If you flip through the pages of the Gospels and pay more attention to what Jesus does than to what he says, you will find story after story of Jesus healing people. There are the two stories I read just a moment ago. And, then there is the woman who has had a hemorrhage for 12 years who is healed. And, the story about the paralytic being lowered by friends through the roof of the house so he ends up in front of Jesus who is healed. And, the story about blind Bartimaeus sitting in the dust along the edge of the road who makes a fuss until Jesus hears him who is healed. And, the list goes on and on. While the different Gospels tell similar stories about Jesus in slightly different ways, by one count, we find more than 45 instances of Jesus healing people or healing groups of people.
I found myself thinking about healing when I was in Nicaragua a couple of weeks ago with the group of high school students and adults from our congregation and from Temple Shaaray Tefila. What triggered my thinking was a reflection we had one night. Each evening, after working all day, we would pull our plastic chairs into a circle and talk for a few minutes about where we were and about why we were there and about what we were learning. On Tuesday evening it was my turn to lead the conversation. On pieces of paper I had four key ideas or values common to both Christianity and Judaism that I passed out to our group and asked them to divide into small groups, and to take 15-20 minutes to talk about them.
Here is what I gave them and asked them to think and to talk about:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
And, I asked…
- What does this kind of love act like?
- How do you define who your neighbor is?
And from Hebrew scripture, the passage which Eric Eichhorn read last week.
You will be know as the repairer of the breach and those who restore the streets in which to live.
- In this passage light is a metaphor for goodness or righteousness. What evidence of that light have you seen or experienced this week?
- How is that light evident in or through your life?
And from a parable found in Matthew’s Gospel, these words of Jesus:
Whatever you do for the least of these…
- How and where do we see God in the “least of these” compared to ways we usually think and talk about and imagine God?
- Where have you experienced/seen something of God this week?
The fourth value I gave them to think about was Tikkun olam/Heal the world which is an important value in Reformed Judaism. And, I asked…
- How is what you are doing this week a part of healing the world.
- How and where do you see/experience/participate in healing the world at home?
As I listened to that group of high school students and adults share their thoughts and reflections with one another, I found my thinking going in a different direction than theirs. Being there in Nicaragua doing what we were doing – building two new homes for families whose home was currently scraps of wood and a dirt floor – it was easy to see and to say that, in some small way, we were doing our part to heal the world. At least that small corner of the world where we were at that moment. But what I realized and have continued to think about is that, if the witness of the Gospels is correct, healing is never just a one way street. Not just what we do for them or even what Jesus did for them.
So, for a moment, back to Jesus before coming back to you and me and to here and now.
First, a moment of honesty…
The healing stories in the Gospels are challenging for me.
Too quickly I equate the stories in the Gospels with the way they are used by those stereotypical faith healers.
Lay your hands on them.
Pray real hard.
Open your eyes and see.
Throw the crutches away.
Dance down the aisle.
But with that said, I know there is much about illness and wellness which we don’t know. And, I know there are complicated and intricate relationships between spiritual health and mental health and physical health. You and I can, quite literally, worry ourselves sick. And, I remember reading Norman Cousins’ account of his laughing his way to wellness.
An insight, for me, in understanding these stories in the Bible and, into the concept of healing was shared with me by a doctor. He was a friend and a member of the church where I was the pastor and our children’s pediatrician when our children were young. I don’t know how we got to this point in our conversation, but I remember him saying to me: “A hard thing for doctors to understand is there is a difference between being healed and being cured.”
Let me say that again.
There is a difference between being healed and being cured.
Over the years I have experienced the truth of that insight.
Sometimes I have seen both occur. Both being healed and being cured. But, I have sat with families and experienced healing even as a loved one has died. And, I have sat with families and experienced a person being cured, but the healing that was needed did not take place.
Those whom sought out Jesus in order to be healed were not just blind or sick or lame.
They are excluded.
They had been cast to the side and held at arm’s length, if not even further away than that. Not knowing for sure what else Jesus does or what else happens, what I do know is that Jesus pulls them back into the circle of the community. He recognizes them when others ignore them. He speaks with them when others turn their heads away pretending they did not hear. He touches them when, for many of them, they have not been touched by another in years. In other words, they were healed. Jesus healed them. He restored some sense of their humanity in the relationship he was willing to have with them.
So, back to that circle of chairs in that dirt front yard in Campuzano, Nicaragua. And, back to here and now in Bedford, New York. Yes, the homes we were building were bringing healing to both families and to the community in the form of hope and safety and health. But sitting there that evening I found myself wondering what part of me needed to be healed. What healing were Johana and Jesus, who lived in a wood scrap house with a dirt floor, and Elmer who taught me how to finish the mortar, and Fatima who arrived each morning at 4:00 AM to cook for us…what healing were they offering that I desperately needed as much as they needed a safe home in which to live? What healing do we, as a community and culture as affluent and powerful and self-sufficient as we seem to be, so desperately need?
If the world is to be healed,
And, if that is what God intends,
Then you and I need to be healed as well as to help in the healing.
I don’t have a neat and easy answer.
I continue to think about the question hoping and trusting that if it is the right question and if I ask it deeply enough and honestly enough I will live, on some distant day, into the answer. But, what I do think I know already is that the answer has something to do with community and something to do with gratitude and something to do with humility and something to do with walking rather than running and riding a bike rather than racing around in a car.
As a congregation we are good about doing what we can to heal the world.
We provide food.
We build and repair homes.
We offer shelter for those in need.
We do our best to care for one another.
Our generosity extends far and wide.
In some small way, each and every day, we do something which helps to bring healing and hope. But healing is never a one way street and so I am back to my question. Where do I and we need to be healed that we and the communities in which we live and the world that has been entrusted to our care and keeping, might become more whole and wholesome for us and for all?
As I said, I don’t have any neat or easy answers.
Only the invitation to join me in living the question.