Psalm 103:1-14, Mark 1:29-45
February 3, 2019
This title for today, “The Rightful King,” is a “subtle reference” to J. R. R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. Or it’s a “shameless rip-off,” depending on how you look at it. Actually, I’m ok, either way!
I used this reference a few years ago. It comes from the third book of that series, which was called “The Return of the King.” And the reference is about a character in all three books who was called “Strider.” And Strider was referred to as a Ranger, a mysterious, travel-worn man who roamed the lands, showing up in places for a time and then leaving. And the quote has to do with how it would be revealed later that he was the true king. For it was said of old that, “The hands of the king are the hands of a Healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”
I love that. And I’m convinced that Tolkien had the story of Jesus in mind when he created that character – maybe even this part of Mark’s Gospel. For here we have this itinerant, maybe travel-worn preacher, and his rag-tag group of disciples, who went around from town to town. But who he was, people were not certain. That sounds very “Tolkien-esque” to me!
You have to wonder what those people were thinking about this Jesus. Again, they didn’t know what we know. And Jesus himself was not at all forthcoming about who he was. In the previous story, he had been in the synagogue speaking with great authority – which was compelling to people. They were amazed – they were enthralled by him! But now this. And I have to wonder if this would be different if this were just one healing. Would they still have been amazed? Would they have been a bit skeptical. This was all new. Was this guy real or not? And we might wonder about that, too!
But to me the power of this story is how, skeptical or not, those people went and brought all the sick and infirmed to Peter’s house! And Jesus healed all of them! This wasn’t just one miracle of healing. This was a mass healing!
I wonder if the people who were there that day thought of the words of Psalm 103? And could that Psalm be thought of as prophecy? “He forgives all your iniquities. He heals all your diseases…” I know it’s sometimes hard for us to reconcile that sentence when it seems that God heals some people, and not others. Think about it. “He heals all your diseases?” Does that seem questionable? If it were literally true, nobody would be sick.
But, what if it this passage were prophetic? What if the psalmist was writing about the coming of the Messiah, and this was an indication of how to identify him as the coming king? “He forgives all your iniquities. He heals all your diseases.” Could that be pointing to Jesus? That seems plausible to me. “The hands of the king are the hands of a Healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”
Do you think the people thought that? Do you think they thought about the word “Messiah” or even “king?” It is hard to imagine what they thought – from our point of view. As I always say, we the readers know who Jesus was and is. Those people didn’t. Yes, they heard him speak and they were astonished. And now they have begun to see him do miraculous things. But what did they think about him?
Yes, we the readers do know who Jesus was, but the down side of that is, we were not there! And I think we often do miss the scope of the picture! I don’t know about you, but I have tended over the years to think of this story in terms of one person being healed. That was Simon’s mother-in-law. That’s even the page heading in one of my Bibles. But it’s this next part that suddenly opens up the scope of this picture! “That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” (1:32-33) And then at the end, we read, “And Jesuscould no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country. [Yet even then] people came to him from every quarter.” (1:45)
I think sometimes our vision of this is too small. And maybe we aren’t ready for it to be any bigger. Because we’re sort of ok with one healing miracle. But a mass healing? That’s a little harder to fathom. And it’s a bit uncomfortable to us! But, if we let ourselves see that, then maybe it does start to point to Psalm 103. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” (Psalm 103:2-3) Maybe that means more than we ever thought it did. Maybe it starts to hint of the word “Messiah” or “king.” Maybe it starts to hint of Tolkien, “…and so shall the rightful king be known.”
If that’s not enough, add to it the great sense of contrast we have here. Mark is very careful to tell us that Jesus has a very intentional silence about all that. He didn’t want people to know who he really was. At least not yet. Throughout Mark, he tells people not to say anything about who he is – and of course, they do anyway! And here Mark tells that, when Jesus was healing this multitude of people, he“would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew who he was.” (1:34)
So, for the people of his day, I think his enormous popularity, and the fact that Jesus was silent on the matter, makes his claim to “Messiah” to be the “Elephant in the living room.” It’s the thing nobody speaks of, but everybody’s thinking about! Isn’t it?
What about us? What do we think? Do we believe the healing stories? How about this “mass healing story?” Do we know from them that “Jesus is who he said he is”? Do we know that this itinerant preacher, with his rag-tag group of “disciples,” was indeed the true and rightful king? Do we think of the psalmist’s words “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits; who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases.” Do we think about those words as pointing to Jesus? Like the multitude of beings in the spiritual realm, do we know that Jesus is the son of God?
And what does that mean to us today? Well, I hope it means everything to you. Because you are spiritual beings, too! The physical time on earth in these “fragile shells” is all too brief! So, let us live our lives as those prepared for the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!
Eternal God, help us, indeed, to “number our days,” as the psalmist said, that we may have that “heart of wisdom.” Give us glimpses of your kingdom every day, and help us to orient our lives looking toward that kingdom. Teach us to rejoice, and to say “Bless the Lord, O my soul!” In these things, we give you the glory, in Jesus’ name, Amen.