The Way of the Healer – A Curious Healing Story

One of my favorite stories of Jesus is found in Mark 8:22-26. It is the unusual healing of the blind man from Bethsaida. What makes this real life parable so amazing is the unique movement of Jesus and the blind man and what Jesus says at the end. (When I say real life parable, that doesn’t mean it did not happen…it simply points to this event as a teaching story…as Mark’s way of trying to point out how Jesus wanted all those who are blind to see…the physically blind, like this man…and the spiritually blind, like the disciples and us.)

Mark 8:22-23a, “They came to Bethsaida. Some people brought a blind man to him and begged him to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village…”

Many years ago, Rev. Grace Imathiu who was born and raised in Kenya, shared with me that in Eastern and African cultures a village is more than a geographical location. A village is an identity, a culture, the people, the norms, the beliefs, and the worldviews. The village is made up of houses and boundaries, but it is much more than that. So when Jesus meets the man in Bethsaida, the first thing he does is take him out of the village – remove him from his defined identity. This is a powerful first step in healing. In his village, he was a blind man – beggar, doesn’t contribute to the whole, no family, no children, no productive work, no value. That is who the village says he is. In order to be healed, he has to be removed from those ‘village’ definitions. Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him out.

Mark 8:23b-24, “…and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Can you see anything?” And the man looked up and said, “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.”

A lot of people, including me, have struggled with this passage. It takes two attempts to heal the man. That really doesn’t happen in healing stories with Jesus. What’s going on? It seems there are two important lessons for us:

  • Healing is a process that takes time. Anyone who needs healing of body, mind, spirit, or relationships knows that healing isn’t immediate. It takes time. Just about every other healing story in the New Testament is immediate. That causes a lot of people to ask, “Why doesn’t Jesus heal me completely and immediately?” This story reminds us of the process of healing.
    • Healing also involves our participation. We have to participate in healing and wholeness. While Jesus’ healing powers are not limited, we can limit the effects of grace and mercy in our lives if we refuse to receive those gifts. In John 5, Jesus asks the paralytic by a pool in Jerusalem, “Do you want to be made well?” Seems like an odd question to a man who had his infirmity for 38 years, but it makes sense. Many of us find it hard to give up the brokenness that defines us. Letting go of our brokenness and pain means finding new ways to live free…that’s not easy for everyone. (And one other thing…when we are unwilling to be healed of anger, hatred, fear, and brokenness, we see others as enemy, monster, object…tree – not as a child of God we are called to pray for and love.)

Mark 8:25-26, “Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again, and he looked intently, and his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Then he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even go into the village.”

My favorite part of this passage is also the most difficult. Jesus heals the man and tells him to go home, but not return to the village. He lives in the village! Jesus means, “go home, but now that you are healed and can see, I do not want you to return to the pre-defined role the people in your village had of you. You are not longer that person…you are a new creation and you need a new definition.”

So, I guess the question for us all is, “Do we want to be made whole?” And if we do, are we willing to leave our “villages” and participate in the healing Jesus has for us?

Elevating Disagreement

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.

– Romans 12:1-2

Brian McLaren wrote an article in 2018 entiltled, “Anger, Contemplation, and Action”. In it he wrote, “Anger does its work. It prompts us to action, for better or worse. With time and practice, we can let the reflexive reactions of fight/flight/freeze, mirroring, and judging pass by like unwanted items on a conveyor belt. Also, with practice, we can make space for creative actions to be prompted by our anger … actions that are in tune with the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (see Galatians 5:22) … actions that overcome evil with good and bring healing instead of hate….[anger] is a gift that can be abused—or wisely used. Yes, it’s a temptation, but it’s also a resource and an opportunity, as unavoidable and necessary as pain. It’s part of the gift of being human and being alive.

We Christians are not handling anger well these days. I think in large part it is because we have lost focus on the central aspects of our faith. If we study diligently the words and actions of Jesus, we see a way of dealing with a hostile world that does not descend into anger, fear, and animosity. When we read Paul in Romans 12, he says, “do not be conformed to this age but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so you may discern what is the will of God – what is good, acceptable, and perfect.

