And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, He saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever; He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and served Him. That evening they brought to Him many who were possessed with demons; and He cast out the spirits with a word, and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the Prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.” Now when Jesus saw great crowds around Him, He gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” And when He got into the boat, His disciples followed Him.
In the last reflection, we talked about setting ourselves apart for God, about striving for holiness. This sounds great, it sounds noble, until we try it. And then we realize, this is not easy, at all.
In the fourth Gospel of Holy Unction, Jesus went to Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law who was sick with a fever. On the same evening, many were brought who were possessed with demons. Jesus cast out the demons with His word alone. He healed all who were sick. This must have been an impressive sight.
We’ve all been in the waiting room at a doctor’s office, on a day that it’s filled with people and it takes a long time to get to see the doctor. None of the people in the room will be healed with a word. A diagnostic test, an injection, or medication are in the future for everyone in the waiting room. None of the people will be healed instantly. It will take days for the medicine to be effective, for them to return to normal. The scene is even more dire in a hospital, where surgery is often prescribed, and patients take weeks or months to recover.
Imagine if a doctor walked through the waiting room or the hospital, said a word to each patient, and each was healed instantly. This is what it must have looked like at Peter’s house.
A scribe, who was a Jewish leader, who was in the group that was rejecting Christ, was present and was impressed by what he saw. Who wouldn’t be? And in that moment, he wanted to convert and become a follower of Jesus. He insisted “I will follow You wherever you go.” (Matthew 8:19) Perhaps the scribe was thinking, if I follow Jesus, I will be around this kind of impressive thing all the time.”
Jesus was quick to counsel the man and tell him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” (8:20) In other words, this glorious road of God’s healing and power is not easy. Jesus pointed out that animals have territories to call their own, which they sometimes have to defend from predators. However, the follower of Christ gives all glory to God, and sees even the things he or she owns as blessings from God. The choice to follow after God might be easy, but the discipline to follow consistently is hard.
Many of us have seen the Peanuts cartoon, “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.” In this Halloween episode, Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin, and sits in the pumpkin patch, forgoing the fun of trick-or-treating with friends, resolute that the Great Pumpkin will appear and give him candy and blessings. Of course, the Great Pumpkin doesn’t appear and Linus is ridiculed for his belief and scorned by his friends.
Many times, I think the choice to follow after Christ is like this Peanuts episode. While it’s not all waiting, while there is great benefit to being a Christian, a lot of the Christian life involves waiting for the greater glory of the kingdom of God. When so many in society have either rejected God, or relegated Him to Sunday only attention, when God and salvation are not on the minds of so many people on a daily basis, it makes it hard to be faithful when others are not. It’s hard to be in the pumpkin patch when most people are at the party.
This Gospel is part of the Holy Unction service, undoubtedly because it is about the power of God to heal diseases and infirmities. The Gospel also reminds us that following Christ is not easy. And part of the spiritual healing that comes from Holy Unction is the strength to keep following after Christ even amidst a society that for the most part doesn’t follow Him consistently, or at all. Spiritual healing includes the strength to keep going even when one’s mind is filled with doubt. Spiritual healing gives us strength in our eyes, to keep them focused on God even as the eyes of society focus away from Him. It gives us the mind to meditate on holy things, even as the minds of society are obsessed with the material (and transient) things. And it gives us the heart to desire God, especially in the times of temptation and distraction.
There are costs to being a disciple of Christ. These are things like being humble instead of being proud, constantly battling temptation to go away from God, and surrendering to God. And there are benefits as well, not only for eternal life, but in this life as well. These include things like intimacy with God in prayer, wisdom, mercy, forgiveness, purpose, encouragement, hope, and confidence, among other things. Spiritual healing is one of those benefits that can overcome the “cost” of being a disciple.
The Christian life will always be a struggle. That doesn’t mean it can’t have joy. We have to be cognizant of the struggle. Holy Unction is a great reminder that God walks with us at each step. He doesn’t expect us to conquer a mountain in one step. He does give us the strength to keep walking, as we ascend towards Him and our salvation.
Anointed with Your mercy, and by Your Priests, O Loving Lord, touch Your suppliants and sanctify them from Above. Heal their infirmities; purge away and cleanse their souls, O Savior, and deliver them from entangling temptations. Soothe their pain; expel adverse situations; and banish their sorrows, as a compassionate and loving Lord. (From the Praises)
Keep walking towards God, even when it isn’t easy. Keep walking!