Very early in Jesus' ministry he was enjoying great success as a healer. It started with Simon Peter's mother-in-law. He had come to her house after synagogue where he had cast an evil spirit out of a man. After sunset, when the Sabbath had ended crowds of people appeared bringing their sick for healing. Mark tells us that the whole town had gathered at the door. I guess that had he stuck at it, he could have cured every disease in Galilee. And people would have been prepared to pay - not the poor, of course, he would have done those pro bono - there were plenty of rich people with nasty diseases, just as there are today.
I think of the plastic surgeons who see plainness or flat-chestedness as a disease, the liposuckers and stomach staplers who make a fine living out of other people's excess. It really is possible to make a very good living out of sickness.
The next day as the crowds began to gather Jesus was nowhere to be seen. You see, very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus had got up, left the house and gone to a solitary place to pray. Peter went out to look for him and when he eventually located him I guess he was a bit cross. I wouldn't have been at all surprised if Peter had been going around drumming up business. "You should see the guy who's staying with us. He even healed my wife's mother."
"This is where you are. Everybody's waiting. They're all looking for you."
But Jesus knew his ministry in that place had finished. He said, "Let's go somewhere else. To the villages nearby, for instance. I might get a chance to preach there if all the sick have come to Capernaum. That's what I have come for, you know, to preach, not to heal."
I guess that the most common prayer is for healing. We all know someone who is sick. Whether it is a husband or wife, a mother or father, a son or daughter. Even if its only me. Of course, we want to pray for them, it is right that we should. I guess we would all like a miracle.
Now, miracles do happen; these extraordinary, supernatural events, when the cancer is there one minute and gone the next. But the point is that they are extraordinary. In Jesus's day they had almost become ordinary. Wherever he went he did miracles. Forgive me if I'm wrong, but that is not the case today. Dr Brand the famous surgeon to the lepers of India wrote that in all his long years of practise he had never seen one. In 42 years of practice I have never seen one. Dr May, a Christian GP of Southampton has investigated thousands of supposed healing miracles, but has never been able to substantiate one. We don't have to go as far as saying that miracles don't happen, just that miracles in this age, certainly where they can be tested for scientifically, are very rare indeed.
Why should that be so? Has God stopped caring for his people? In John's gospel miracles are called 'signs' by the author, and that is why there were so many around Jesus. The miracles authenticated Jesus' message, just as the staff turning to a snake was meant to authenticate Moses' message to Pharaoh.
For a while, miracles accompanied the message of the Apostles, again to authenticate that they were speaking with the voice of God, but by the end of the Acts of the Apostles the miracles had begun to peter out.
Jesus has not stopped caring for his people, but all along he has had a different agenda. Preaching not healing was his priority. What did he preach? "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news. This message has been authenticated by the resurrection of Jesus and by the words of Scripture.
So continue to pray for me. By all means pray that I may be healed. Pray for my physicians that they make the right decisions. Pray for the nurses that they do their jobs correctly and kindly. Pray that my cancer will respond to the treatment. Pray for the scientists that they may discover more effective treatment. Pray for the pharmaceutical companies that they make the right investment decisions over which drugs will be invested in. Pray for the regulators that they do not hold back the regulation of effective drugs. But most of all pray that I might be useful in spreading the gospel to those who are perishing.