Rescued Body and Soul
Text: Mark 1:29-39
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There are some assumptions we have—things we think about ourselves and the world—that we just take as matter of fact. We don’t usually give much thought to these assumptions; they’re just hardwired into the way we process information. One of these assumptions we have in our own thinking is the division between the spiritual and the physical. We compartmentalize these two categories and don’t really intermingle them. Think about the way we talk about ourselves or others. At a funeral, I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase: “That’s not really them in the coffin. That’s just his body, a shell.” That’s not entirely accurate, as we say every week that we believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and that as part of that, He’s given us body and soul. Or we might say something like, “Well, in my mind (or heart, or soul, wherever), I’m not really that way,” even if in practice—the things we do with our hands or feet or words or any physical action—even if these don’t line up with what we say is in our heart or soul. This is because we divide the soul from the body, in a very artificial way, thinking of them separately, as if they have very little, if anything, to do with each other.
But then we come across these parts of Scripture that force us to reevaluate the way we think. We have such a reading today in the gospel of Mark. In it, we see there’s a very tight connection between body and soul. Jesus is in Capernaum, where He’s been teaching in the synagogue and cast out a demon, as we heard last week. Now that His lesson for the day is over, He leaves the synagogue and is taken to the house of Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, which is actually very close to the synagogue in Capernaum—the ruins of both are still there. The two brothers tell Jesus about Peter’s mother-in-law, who’s staying at their house because she’s sick with a fever. Jesus wastes no time. He takes her by the hand, a physical touch, and we read, He “lifted her up, and the fever left her, and she began to serve them.”
As this dear woman was going about tending to Jesus’ needs, she was surely seen by others in the fishing village of Capernaum. Word would have gotten out quickly that Jesus had healed her. So what do the people of the town do? “That evening at sundown they brought to him all who were sick or oppressed by demons.” Notice that they didn’t just see Jesus as a physician, who only treated the body. Nor did they think of Him only as a rabbi, who instructed the soul. They brought to Him people who were sick in body and soul—those who were ill and those who were tormented by the forces of hell. Mark even makes the point of using similar terms to describe how Jesus treats the body and soul as a single, interconnected being. The fever Jesus heals is said to leave Peter’s mother-in-law, in much the same way that the demons leave those who Jesus rescues. The people of Capernaum had eyes to see that the soul and body were interwoven and that what happens to the body affects the soul; what happens to the soul affects the body.
If we’re willing to do a little deeper digging into our own theology, we’re forced to reevaluate the way we divide the spiritual from the physical in our minds. Think of the way we understand sin and living in a fallen world. We say that things like disease, pain, and death—things that happen to the body—only came into the world because of sin—a spiritual problem—entering the world, all the way back in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve’s fall. And what was that spiritual sin? Not believing—a spiritual activity—what God had said when they ate—a physical activity—of the tree He told them not to eat from. Right there at the beginning of it all—physical and spiritual activities so tied together that it’s impossible to really separate them. And because of that, our problems in this fallen world will always be a tangle of spiritual and physical issues. We become susceptible to weakness and sickness because sin is in this world, corroding and corrupting us on a physical, bodily level and a spiritual level. St. Paul teaches us that the Corinthians were getting sick and even dying from abusing the Lord’s Supper—physical consequences for eating and drinking a spiritual meal (that itself has physical elements of bread and wine). And what is it that Scripture says is the wages of sin—a spiritual problem? The wages of sin is death, a physical consequence.
Now we should be careful to note here that we can’t draw a one-for-one correlation between a specific sin and a specific consequence. Peter’s mother-in-law didn’t get a life-threatening fever because she broke some specific commandment or another. Nor can we figure out what exact trespass was committed that led to someone’s misfortune or illness. That’s a level of judgment we’re not given. All we’re given to know is that there are effects in this fallen world that are both spiritual and physical. The two are bound together and cannot be separated so easily.
All of this is just to show us how Jesus goes about solving our two-sided problem. He doesn’t divide soul from body. He doesn’t tell us that one is important and the other isn’t. Instead, He heals and rescues both. He releases the people of Capernaum from fevers and demons in equal measure. He doesn’t tell them that their problem requires some other solution. He just heals them, body and soul.
Jesus does the same for you. Think of all the instances that you’ve been healed of some sickness, or relieved from some temptation. Think of a time you were saved from a disease or from the accusations of the evil one. Now when it comes to healing your body, Jesus may have used other humans as His instruments and hands: doctors, surgeons, nurses, medical researchers, pharmacists. But He’s still the one healing you, just as He uses other humans as instruments in your spiritual healing: in the absolution, the words of Scripture read and preached to you, prayers offered by other believers on your behalf.
You are not a soul that happens to have a body. Nor are you only a body that has a soul as some sort of software to run it. You are body and soul, interwoven, as God meant you to be. That means that when He saves you, it will be as both body and soul. If you need an example, look no further than what’s about to happen in this service. In Holy Communion, God uses physical means—bread and wine—to give you Christ’s true, real body and blood—which is physical, but is a spiritual medicine, for the forgiveness of your sins—which you receive physically as you eat and drink it. That’s why the blessing when you receive the Lord’s Supper and leave the rail is “Now this the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and keep you in the true faith in body and soul to life everlasting.” God is saving you, spiritually and physically, body and soul, forever.
All of this will reach its pinnacle with the ultimate healing of both body and soul when Jesus returns to raise you from the dead at the resurrection of the body, which we confess every week in the Creed. In fact, we have a hint of that in our Gospel reading today. Our translation says that Jesus took Peter’s mother-in-law by the hand and “lifted her up.” Yes, He probably did help her to her feet, but that word is actually better translated as “raised.” He raised her. It’s the very same word used for Jesus raising from the dead. It’s the same word Jesus uses when He commands dead people to rise back to life. And it’s the same word that we use to describe what Jesus will do for us when He returns, to raise us and all who have died in the faith back to never-ending life. It will be a reunion of body and soul, perfectly healed, perfectly holy and set free from every illness, injury, sin, and temptation. We will be exactly as He always meant us to be: whole, body and soul, with Him forever. In the name of Jesus, who rescues us completely, Amen.