Many American Christians take Paul’s saying to be applied to moral behavior – what is right and what is wrong and take a stand. We are justified to use our anger in any way we choose if the ends demand it. But Paul IS speaking to a church that is intersecting with a pagan world and he is calling them not to pull away or resist what is outside. He doesn’t want us to turn inward in order to discover some ‘pure, unsullied faithful world within’. It isn’t about removing ourselves or purifying ourselves so much as being renewed in the midst of! How we engage in an ever changing, ever threatening world is important.

How do we deal with disagreements? How do we deal with frustration? How do we deal with being wronged? How do we deal with our anger? Are we renewing our minds in Christ to be good, acceptable, perfect examples…do we, “let love be genuine, hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good, love one another with mutual affection, outdo one another in showing honor…rejoice in hope, patient in affliction, persevere in prayer, contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality”? (Paul’s words in Romans 12:9-13)

The world will change – that is a certainty. And it won’t always change in ways that are good (Paul also said in Romans 1 that the human heart is dark and that applies to those inside and outside the church). Christians are not called to remove ourselves from the world, but to renew our minds in the midst of the world we live in that our behavior reflects Christ. It’s time for all of us to engage in self-examination as disciples and ask ourselves, “How can we elevate conversations in a way that don’t mimic the ways of the world around us? How can we allow our minds to be renewed so that the way we disagree brings as much pleasure to Christ as where we end up in the disagreement?”

What Am I Afraid Of? Learning to Release Anger

What does it feel like to live afraid? Afraid of the world? Afraid of people? Afraid of the pandemic? Afraid of politics? Afraid of conflict over anything and everything? What does it feel like to lose friendships that are special to you? What does it feel like to feel as if you’ve failed at the very thing God called you to do in your life?

I recently asked a wise friend, “Why am I angry all the time?”  His response shocked me. He said, “Anger and fear cannot share the same space. None of us like to be afraid and so we fill those spaces with anger – it pushes the fear away.”  He then asked, “John, what are you afraid of?”

Unfortunately, there are a lot of answers to that question. If I want to resist anger and not let it take up so much space in me, I must confront the very things I am afraid of. I can honestly say (whether I am blind to this or not) that I have never lived my life afraid. But over the past 20 months, there have been many things that I fear. I am afraid of losing friendships. I am afraid of losing church members. I am afraid of being ill-equipped. I am afraid of failing.  But here is the rub: It is true that if I lose these things, it will hurt deeply. But loss and pain are not the end of life in Christ. As a matter of fact, Christ taught us that loss, suffering, pain, and even death are not the end. I may be afraid, but the loss of these things does not mean the end of life in Jesus.

So, I am giving some space to my fears…not so they have power over me or so that they debilitate me…but so that I can remember that I can be afraid, and trust that God’s got this. I’m ready to be done with anger.  Maybe you are as well. But we must first acknowledge we are afraid.  I’m finding that as I do this, I can hear God’s words about fear in a new way.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” – Psalm 23:4

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” – Psalm 27:1

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” – Psalm 46:1-3

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” – Luke 14:27

“He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” – Psalm 91:4-5

Love and Hate

Luke 2:25-35

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Love and hate are intimately linked within the human brain, according to a study by Professor Semir Zeki of University College London. Zeki studied the brains of people who profess deep hatred towards a person and deep love and here is what he discovered.  When people looked at the images of those they hated, it involved specific areas in the sub-cortex of the brain. One area they already knew was connected to contempt and disgust. But they found these same areas of the brain were involved in deep feelings of love. Zeki proposes that this may be connected to the preparation of aggression that may come when you feel someone you love is threatened.  While love and hate are found to be at work in the same area of the brain, there is one interesting difference. Zeki and his research team found that the areas of the brain associated with judgment and reasoning become deactivated during love, whereas very little of the area is deactivated in hate.

Zeki concludes with this hypothesis…love seems to be less critical and less judgmental toward those loved. Hate is more judgmental, more critical, and more calculating…seeking ways to injure, harm, or exact revenge. The other interesting find? Hate could be objectively quantified in the studies. Love could not. There was no way to objectively quantify love.

