18 July 2021

Hope for the hopeless and
healing for all on the margins
from the physicians of souls

‘When they got out of the boat, people at once recognised him’ (Mark 6: 54) … the Ilen, the last of Ireland’s traditional wooden sailing ships, at Foynes Harbour after sailing from Limerick to Kilrush and across the Shannon Estuary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 18 July 2021

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (Trinity VII)

11.30: The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion II)
Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert ,Co Kerry

The Readings: II Samuel 7: 1-14a; Psalm 89: 20-37; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

There is a link to the readings HERE.

They ‘begged him that they might touch even the fringe his cloak’ (Mark 6: 56) … a choice of prayer shawls with fringes in the synagogue in Chania in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Throughout the current Church year, our Gospel readings are mainly from Saint Mark’s Gospel. It is a very short Gospel, and so occasionally we are also drawing from Saint John’s Gospel.

Saint Mark’s Gospel is so short that he by-passes many of the events the other Gospel writers flesh out, from the Birth of Christ to the post-Resurrection narratives.

Two striking emphases in Saint Mark’s Gospel are the stories of Christ healing those on the margins and assuring those on the margins that they too are called into the Kingdom of God.

Those people on the margins include people who are seen as sinners, foreigners and unclean, especially women and children. The ways they are belittled is symbolised in our Gospel readings in recent weeks by:

● the mustard seed, so easily overlooked because of its size (Mark 4: 26-34, 13 June 2021);
● small boats caught up in great storms (Mark 4: 35-41, 20 June 2021);
● a dying girl only 12 years old and a woman unable to find help from doctors for 12 years (Mark 5: 21-43, 27 June 2021);
● the disciples seeing Christ lay his hands on and curing sick people and then being sent out in all their vulnerability and poverty (Mark 6: 1-13, 4 July);
● and then, last Sunday, Herod’s fears and wicked response when he hears of these healings and miracles (Mark 6: 14-29, 11 July 2021).

This morning, Jesus seems to be trying to get away from all the demands and all the expectations that are being laid on his shoulders. The apostles have come back after being sent out two-by-two, and are telling him all they have done and all that has happened.

Now they need a break, and Jesus takes them on a boat and they head off to a quiet place.

But there is no escaping the crowd, the people and their demands.

And they ‘bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was’. This happens wherever he goes – in villages and cities, farms and market places (Mark 6: 55-56).

It is just enough for them to touch the fringe of his cloak and those who touch it are healed (verse 56).

What did they think they were doing by touching the ‘fringe of his cloak’?

This is not just an act of hope, hoping for healing, but an act of faith, claiming a place in the community of faith, reaching out for love.

Wearing a prayer shawl reminds the wearer and those who see this of all 613 commandments, of the covenant with God.

In touching Christ’s cloak, the sick people are claiming their place at the heart of the community of faith. They are making Jesus ritually unclean, but those who touch him are healed. In touching Christ, they are ‘touched’ by God’s power, and Christ draws them into the Kingdom of God.

A recent report in the Economist (10 July 2021) shows that the increasing number of people in the United States who are alienated from conventional religion also feel marginalised from other aspects of society, including economic, political and social life.

These people, categorised as ‘nothing-in-particular,’ are not atheists or agnostics, but are gripped by apathy and feel left aside by conventional religion. They are sceptical of so many things, from institutional politics and religion to the Covid-19 vaccine. Professor Ryan Burge, a social scientist at Eastern Illinois University and author of The Nones, says, ‘They are left out of society, sort of drifting in space.’

That is how I see those people who follow Jesus around everywhere. He has compassion on them because they are ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’ They need healing, not just in mind and body, but in their families and in their society, in political and religious society, in the economy and in the villages, cities, farms and marketplaces where they seek the healing that Christ offers.

Faith and healing come together.

There is a centuries-old tradition in the Church that calls priests ‘physicians of the soul.’ It is a deep concept, and it is related to the word curate, and to the Anglican reference to the priest’s task in a parish or group of parishes as the ‘cure of souls.’

There is a direct connection between the healing of bodies and the healing of souls.

Watching the broad smiles on people who received their second Covid-19 vaccine, I realised they had been vaccinated not just against the physical but also against the psychological fears that come with the virus, and that are a pandemic in themselves.

These connections are made in a prayer or poem in the Service of the Heart, a prayer book I use regularly for my personal prayers and reflections. This poem or prayer ‘Lord God of test tube and blueprint’ is by Norman Corwin (1910-2011):

Lord God of test tube and blueprint,
Who jointed molecules of dust and shook them till their name was Adam,
Who taught worms and stars how they could live together,
Appear now among the parliaments of conquerors and give instruction to their schemes:
Measure out new liberties so none shall suffer from his father’s colour or the credo of his choice:
Post proofs that brotherhood is not so wild a dream as those who profit by postponing it pretend:
Sit at the treaty table and convoy the hopes of the little peoples through expected straits,
And press into the final seal a sign that peace will come for longer than posterities can see ahead,
That man unto his fellow man shall be a friend forever.

Norman Lewis Corwin once declared: ‘I believe in promise, just promise … any species that can weigh the very earth he’s standing on, that can receive and analyze light coming from a galaxy a billion light years distant from us, any species that can produce a Beethoven and a Mozart and a Shakespeare, and the extraordinary accomplishments of our species, scientifically and in medicine and in the humanities, there’s illimitable opportunity for promises to be delivered and met.’

In these Covid-19 days, there is hope. It is offered by medical researchers, scientists, doctors, nurses and the cheerful volunteers at vaccination centres. They are working with the ‘Lord God of test tube and blueprint.’

The challenge to the Church is to offer that hope to those Ryan Burge identifies as ‘the Nones,’ those who ‘are left out of society, sort of drifting in space,’ those who are ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’

When we respond in love, then they shall find hope and faith, and healing.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat’ (Mark 6: 53) … a moored boat in the harbour in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56 (NRSVA):

30 The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.

53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54 When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55 and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the market-places, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.

‘When they had crossed over, they … moored the boat’ (Mark 6: 53) … a moored boat on the shore of Canon Island, in the Shannon Estuary, near Kildysert, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Liturgical colour: Green

Collect of the Day:

Lord of all power and might,
the author and giver of all good things:
Graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord God,
whose Son is the true vine and the source of life,
ever giving himself that the world may live:
May we so receive within ourselves
the power of his death and passion
that, in his saving cup,
we may share his glory and be made perfect in his love;
for he is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
now and for ever.


104, O for a thousand tongues to sing (CD 104)
20, The King of love my shepherd is (CD 1)

‘O for a thousand tongues to sing’ (Hymn 104) … street art near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.

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