing. A taste of genuine community amid all that separates us and wounds us leaves me hungry for something deeper, something more. I believe that it is precisely this yearning, this mix of joy and dissatisfaction, that inspires us to join the work of healing inaugurated by Jesus.

I am reminded of the words of indigenous ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer, which we heard at the beginning of the service:

Despite each of us being a walking community, composed of multitudes, there is an epidemic of loneliness plaguing our species. . . . We are lonely for authentic engagement with each other and we suffer from a deep estrangement from other beings on the planet, a phenomena which has been called “species loneliness.” And in a state of species loneliness we don’t recognize our kinship with the more than human world. [1]

As a people, we suffer from the illness of alienation that shows up as systemic inequality and oppression. White supremacy has normalized a dominating, colonizing way of being. This sickness has become our culture and the source of our loneliness. The healing we most need is the restoration of kinship. Not a white-washed unity, but a diverse, vibrant, colorful community.

In our climate justice and racial justice meetings this week, we talked about how the work of reparations means moving away from an economy rooted in extraction. Through the construction of Line 3, for instance, Enbridge clearly intends to extract profit from tar sands oil down to the last sludgy drop even though doing so will be a climate catastrophe. This pipeline, snaking beneath our sacred waters, is a clear sign of our collective sickness. It is physical evidence of the harm white supremacy has done to us and to our kinship with the human and more-than-human world. Healing means listening to and learning from indigenous people who seek to put an end to the present disaster of an economy and to move us toward an economy (as Kimmerer puts it) of reciprocity and mutual flourishing, an economy that prioritizes the health of the “great green we.”

We have created an economy that fails to recognize the contributions of more-than-human beings and we have under-valued the labor of many human workers. In the new economy we will care for each other even as we care for the earth. We will repair the harm of generations by putting an end to extraction, and sharing the gifts of life reverently and equitably. That’s exactly what the budget that Governor Walz has proposed will begin to do. Over these next months, let us press for the adoption of this ground-breaking, moral document, in which we raise taxes for the wealthiest Minnesotans so that we can allow those suffering disproportionately because of this pandemic to truly recover; so that we can assist the hungry and those who need housing; so that we can fund a statewide paid family leave program; so that we can keep childcare centers open; so that we can engage in the crucial work of creating racial equity in our schools.

One of the details in today’s story from the Gospel of Mark is actually quite a big deal. Jesus took Simon’s mother-in-law by the hand and lifted her up. And, I know, and I agree, we don’t love how she hopped right out of her sickbed and immediately “began to serve them.” However, I want to go back to what Jesus did. He “lifted her up.” The word for lift also can be translated “raise.” It is the same word used to describe Jesus’ resurrection.

Do you remember how the Gospel of Mark ends? There are no appearances of the risen Christ. The angel at the empty tomb tells the disciples “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” Galilee is the center of Jesus’ ministry. Galilee is where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, where he healed the entire city of Capernaum, where he healed himself, and where, finally, he empowered the whole community to become healers.

In other words, the movement of healing that Jesus inaugurated by raising Simon’s mother-in-law is the resurrection. The resurrection of Christ is not about the body of one solitary person. It is about the shared body of wholeness and health the body of restored of kinship, the body that functions with reciprocity and mutual flourishing. This good news, rooted in a deep and expansive vision of healing, has been passed down to us. Even now, the spirit of Jesus is planting seeds among us, giving us the power to be healed and to become healers. Amen.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5cJ8cD7ofI