Zeki could have saved a lot of time if he had just read the New Testament…

Christmas is the time of year when we celebrate the coming of the fullness of love to the world. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son… Christmas is the time we celebrate when love came down from heaven. And this is a season of love. There is something warm and cozy about Christmas. Families gather, meals are shared, we reach out to those who are not with us by phone and Christmas cards.

But as we explore the great paradoxes of Christmas, this week we focus on the second Sunday of Advent’s theme…love. We know that the world Jesus came into was not only a world of love. Just as in Jesus day, we are surrounded by the paradox of a world where God is pouring out His love into a world filled with hate.

The Magi search for the child to pay him homage as a power-hungry king tries desparately to keep power by slaughtering innocent young children.  The angels announce the birth of the Savior to a poor band of shepherds.  Joseph and Mary receive news of the miraculous birth, but their experience is not exactly glorious.  Our world is not different. We see the paradoxes all around us.  Love comes in the midst of a world of hate.  People killing innocent people and calling it faithfulness. People mistrusting those around them and those in authority. We need love more than ever in a world filled with hate.

In today’s passage, we see Joseph and Mary bringing Jesus to the temple as was the custom. Simeon was a righteous and faithful man and very old. God told him he would not die until he laid eyes on the Savior of the world. As Jesus is brought into the temple, Simeon is drawn in and when he lays his eyes on the child, he rejoices! He says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  Simeon sees the light of salvation for all people, including the Gentiles. Love has come down.

IF we ended there, that would be enough. But the Bible points us to another paradox…Simeon continues…“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

We see this bitter prophecy played out in the life of Jesus as he confronts the lives and motives of so many.  He called us to examine our inner thoughts as well.  In John 3:19 Jesus says, “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.  For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.  But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Jesus was and is the One who reveals our inner thoughts and calls us to choose light and love over darkness and hate.  We are confronted with this Sign everyday.

The good news is that love has come into the world. But that love will call for a decision from the world. A decision to love in the light…or hate in the darkness.

Hopes and Fears…

Matthew 2:16-18

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

nativity

Fisher Price Nativity

My kids always loved playing with the Fisher Price nativity set under our Christmas tree.  It was a good way for our kids to understand the story while being able to handle the characters without fear of them showing up broken around the house.  The wise men in the set were always my favorites.  Not only did they show the diversity of the “peoples of the world”, but they all had these sweet smiles on their faces.  They reflected the story of the wise men I grew up hearing about…visiting the home of Jesus with gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

But just like Christmas cards, the nativity sets don’t tell the whole story…they only reflect the glorious aspects of the birth of Christ.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it leads us to forget the paradox inherent in the season.  The story of the wise men is coupled with the killing of innocent children by Herod in Matthew 2.  Why would Matthew include such graphic and atrocious imagery?  Why do we never really hear or talk about that part of the story?

This is heavy stuff and Christmas is not supposed to be a heavy time.  We work hard at creating ‘winter wonderlands’ and hap-, happiest times of the year for our family, friends and even for ourselves.  But we must remember that Christmas is a season of paradox.  Christmas is a season self-contradiction that expresses the truth that in God comes into a world that is violent, broken, and in desperate need of salvation.  Matthew doesn’t hide this.  Matthew tells the gritty and disturbing parts of the story.  Matthew’s version of the Christmas story isn’t as far fetched as we may like to think.

Emmanuel, God with us, did not just draw near to us in all the good parts of our lives.  God took on our lot and our life – all of it.  He entered into a world of fear, dread and atrocity.  And He continues to enter those parts of our lives.  The good news of the Gospel is this…we do not face this scary world alone.  God is with us.  Even in the midst of a world that is filled with heartache.

Questions for Reflection:

  • Read Matthew 2:1-18 again.  How often have you heard verses 16-18 shared during the Christmas season?  Why do you think we like to steer away from this part of the story?
  • Think about the world we live in now.  What ‘Herods’ do you see around us?  Are there leaders or powers that seek to protect their power?
  • Think about your own life this Christmas season.  Do you find it difficult to be happy in a season that is supposed to be filled with happiness?  Why?
  • Take some time to think about the real, painful aspects of your life.  How does Christ’s birth in a real, gritty, difficult world give you hope and comfort?  Think of ways Christ can be born in your own difficulty and share that with a friend over coffee or lunch.