February 7, 2021
1 Corinthians 9:16-23
I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Jesus’ healing miracles. As theologian D. Mark Davis says, “it seems like everyone in sight who is sick or oppressed by demons come to Jesus and he heals them right and left. It all seems too instantaneous and complete. The lame walk, the deaf hear, and those who are oppressed by destructive forces are suddenly no longer struggling.”
These stories lead to questions like: If he could heal people then, why not now? Why not me? Or my child? Or parent? Or spouse? Or friend? Why did all the miracles happen back then? Does Jesus not care? Or is God not powerful enough? Am I not faithful enough? Do I not believe enough? Or is it all a lie?
Good questions. Hard questions. And there are no satisfactory answers. Because when we are asking these questions, we aren’t looking for actual answers to the questions but an answer to the pain. We are looking for the cure. Even if I could tell you exactly why or how God healed then, but our loved ones continue to suffer now, that wouldn’t be enough, would it? It wouldn’t change your situation. The lame still limp, the deaf sign, and those oppressed by destructive forces have to just cope and seek help.
So, perhaps we can find different questions to ask—different ways to seek relief for our underlying pain.
Another issue I have with this particular story about Peter’s mother-in-law is how it seems that she is healed so that she can get back to serving. As if there was no one to feed the men, so they sent Jesus to fix the cook so that they can eat. That’s not what’s going on, but it’s so easily the way it is read and understood. Healed for the sake of what she offers to others.
But that doesn’t ring true to who Jesus is and the other miracles he performs. So, perhaps it goes deeper.
Much of the healing miracles throughout the New Testament have the result of bringing the person back into community. The leper is healed so that he can return home to his family. The person with a demon is set free to continue with their work and worship and family life. Peter’s mother-in-law is cured in order to return to that which gave her purpose—caring for her family.
More than stories of magical cures, these are stories of community—of restoration and wholeness. They are stories of life being made more robust in the presence of Jesus.
What if that is the healing God offers us? All of us? What if that kind of healing is meant for the whole world? What would that look like? A healing of restoration and wholeness and abundant life and communal embrace.
I was in a grief seminar this week, and the presenter pointed out that we, as a society, are afraid of grief. We are afraid of the practices of mourning—of being around someone who cries, of using the work ‘dead’ or ‘died’. We try to comfort someone grieving so that we can be more comfortable in their presence. Businesses allow a 3-day mourning period before someone is expected to get back to work and put it all behind them. We search for the ‘cure’ so that we can get back to normal. But maybe normal isn’t God’s hope for a healed world.
Mark says that Jesus took the woman’s hand and “lifted her up.” It’s the same Greek word as resurrection. What does it look like to be lifted up? To be brought from the depths of whatever it is that binds us and holds us down? And what binds you?
Like last week, you may be bound by COVID or cancer; you may be bound by hearing impairments and age-related challenges; you may be bound to a wheelchair or a cane to help you ‘see’ where you are going; you may be bound by the bars of prison and actions of your past. And you may be bound by others’ assumptions of you; you may be bound by rhetoric, both religious and political; you may be bound by mental illness or anger or fear of what someone will think of you. And in all these things, healing is possible.
If you’ve seen the movie, “Doctor Strange,”—one of the Marvel series movies on Disney+--maybe you can understand what I’m getting at. Doctor Steven Strange starts off as a neurosurgeon. He chooses who he will work on based on the potential for success. And he makes a TON of money in the process because he is so ‘successful’ and so specialized. But *spoilers* he ends up in a devastating car accident in which his hands are so broken that, even after multiple surgeries, he just can’t get back his strength and steadiness. His career is gone. His money is gone. And he is at the end of his rope. He seeks out a man whom he, himself, had denied surgery because the man was paralyzed and there was no hope of walking. None. He found the man playing basketball—running. And the man tells the doctor where he was healed.
So, he goes to Nepal to seek out this special healer who teaches him to manipulate reality with his mind. It’s a sort of magic. And he becomes quite powerful with it. But at some point, he’s given a choice: he can use all of his focus to convince his body and his hands that they have been cured—that they can do what they used to do, which is what the paralyzed basketball player did; or he can use all of his focus to continue to protect the world from evil. *spoilers end*
He can be cured—or he can be healed. And they are not the same thing. Often, what we want and long for is a cure. We want to go back to how we once were. Or, we want to be like everyone else—running, seeing, hearing, and so on. But that’s not what God offers. God offers healing—the opportunity to be made whole even in the midst of our brokenness. Like an alcoholic in recovery. He/she is not cured of alcoholism. They are given a choice every moment of every day—choose life or choose alcohol. But they are never cured.
They are liberated. Lifted up. Healing happens when we are embraced by the community and lifted up. It may or may not include a cure. But it absolutely includes the Body of Christ, in all its brokenness. Because for you and me, it is the scarred hands of Christ that reach to us and lift us up. Christ lifts us into the community of believers—and non-believers. Christ places us within this human mess of folks and invites us to take care of each other.
So, maybe healing looks like a nurse at the bedside of yet another COVID patient; and maybe healing looks like wearing masks and limiting contact and getting a vaccine so that those bedside scenes become fewer and fewer; maybe healing looks like building ramps and elevators for those in wheelchairs, and learning to sign for those who are deaf, and creating safe space for those who struggle with mental health, and building homes for those who are homeless, and providing healthcare for those who are sick, and offering homes to children without healthy home lives, and sitting in silence with those who grieve, and walking slower for those who limp. Maybe healing looks like turning down alcohol today; and maybe healing looks like experiencing freedom of mind and spirit even while bound by the bars of prison. Maybe healing is more about creating a community that allows for our illness and brokenness instead of expecting ourselves and one another to just get over it and get better.
Maybe…just maybe…that’s what God offers us today and every day. The opportunity to be healed. And the opportunity to heal another. A chance, over and over again, to shine into someone’s darkness, to match someone’s pace, to share a meal, to offer a coat, or to simply sit. To be community so that no one is alone.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church