St. Paul invokes the language of athletic competition in his letter to the church at Corinth. With the Superbowl on Sunday and the Winter Olympics starting up in PyeongChang, Korea next week, it’s a timely image. “Do you not know,” St. Paul encourages the church at Corinth, “that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you might win it.” Such words about summoning the determination to run the race of life might seem to have little to do with Jesus’ healing miracles in the gospel narratives. But today, in the Gospel of Mark, I find it interesting that Jesus’ healing of St. Peter’s mother-in-law is coupled with what she does FOLLOWING the miracle: “[Jesus] came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.” I’ve seen first hand the good work that physical therapists do…and the response required by their patients as they regain their strength. Going from a hospital bed back to the kitchen or office may require the work or endurance of a long-distance runner! It all goes to show: when healing occurs in our bodies, we are not merely healed FROM a disease or illness. We are healed FOR life. We are healed FOR service. The healing Jesus gives us in body and soul is not only a healing FROM sin…it is healing FOR running the race of life.
That's important, because I find that present pain can make running difficult. At times I'd rather make or find excuses why running (or just getting out of bed!) just isn't my thing. It's easy to favor the comforter and the remote control. Especially when it comes to living out the goodness of the healing work of Christ. Especially when it comes to running...not walking...with a message of Jesus' victory, to a hurting world, when it comes to meeting hurting people in their own place of need (as Jesus has done for me). Where is the long distance runner who is tough and disciplined and so consumed with victory that he MUST run? Look, there he is! That runner would tell his disciples that he "MUST undergo suffering, and be rejected...and he must be killed." The final lap would end on Calvary. Easter Sunday demonstrates that only that runner--Jesus Christ--would run to win the prize! He would carry our infirmities. In him, we are healed! Now we get up and get going. Despite our present pain or even our present disabilities, Jesus supplies the determination we need to run the race.
When I have the privilege to visit or talk with many of you and you tell me what is on your heart when faced with an upcoming surgery or daunting illness, I find that the biggest disappointments often aren’t the illness or its symptoms, as I would think. I focus on the pain I expect you are feeling. Or I wonder what the doctor's prognosis is. So often, though I find what disappoints you is that you won’t be able to do what you’re accustomed to doing to help a neighbor next door or assist with a project at church. You express sadness in missing a grandchild’s recital or not being able to attend a relative’s wedding. You’re eager to get back in the game when the recovery after a surgery is over. That, praise God, is the Runner in you! As you meet people this week in their place of need, stay energized by the Runner who has healed you. We run because he first ran, for us.