Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Pastor Alan Watt

During my childhood years, my family physician was Dr. Anthony Rini—last name spelled R-I-N-I. A good Roman Catholic, from Cleveland, he was one of the few Italian-Americans in my hometown—and the only doctor. Before he opened his practice, people had to drive to the county seat to see a physician. Dr. Rini was a great guy! Very outgoing, easy to smile, easy to laugh. Belonging to the last generation to make house calls, he came a couple of times to our home. The fact that he and his family lived close to our place and my father farmed some land for him may also have made a difference. You could say that we had an “inside connection.”

Anyway, one time that he came was when I had a very high temperature and felt too puny to get up and dressed for an office visit. It was the end of the day that he arrived, holding in his hand a black bag out of which he took a stethoscope, a tongue depressor, and whatever that thing’s called that doctors put into the ears and look through. His presence and attention assured me I would soon get well.

Now, as far as going to his office was concerned, well—that could be a completely different experience, especially during the winter time. The waiting room was often packed with children and parents—and maybe one or two older adults. All the chairs were lined up along the walls, providing space in the middle to serve as a makeshift play area. So there everyone was: children coughing, sneezing, blowing their noses. Some talking loudly and unable to stay still. Others sitting quietly, with sad eyes—maybe one or two with quivering lips. Calling ahead for an appointment? Forget that! On arriving, every person would simply sign in and wait to hear her or his name called. And, even though the hours of operation were posted at the door, the receptionist, nurse, and doctor never left until every patient had been seen.

These two kinds of healing experiences are highlighted in today’s Gospel. In the first—at the request of Simon Peter—Jesus made a home visit to his mother-in-law, because she was suffering from a bad fever. In that day and age, that could be an especially nasty thing, the first symptom of what might well lead to death. Even today, a high temperature can be a dangerous sign—as we’ve been seeing in this year’s flu season. Well, Jesus found the woman lying in bed, reached down, and took her by the hand. And “the fever left her.” As a gesture of thanks—of restoring not only her health, but also her ability to carry out a primary role of a woman in that time and place—she prepared and served a meal.

It was a very personal, a very intimate experience of healing....Not so for the second part of today’s reading. Word quickly spreading about what had just happened, the disciples began directing to Jesus a number of people suffering one illor another. Peter’s home soon became what we might call an improvised health clinic. Like Dr. Rini’s office, sick people were lined up, waiting to be seen by the one who could help them. None of them had much “face time” with Jesus, but they were healed all the same.

The field of health care—like so many other kinds of work that can be physically and emotionally draining on any given day—requires down-time, regular rest and quiet.

For example, one summer—when going to camp with some church youth—I met a counselor who was one of the most  outgoing, energetic persons I’ve ever known. Like other counselors, he was with the kids most of the day and night. (Counselors sleep in the same bunkhouses as the campers do.) But there was something about him that seemed to go even above and beyond that. In a conversation with some other staffers—near the end of the week—I asked them how he did it. “Oh,” they said, “On our day off he spends the entire time sleeping in his cabin—with the window blinds closed. If anyone stops by and knocks on the door, they do so at their own peril.”

That’s definitely my not style and I doubt that it is for most of us. Not quite for Jesus, either. He recharged his batteries by—early in the morning—slipping away for a time of prayer. Talking with God his father gave him the strength, the sustenance that he needed for the work of the coming day.

Being any kind of caregiver can be so demanding—no matter what the setting. In A hospital.

A nursing center. In a school. Being a caregiver at home may be the most difficult of all. Tending to the needs of a loved one—parent, spouse, sometimes a child—can easily be a fulltime job.  For some, it’s almost around the clock, especially if there’s little in the way of a support system—no other nearby or available family members or friends who are like family. For some households, it may be too expensive to pay someone else to come for a few hours each day. On a couple of occasions, I have known the caregiver of a spouse who became so run-down that he or she became sick and died first.

In spite of the times Jesus could get away from the crowds and be renewed in body, mind, and spirit, I’m guessing there were moments when he may have gotten close to losing it. An artistic depiction of that appears in a musical version of Jesus’ ministry. It’s in a scene from the 1970 rock opera, “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” In the countryside, he’s walking alone—along the base of some large rocks, making up a number of crevices, even small caves. Jesus’ time is almost up. He knows what is soon going to happen to him. He’s thinking about his death. Suddenly, but quietly, a head pops out from behind a rock—and then the rest of the person. He wears what appear to be little more than rags. Dirty bands of cloth are wrapped around his head and arms, the latter of which he extends outward toward Jesus. Quietly, slowly the man begins singing these words:

            See my eyes, I can hardly see.

            See me stand, I can hardly walk.

            I believe you can make me whole.

            See my tongue, I can hardly talk.

After describing the rest of his ills—and the fact that he’s penniless—he continues:

            Will you touch, will you mend me, Christ?

            Won’t you touch, will you heal me, Christ?

            Will you kiss, you can cure me, Christ?

            Won’t you kiss, won’t you pay me Christ?

He makes his way to Jesus, who does indeed touch him, who lays his hands on him. Then others begin appearing—looking just like the first man—and, while climbing down the rocks, sing the very same words. Jesus suddenly realizes he has come upon a leper colony. Still others appear, all stretching their arms out, all singing the same thing, the tempo picking up and the sound turning into a loud chorus. Soon, surrounded by them, Jesus is frantically trying to touch each and every person. But they also are touching him. Beginning to feel trapped, overwhelmed, he tells them, “There are too many of you...Don’t push me. There’s too little of me…Don’t crowd me.” But they keep coming, pleading with him over and overto be made well. Finally, in a panic, he shouts out at the top of his lungs, “Heal yourselves!,” then breaking through the crowd, walks away as quickly as he can.

Is there any scriptural basis for that scene? Can we find it anywhere in the gospels? No. Not at all. It’s what’s known in Holly wood as taking creative or artistic license. But one thing I appreciate about that scene is its portrayal of a human Jesus—reminding us he is not only the fully divine Son of the Father, but also, like us, is fully human. And, in the greatest act of healing, willingly dies for us an extremely painful and humiliating death.

Something else we should remember is that soon after he begins healing, forgiving, and proclaiming the good news, Jesus blesses his disciples with these very same gifts, sending them out to neighboring towns and villages.[i] According to Luke, Jesus commissions yet others, who, on returning, exclaim, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”[ii]

It’s important to keep in mind that when it comes to caregiving, none of us should try to do it all on our own. When possible, the best thing to do is get some help. When caregivers don’t practice any self-care, then they may end up no longer able to do it for others. For us who don’t currently have that kind of responsibility and can spare some time, we have the opportunity to help not only the person who needs physical care, but also the one who provides that care most of the rest of the time. When that’s not possible, at least we know we can always pray for both those who give care and those who receive it.

My childhood family physician, Dr. Rini—even he and the rest of the staff needed some help. A few years later, he brought another person into the practice—another good Catholic, coming, however, not from Cleveland, but all the way from the Philippines.

May we all remember that at least one community of healing that we belong to is this fellowship in which we find ourselves. And at the very heart of it is the Great Physician.

[i] Matthew 14:1-2; Mark 6:14-16; and Luke 9:7-9.

 [ii] Luke 10:1-20.