Health matters are often in the news, whether it’s the latest push to get a Covid booster shot or statistics about bulk-billing rates or the threat of mosquito borne diseases after a wet and humid summer. Health issues also affect our friends and family, especially as we get older. For instance, there is rarely a week that goes by where my mother, who is now in her 90s, doesn’t have one or two medical appointments with frequent trips to the chemist. (A related question is whether modern medicine helps us to live better and more fulfilled lives or just longer lives?).
Health matters were also important during the time of Jesus. There were no GP clinics or hospitals or chemists dispensing drugs of course. But there were recognised places where one might go to seek healing and more than a few charlatans or magicians who claimed the ability to heal (usually for payment). Given this backdrop, it’s interesting that well over half the miracle stories recorded in the Gospel accounts are about healing, including in this week’s Gospel reading from Mark. They are usually reported in a simple matter-of-fact way with few details provided, yet their frequency in the Gospels suggest that Jesus was known to be a healer, that this greatly enhanced his popularity and that his direct hand-on approach was viewed as somewhat unique.
We may have all sorts of questions that arise in relation to such healing stories (e.g. Did Jesus really heal such large numbers of people? How? Was this ability unique to Jesus or is it available today?). The Gospel accounts don’t answer these questions directly, but rather are written to suggest that these instances of healing demonstrated Jesus’ authority over sickness, showed Jesus’ compassion for people and stirred up controversy, especially when healings took place on the Sabbath day.
With our modern health system, we may be tempted to gloss over the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry, but its prominence points us towards the character of God present in and through Jesus – compassion, care, and desire for wholeness and restoration. May these same characteristics shine through our service and witness in the community.