Luke 4:31-41 “The Healing Man”
Last week we left Jesus in Nazareth where he escapes neatly through a miracle from the hometown crowd that wanted to throw him off a cliff. He heads back down towards the town of Capernaum, a city that seems to be the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry. Yet, we know that he was just there before coming up to Nazareth, so we need to consider why it is that he returns once more to that same city. Why not go somewhere else? Why not spread out the ministry a little more?
Our reading from today says that Jesus went to Capernaum for a certain reason indeed. Do you see it there in the text? It says that he went to that town in order to teach. I know, some of you are going to be surprised by this. What, he gives up a perfectly good calling as the Son of God to become a “teacher”? That can’t be right!
The Greek word used here is διδασκω, which is literally “to teach.” This is not, for instance, teaching someone a simple task, such as how to dig a hole in the ground. This is a true teaching of facts and theories. We get the English word “didactics” from this Greek idea. It is indeed referring to higher thoughts and education. Jesus is taking it upon himself to educate the people of Capernaum.
Well, to teach, Jesus is going to need students. After all, what is a teacher without students? I know, “VERY HAPPY!”
Jesus already has his eye on one particular pupil it seems. We read that he already knows Simon, who will later be called Peter by Jesus. He goes to Simon’s family’s house to help heal the mother-in-law there. We really do not know that much about Simon Peter’s previous life before joining up with Jesus to be his chief disciple, but one thing is clear, he is nice enough to take care of his mother-in-law when she is sick. Good for him. He seems a reasonable chap! Then it sinks in. . . .What? Simon Peter was married? How come we never hear about the Mrs. Simon Peter? We do not even know her name. Let us just call her “Simona Peter.”
As we read further in our text for today about Jesus teaching in Capernaum, we see that the students were “astounded” by His teaching. To be sure, the students there were not just listening intently, engaged properly, and tuned in as they should be. They were taken aback. They were beside themselves. They were dumbfounded. They were astounded! They are responding to the teaching—not just with a yawn.
When we hear the teachings of Jesus Christ, are we “astounded”? They were beginning to think in ways that they had never thought before. Their minds were being bent. Are we bending our minds today to the teachings of Jesus Christ?
I believe that Jesus’ teaching was not just mind-bending, but it was also bending people’s hearts and souls. What he was teaching was not just an academic exercise to be tested later on a scantron “fill in the dots” computer-read exam.
When I think about my favorite teacher of all time, I remember Mrs. Bruno in the 3rd grade who took such special interest in me. She just had this love exuding out of her. She stayed after class to help me. She assigned other students to help me with my English by using flashcards on the bus. All I ever wanted to do was please Mrs. Bruno. I know she is in heaven today, and the angels are applauding her right now.
Yet, then I realize that Jesus himself has been the greatest teacher of my life. He has affected my heart and soul even more than Mrs. Bruno from the 3rd grade! Jesus is our greatest teacher. We need to be astounded by what he teaches!
Let us look at verse 32 again—the last subordinate clause. They were astounded at his teaching “because he spoke with authority.” What a terrible translation of Luke’s words here! They were astounded because, as it says in the Greek, “the Word of God was oozing out of Him! (εξόυσια ην ο λογος αυτού) They were astounded because they were hearing the Word of God! The Bible was being written for them in their own hearing!
Let us shift gears a little bit here. As Jesus is teaching in the synagogue, a man with an unclean spirit interrupts the teaching. He shouts out, “Let us alone.” Before we get into the exchange between Jesus and this man, we should probably ask the question: “What is an unclean spirit?” What is affecting this man right now?
A ghost walks into a fast-food establishment and orders a vodka tonic. The server behind the counter tells him “Sorry, we don’t serve spirits here.” Bad joke.
The way I interpret this passage is that the man has some dirty thoughts. The spirit is not causing him grief or pain per se. He is able to function seemingly normally in life. Maybe he is thinking some evil thoughts about hurting others, using profanity, adultery, or some such. In this way, he would seem to be quite normal for our day. WE all have our demons. They are not always what we think they are.
This story is a true story of what happened to a friend of mine in Athens, Greece, this last week. She goes to the bus stop to take the bus to Doukises. She asked the bus driver, “Does this bus go to Doukises?” The bus driver responded, “Are you going to Doukises?” “Yes, I am going to Doukises.” The bus driver says, “Good get on, you can show me how to get there!”
Not taking responsibilities seriously—or the spirit of irresponsibility—is an unclean spirit. This is what the man is suffering from in Jesus’ day.
The unclean spirit in him is crying out to Jesus leave us alone—plural. We have heard this complaint before again and again: “Whatever is wrong in my life, it just is not bad enough that I should actually have to go to church!” “Don’t preach at me. Don’t bother me with your Jesus teachings!” If you want to know if someone is suffering from an unclean spirit, when you hear such things, you will know.
The spirit in the man cries out, “You have come to ‘evict’ us.” I know the Bible says “destroy,” but truthfully the word here is “cast out” or “evict.” (απολυω) Jesus does not destroy the demons. He is not a police officer who would shoot a jaywalker! He is just telling them to move on out of the way--greater spiritual traffic is moving.
So, we see that even demons recognize Jesus. Remember last week? His own hometown neighbors did not recognize him as the Son of God, Messiah, Almighty. Yet, the demons know who he is! Strange, no? Well, they fear him. They fear Jesus. In verse 35 we read that Jesus “rebukes” them. What? What does “rebuke” mean? (επετιμεω) It means from the Greek “to cause fear in someone else.” Hear the difference: If you see your child’s room is messy and you want that child to pick up the mess, you can say, “Please pick up your room. Live a clean life.” And, when that does not work, try the rebuke, “Pick up your room right now, or leave your father’s house and live with dog in the kennel.” My dog Nikos is always happy for company in his doghouse! That is the rebuke!
After Jesus leaves the synagogue, after casting out the unclean spirits, we see that he finds his way to Simon’s house where the mother-in-law is suffering from a fever. Luke uses the exact same language to explain that Jesus “rebukes” the fever in the woman. That means, literally, that the fever is afraid of Jesus. Let us think about that for a moment: That would mean that cancer is afraid of Jesus. Kidney disease is afraid of Jesus. He casts the fever out.
Wilcox hospital just last month hired a new chaplain for the hospital. Her name is Pastor Sarah Jones. Why did they do that? Do they have extra money to burn? No. People who pray and are prayed over actually do heal faster. You are welcome to read the reports from Web MD or Harvard University (studying prayer in healing for the last 30 years.) It is a fact!
When Jesus heals in Capernaum, the word goes out, and people start lining up to be healed. Wait, I thought Jesus went there to teach?! Now he has got lines of people waiting for healing prayers. Orrrr, was that really what Jesus went to Capernaum to teach? The Bible says that he was laying hands on people.
I hate to say it, but the Bible here is not exactly clear on what that is. What is “laying on of healing hands?” The confusion comes with the word “on” in the Greek. The word is επι in the Greek. My Greek dictionary has four pages of ways to translate this one little preposition. It might not mean “on,” but rather “over,” or even “towards.”
Here is the issue: For some reason especially this last week people have come up to me to ask me to “pray over” a loved one on the mainland. “Pastor, will you pray over my daughter in Chicago?” etc. I am happy to pray over anyone, anywhere, on this planet. We pray over Texas, Florida, Mexico, and Puerto Rico as well. We are technically not laying on hands, but still praying over!
Isn’t it funny in English that when we are finally healed, we say: “We got over it!” We were with God in that healing position over the illness.
This is the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ coming through us to others. WE have the power to rebuke illness and heal in Jesus name.