“Only Healing” Easter 2 (April 10, 2016, MCC Windsor)
Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service. As they approached the Temple, someone lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for some money.
Peter and John looked at him intently, and Peter said, “Look at us!” The lame person looked at them eagerly, expecting some money. But Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have. In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!”
Then Peter took the person by the right hand and helped him up. And as he did, the man’s feet and ankles were instantly healed and strengthened. He jumped up, stood on his feet, and began to walk! Then, walking, leaping, and praising God, he went into the Temple with them.
All the people saw him walking and heard him praising God. When they realized he was the lame beggar they had seen so often at the Beautiful Gate, they were absolutely astounded!
After Jesus and the disciples had crossed the lake, they landed at Gennesaret. They brought the boat to shore and climbed out. The people recognized Jesus at once, and they ran throughout the whole area, carrying sick people on mats to wherever they heard he was. Wherever he went—in villages, cities, or the countryside—they brought the sick out to the marketplaces. They begged him to let the sick touch at least the fringe of his robe, and all who touched him were healed.
Will you pray with and for me? Holy One, you are the healer of our spirits. Be with us as we open our hearts to your presence with us, and give us grace in this time to truly take in your love and wisdom. In all your names, amen.
Healing has always been important in religions, in cults, in spirituality. It’s not difficult, I think, to understand why. When a person is ill, whether in the body, mind, or spirit, all they want is to get well, whatever that takes. And sometimes it is hard to know why you are ill—this was especially true in the distant past, before humans understood about germs and viruses and antibiotics. A person would just suddenly get sick, and sometimes would get better, and sometimes wouldn’t for a long time, and sometimes would be OK afterwards and sometimes would suffer permanent damage—and sometimes wouldn’t survive at all. Injuries too—sometimes people could be sewn back together and would be OK and other times not. They didn’t know about keeping wounds clean and infections and internal bleeding. Obviously they could observe that people whose wounds were kept clear healed better, but that wasn’t always possible—and sometimes they died anyway, if they had internal injuries, or if the wounds were worse than they appeared. Even into relatively modern times, something as minor—to us—as a cold could be deadly. When we read Jane Austen novels---or at least when I do!—and we read of someone spraining an ankle and having to stay as a guest where they had just been passing by, we might think it contrived. But the reality is that in those days of no springs in the carriages—which meant a lot of bouncing around—an injured rider was bound to injure herself again. And of course she couldn’t ride horseback—you need feet and ankles for that even sidesaddle. Walking was naturally not an option. And so, in one of her books, a character does stay on a visit of several days with friends she had not even been planning to see, when she twists her ankle and cannot get home; and then catches a cold which threatens to turn into pneumonia—and this in the days before penicillin, remember.
So in Jesus’ day, while medicine could do some things, and people had more medical knowledge than we often give them credit for, knowledge that was mostly lost in Europe during the Middle Ages, health was still crucial. Someone who became ill, or had a chronic illness, or a disability, was an economic liability to his or her family. It is a cruel truth. A person who had mobility limitations—this in the days before wheelchairs or artificial limbs or elevators or ramps; or who was visually or hearing impaired; or simply had cancer—this person could not contribute much to the household income, could not work in the field very well or care for the children or weave or cook or care for the flocks and herds. They had become a liability. Given the economic realities of the time, many of them, as this person at the Beautiful Gate did, became beggars in order to contribute something. And yet, of course, they had families who loved them—this was their daughter, their brother, their cousin, their nephew. And so of course they wanted healing for them. It wasn’t an economic decision—it was a yearning of the heart.
And so Jesus healed; and so did Peter and John, following his example.
So here’s a question I’ve always had—and it popped up again when I started thinking about this reading for today. Why didn’t Jesus heal all the people? There were a lot of people coming to him for help, but we don’t hear that he healed all of them. And I’m sure Peter and John passed other beggars in the gate—it’s a natural place for beggars to gather, anywhere people have to slow down, where traffic slows down and people gather. You see it today, at the on-ramps and off-ramps to freeways and the big intersections in the city. There were many people, but not all were healed. Why?
For a long time, I thought it was because not all of them were worthy—the ones who weren’t healed didn’t have enough faith, or hadn’t asked, or were too afraid. But the more I thought about it, the less I liked that answer. Why would Jesus pick and choose? If all those people came to him for healing, why would he heal only some of them?
A couple of things changed my thinking. One was understanding the difference between curing and healing. Curing something means it is gone, no more, bye-bye. A person can be cured of very few things—a minor cold or a scratch, maybe. But anything else—well, it leaves a mark on you and is with you always, in some form or another, and may always affect your life, sometimes in major ways. A person cannot be healed from diabetes, for example; nor cystic fibrosis or substance abuse or cancer. Even a broken bone leaves the bone weakened, and something like cancer leaves a person's body permanently weakened and scarred. The effects of these illnesses are always with them, and they are always in recovery from them—they are healing or healed, but never cured.
So Jesus—and John and Peter--carried out healing, not cures. The bodily manifestations of the individual’s illness--the skin disease or the mental illness or the lameness-- may have been gone, as with the person at the gate to the Temple, who was able to dance when he could barely stand before. But the effects of the illness are still there, if not physically then emotionally and spiritually. Many cancer survivors will tell you they gained an attitude during treatment they didn't have before. It's partly a new sense of what's important--and it's not usually what was important before their diagnosis--and partly a new sense of skepticism about what "authorities" say, since for most of us, we were eating well or at least reasonably, we had no real risk factors, and yet there we were in a cancer clinic wait room...
Not cured, but healed.
Something else I noticed. These were mostly folks who were already following Jesus. Certainly that's true in Mark's Gospel. The person at the gate in Acts was not prevented from entering the Temple--he couldn't serve, if he had been asked, since those serving in the temple had to be clear of any bodily defect. They were not healed so they could worship; and they didn't worship as the price of their healing; they worshiped and they were healed. The only connection the two have to each other is the the healing was celebrated in worship. There's nothing in either reading to suggest that the ones who were healed didn't already worship.
The healing showed the power of God through Christ to restore people to a place in community. Without the healing, they were marginalized, less than; not actually cast out, like lepers and murders and so on were; but they were on the very edges of community. Whatever happened--and remember, the Bible is a book of why, not how--the individuals who needed healing received it, and provided a sign of God's coming realm. They had reason to celebrate! Not only were they healed--in and of itself a great thing--but they had a foretaste of the perfect realm of God's love.
So what does this all mean to us? We are unlikely to meet Jesus on the front steps of church, although I would guess that all of us have something we would like to be healed from. We can meet Jesus in two places--our own hearts, and in each other.
Take time this week to be with Jesus--in prayer, in conversation as you move through your day, in quiet times of meditation--what ever works best for you. I am willing to bet that when you do that, you will see Jesus more often in others as well--the driver ahead of you in the Timmy's drive through who paid for your coffee; the co-worker who normally is so hard to deal with, but today confesses her concern for her mother's health; the man who holds up traffic so that a duck and her ducklings can cross the road. And you will find him within your self, too--those fruits of the spirit: kindness, patience, strength, love, and wisdom.
Go, my friends, to be healed, and to heal. In all God's names. Amen.