In summertime, my favorite time to go to the beach is around 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. The crowds will have dispersed and it’s easy to park; the heat of the day is past, but the air is still plenty warm. There is ample space in the sand to set up chairs or spread out towels. And – if we stay long enough – the beach at sunset is beautiful. The shorebirds that hid during the mid-day heat come back out, and fly about and sing. The breeze tends to die down. The shadows from the dunes lengthen over the beach, and the waters grow progressively deeper and darker blue as the sun sets. If waves are breaking, their white tops shine forth in the fading evening light. And if we stay a really long time, the sand will slowly cool off, the brighter planets, and then stars, will become visible. Depending on its cycle, the moon’s light may be reflecting on the sea. To be at the beach in the late afternoon and dusk leaves me with a real sense of completion, of wholeness.
I wonder what that night was like for the people of Capernaum so long ago, that night when Jesus visited their seaside town. They talked about it for years. Jesus had been in their synagogue that morning for worship and had taught with authority and had cast out demons. It was the Sabbath, so people weren’t supposed to be moving about, but word nonetheless spread – quickly – about Jesus’ teaching and what he had done. Those who were ill and wanted to be healed, and those who had family members ill and wanted them to be healed, waited anxiously that day for the sun to move through the sky, for the shadows to lengthen and the sun to set so that at sundown, when the Sabbath was over, they could carry the sick to the house where Jesus was staying. And so, when the heat of the day was past and the birds came out again, when the shadows from the hills behind the town gradually stretched further and further into the town and then reached the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and when the waters of the Sea grew progressively deeper and darker blue and the brighter planets and then the stars became visible, and maybe the moonlight reflected on the sea, the people came out of their houses to bring him their sick and those possessed by demons. They came not just from Capernaum, but from the surrounding countryside, so that the entire city was pressed around the door of the house where he was. Outside it was dusk, the air and the sand under their feet growing cool.
But inside, through the open door, they could see in the candlelight a man moving – not exactly slowly, not exactly “methodically” – but… with compassion. They could see how tenderly this man spoke to those who came to him, how he paid attention to them one by one as though, in that moment, there were nobody else in the world to pay attention to. They could see him – sense him – listening to each word that was spoken, then speaking to each person, sometimes laying a hand on them. Occasionally, when the groans of the sick or the screams of those possessed by demons momentarily subsided, they could hear his voice. They could see the blind going into the house blind, but coming out able to see. They could see the lame going into the house lame, but coming out able to walk. Gasps of amazement filled the crowd. And cheers. As the evening progressed, the deep blue of the sky gave way slowly to black. As the evening grew on, not only the planets and brighter stars were visible, but now they could see even the dimmer stars and the arm of the Milky Way overhead.
The line outside the house was still long, but Jesus did not seem to tire. Still he greeted each person and paid attention to each one as though he had nobody else to pay attention to. He gave sight. He cast out demons. He restored hearing and helped to walk until – long after the birds had stopped singing, long after the ground had gone cold, long after all the cheers and gasps of the crowd had given way to the steady rhythm of the waves lapping at the seashore – all who had come to him had been healed.
It was a remarkable evening in Capernaum. They talked about it for years. There was such a sense of completion at the end of that day, of wholeness, of hope. Here was one who not only taught with authority, but also touched them. Who literally touched them and brought to them a wholeness and healing that they had never before known. It was truly a remarkable evening at the beach.
If we let him, Jesus will yet come to us, too. If we can find within us a “house” for him to stay, he will open the door and receive all that needs healing within us. By His word, by His sacraments, by His careful listening to us and speaking in our hearts, by his paying attention to us and loving us as though he had nobody else to pay attention to or to love, Jesus will gently, gradually weave back together the brokenness that is in our lives. If we let Him, He will once again make us whole. Maybe not the wholeness we had in mind, but a wholeness that – with Him – is deeper and stronger than we could have imagined.
I wonder if we have a place for Jesus to make his home in us. I wonder if we might let him open the door and accept his invitation to come in, to have our heart put back together again, to once again be made whole. So that, when morning comes, we might get up and go and proclaim – by our very lives – the Good News that He has proclaimed to us.