These few verses highlight one of the most consistent and important aspects of Jesus' ministry: he healed people. Even the most agnostic of historians acknowledge that Jesus must have had some kind of gifts of healing, or at least a reputation as such. Simon's mother-in-law and the multitudes who come are just the first of so many in the gospels who will experience physical, spiritual, emotional, relational restoration at Jesus' touch.
Today we have eliminated much of our need for wandering healers. We have miraculous medical technology that eliminates many diseases, heals wounds, and curbs the discomfort of conditions we cannot ultimately heal. Life expectancy has risen consistently as a result of the incredible medical discoveries that we now take for granted. Case in point, I'm a type one diabetic, diagnosed shortly before I turned eight years old. A hundred years ago I might have endured into my teens, but no more than that. I've taken insulin by injections and later by a pump for more than four decades, and today I live a remarkably normal, physically robust life. Yesterday I spent about half my day climbing on and off an extension ladder, working on rooftops and (the most glorious of jobs) cleaning gutters, carrying five gallon buckets of decaying leaves down and hauling them off to compost. In the morning, as a discipline I've been taking on, I walked a beautiful four mile loop around George Lake. Last night I participated in an amazing evening of Vacation Bible School including a giant homemade Slip-N-Slide with dozens of kids (and a few adults!) hooting and hollering in a soapy mess down the hillside. Then I grilled stuffed jalapeños and whipped up a broccoli parmesan quasi-stir fry to try out an amazing mushroom I discovered last week near my front door, then shared that amazing meal (including some excellent Italian beer -- who'd have thought the Italians would make good beer?) with fantastic friends. My point is, my life is good and so full and the affect of my diabetes on my daily life is minor. I thank God for my good health and all the blessings I enjoy because of it, and I recognize that part of what I have to be thankful for is the advancement of medical technology.
At the same time, I recognize that this is still, in spite of insulin pumps and all the other medical advancements, a broken world. In the first century, a sense of hopelessness and alienation was driven significantly, among other things, by the evidence of physical diseases that in that day were beyond cure. Today our evidence of brokenness looks a little different. Yes, we enjoy physical health. But we are still a broken people, and in many cases we have traded physical maladies for emotional, relational and spiritual ones.
In some cases our brokenness is a byproduct of the same technological advances that make us healthier. While CAT scans, contact lenses and cold medicines help us physically, similar technologies have made us more mobile, even transient. The technology that allows your dentist to do x-rays every two years also allows you to binge watch Netflix. One of the byproducts of technology is an increasing loneliness that afflicts us like a plague. The loneliness that in part results from our transience and our ability to self-medicate with too much screen time leads us down the road toward an epidemic of anxiety, depression, and despair.
Perhaps we need to rediscover Jesus as the healer for these ills. While our individualism and post-Enlightenment thinking predisposes us to loneliness, Jesus calls us not only into relationship with himself but into relationship with one another. Jesus' followers are designed to live in community. Every example of people coming to faith in Jesus in the New Testament also includes a nod -- and very often direct descriptions -- toward an ongoing community, a web of relationships that will become like a new family to the believer. Like any family, these relationships in the Jesus-following community will not be perfect -- but they will provide a healthy system in which life can be lived in all its God-intended abundance.
One of the visions that gives me hope for the church in a post-Christendom context is that of home-sized communities, call them house churches or what have you, that build a spiritual, emotional, relational family around each individual. When I have seen the church function like this I have also seen that every form of brokenness has opportunity to be healed in that context. Not everyone wants to be made well, of course, and not every disease is healed -- but Jesus presents himself in these relational contexts as our healer, as the restorer of wholeness and abundant life. Such health is as much a gift today as seeing a lame man rise and walk in the first century.