By Jim Vitale
There’s a new rabbi in town. They say he cast a demon out of someone this morning, and now he’s staying at Simon and Andrew’s house. When I heard about it I headed over there myself to see what was going on. By the time I got there, a large crowd was already trying to push it’s way into the brothers’ house. You see, I’ve been suffering for years from a disorder, and I can’t seem to heal. If this rabbi is my chance, well…I’m going to take it.
But I’m not the only one looking for that chance. In the crowd I saw demon-possessed men and women looking for relief, mothers and fathers were carrying their sick children looking for healing, anxious and depressed people looking for hope.
I pushed my way forward with the others. After an hour I was nearing the front door. I could see the Rabbi praying and touching the afflicted. Slowly, slowly, I got closer and closer. Soon my time would come. My healing would come. I would finally be free of this affliction.
As I approached, I began to dream of my new life to come. No longer bound by this disease I would finally feel normal again. I could live like other people, like normal people. The shame of it, the pain of it, the frustration of it, all would be gone when this Rabbi touched me. And I was next. I was sure of it. Hours of waiting, of slowly moving forward, and now I was near the door, near the rabbi. He looked at me. He opened his mouth to speak.
And he said to us all: “Look and see that the Kingdom of God has come near! Believe in this good news and peace be with you!” Then he turned and walked into Simon’s house and closed the door.
The crowd dispersed, but I didn’t go. I just stood there, staring at the spot where the Rabbi had been, numb, as my dream of healing slowly died within me.
Let’s leave our story there for the moment and talk about Mark 1:29-39.
I’ll be honest—it bothers me. Mark tells us that Jesus heals “many,” but he doesn’t say “all”. We are left with the impression that Jesus healed a lot of people, but not all of them. Then, the next morning, Jesus hears that more people are looking for him. Perhaps it is those have not yet been healed. We might expect Jesus to roll up his sleeves, march back into Capernaum, and finish what he started. But instead, he turns to his disciples and says, “I came to proclaim a message, and that’s what I need to do.” And then he leaves Capernaum, making for some other town. It seems he turns his back on the people who need him.
My question is, why? Jesus is God incarnate, isn’t he? Why can’t he just go and heal everyone in Capernaum right then and there? Why does he leave?
Can you imagine if this happened today? Can you imagine the crowds that would form if word got out that a nearby hospital was administering free surgeries or therapies to anyone who wanted them for one night only? It would be chaos. But can you also imagine how angry you would be if you waited in the parking lot for hours, only to find out that the offer expired before you even had a chance to get in the door?
How would you feel? If it were me, I would ask, What about me? Don’t I matter? Don’t I count? Am I not as worthy of healing and freedom as the next person?
Jesus comes bringing healing and freedom to so many in Capernaum and the Judean countryside…but not to everyone. Jesus was a small-time Rabbi from a backwater town who preached and healed a small group of people in a backwater country. The world is big—and most of the people in it never had a chance to be healed by Jesus. Born 2,000 years too late and 10,000 miles too far west, you and I never even had a chance of crossing Jesus’ path of healing.
So why would Jesus come to heal some if he could not heal all?
As I pondered this story, grumbling about Jesus’ sporadic and potentially unethical approach to ministry, I began to ponder Jesus’ words at the end of the passage. He says that he has to move on because it is his mission to proclaim the message. I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing when he walked away from Capernaum. He says that proclaiming the Kingdom of God is his mission. Healing and casting out demons, then, is just one way he goes about proclaiming that message.
Mark’s telling of the gospel story is fast-paced and urgent. He uses the word “immediately” over 40 times in his gospel. In Mark’s telling of Jesus’ life, Jesus makes a beeline for the cross. He moves from town to town proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom of God, yes, but he never stays very long. His mind is fixed upon his destiny, that is, his crucifixion.
Jesus was deeply concerned about those who have been afflicted by sickness and demons, but his concern went deeper—to all of creation. Jesus’ mission was not just to heal as many people as possible, but to save the whole world. If he had devoted his life to healing all the people in Capernaum or the Judean countryside, he would have done a lot of good there, yes, but the people he healed there would still, ultimately, have been dead to their sins and dead at the end of their lives. He would have provided temporary relief to a few people, but that would have been it. Jesus never would have gone on to offer healing, salvation, and freedom to the rest of the world.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ crucifixion is his final proclamation of the kingdom of God. Through his death and resurrection he offers to the whole world what he had previously given to only a few individuals along the way—healing, freedom, and life. Jesus comes preaching the message that the Kingdom of God has come near, that healing, freedom, and life have come near. Some heard that message through his parables. Some heard that message through his healings. Some heard that message through his exorcisms. But by the power of the cross, Jesus preaches that message to everyone across space and time.
I’d like to think that one of the reasons Jesus slipped out of Capernaum in the middle of the night to pray was that he was conflicted. He knew he did not have the time to stay and heal everyone, even though he desperately wanted to. It grieved him to leave, but perhaps not as much as he knew it would grieve him to stay. If he stayed, a few people would get healed. If he left, the whole world could be healed. So, to the bewilderment of his apostles and the whole of Capernaum, Jesus left.
Now, back to our story.
For a long time I was angry at the rabbi for what he did—or didn’t do. If he had stayed in the street just another minute, I could have been healed. But he didn’t. And I never understood why. Was I too sinful? Was I unworthy? Was I just unlucky?
I heard a couple years later that they crucified him in Jerusalem. No one could tell me exactly why. Maybe he just aggravated the wrong people. Whatever the reason, in my anger I thought he had gotten what he deserved.
Then one day someone came to Capernaum and started talking about that Rabbi again. The person preached to a small crowd in the street. “He was crucified. He died. And we laid him in a tomb.” The person said. “We thought it was all over. But then, after the Sabbath, some of us went to the tomb to prepare his body and found that he was gone.”
Grave robbers, I thought to myself. But what would anyone want with the mangled body of a condemned rabbi?
“You see,” the person continued, “God raised him from the dead. He was killed, but God brought him back. And now he is loose in the world and on the move, coming to find each and every one of us. He’s going to heal us and free us, not just from what ails us now but from death itself. The day is coming soon when death will be no more. The Kingdom of God will finally come, and the Rabbi will lead us in.”
I walked away from the crowd unsure what to think. I still bear my affliction. I still long for healing. I still hope for freedom. But I’m not so angry at that Rabbi as I once was. He brought healing and hope to a lot of people, even if he didn’t get to me. But if the stories are true, then I’ll see him again. One day he’ll come looking for me. Maybe tomorrow, maybe at the end of the age, he’ll come find me. And he’ll finally take this suffering away from me. And I will be whole once again.
And I will walk with him into the Kingdom of God.