To be liberated is to be set free. When Jesus read the Scripture and preached in the synagogue at Nazareth, he said that he had been sent to set the captives free. The stories contained in our passage show that he in fact did that. The works of the kingdom involved setting people free from what enslaved them and tormented them. In our passage we see two kinds of bondage from which people needed to be set free: spiritual bondage and physical bondage. The man in the synagogue out of whom Jesus casts a demon was in spiritual bondage, as were some of the people who came to him later in the day. Simon’s mother-in-law was in physical bondage as were others who came to him later in the day. In a sense then the man in the synagogue and Simon’s mother-in-law are specific examples of the general kinds of problems that people coming to Jesus were having. And those kinds of problems still continue.
Spiritual problems abound. People are bound by all kinds of harmful spiritual conditions. We think of the basic condition as being lost and that is certainly true. But people are crippled by all sorts of spiritual diseases. We might think of them in two categories: there are those who focus too little on themselves and those who focus too much on themselves. Paying no attention or very little attention to your own life and to your own spirit is a spiritual disease. We might compare such folks to those who have all sorts of symptoms of a physical disease but who ignore them and refuse to seek treatment. People who pay no attention to themselves just float through life and fail to recognize the fix they’re in. They are the cold or the ignorant or the deluded.
But then there are those who focus too much attention on themselves. We might compare them to those who are always finding things wrong with themselves. They are the spiritual hypochondriacs. Their disease is self-centeredness and their condition is critical. They are beset by an obsession with their standing and status. Pride might be their problem. Paranoia might be their problem. Privilege might be their problem. Or their problems might run in other directions. Excessive insecurity. Fermenting anger. Irrational bitterness. Such are some of the spiritual diseases that afflict people today, and there are many others.
Jesus also helped people who were afflicted with physical diseases. Such things come to all of us and they have many causes. Genetics and environment can conspire to gift us with a disease. Behavior and environment can contribute to others. A random germ that sneaks up on us on a lazy Tuesday might do us in. Stress and worry might bring us down. And occasionally our diseases are imaginary. But there are a lot of sick people, aren’t there?
Jesus was doing the work of the kingdom. That work involved setting the prisoners free. Here we see that it involved setting those free who were bound by spiritual or physical problems. Jesus had the same authority over both situations: he “rebuked” the demon (v. 35) and he “rebuked” the fever (v. 39). He had the same authority over spiritual and physical illnesses. And the good news is that he still does. We can turn to him for the help we need for whatever ails us.
(I think that it is important that we remember that it is possible to be made well while at the same time we have residual effects of the disease. For example, Jesus works his mighty healing sometimes in ways that make us ultimately well but we might still have the disease. Sometimes, of course, the disease is completely cured.)
There is one more thing about this passage that I want us to note. Jesus had a lot to do. He was besieged by people who came to him looking for help. But he had to leave where he was to do the works of the kingdom elsewhere. We who are the disciples of Christ have the privilege and the responsibility of continuing the works of his kingdom. As we pray and as we work we need to remember that we are surrounded by people who are beset by spiritual and physical illnesses. They need our prayers but they also need our love and concern. Let us continue the works of the kingdom by giving it to them.