One of the more challenging components of Sunday’s Gospel lesson is how a preacher chooses to handle Jesus’ ministry of healing. This issue comes up quite often, especially as it pertains to the mass healings that Jesus took part in during his earthly ministry. These events raise real concerns for those of us who are engaged in pastoral care and believe in the power of prayer. “Why did Jesus heal so-and-so, but let my child suffer?” is a real and honest question. One for which there is no answer.
This is made all the more difficult as Biblical scholars make new advancements in understanding the Greek language and its idioms. The King James Version, Young’s Literal Translation, NRSV, NIV, and even NLT all translate Mark 1:34 with the English word “many.” “He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…” This translation is helpful because many doesn’t mean all. Ergo, we see that even in these mass healing events, Jesus didn’t heal everyone. There were, presumably, reasons for that. We have no idea what they are, but we do know that even Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead, died again, one day. Death is batting 1.000. Always has. Always will. (Yes, I’m aware of the mythology surrounding Enoch, Elijah, and Mary.)
What happens when many doesn’t mean many? There is a shift afoot amongst liturgical scholars to shift the language of the words of institution in the Eucharist away from many and toward all. Unlike the soft theology around Communion without Baptism, this isn’t being done under the safe blanket of “inclusion” or “hospitality,” but rather, with Biblical scholarship in hand. In their notes on the changes in Eucharistic Prayers in Enriching our Worship 1, the SCLM elaborates on this shift from “many” to “all.”
The use of “all”… in the institution narrative emphasize that forgives of sins is made available to all through Christ’s sacrifice. While the Greek word is literally translated “many,” biblical scholars have pointed out that in the context of the passage it means that the sacrifice is made not just for a large number of persons, but for all humanity. (77)
This may not be true in every usage of the word, but it seems reasonable to think it might apply in this case. Or, if not, it at least raises the question. If Jesus healed many, couldn’t he have healed all? There are ways to talk about this that don’t fall into cheap platitudes like “God has a plan.” Sometimes, it comes down to the difficult discussion of what healing actually looks like. Isn’t death the ultimate healing?
I don’t have the answers, but I’m happy to raise the questions. If you are preaching about Jesus’ healing ministry, how do you plan to handle the challenges it raises? Will you talk about the differences between many and all? Are you prepared to engage those whom you will lose in your sermon before the Gospel is done being read? It is a difficult Sunday to preach, dear reader, and you are in my prayers.