June 22, 2019
by Dave Graybeal
Jesus has been on a whirlwind healing tour for a couple of chapters by now. He’s cleansed a leper. He’s healed a centurion’s servant. He’s relieved Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. He’s cast out a demonic spirit from a man from the other side of the lake. He’s not only healed a paralyzed man but forgiven him of his sins. In the passage right before today’s reading, he’s raised a young girl from death back to life and healed a woman who had been hemorrhaging for many years. And here he is today, giving sight to the blind and voice to the mute. There doesn’t seem to be any realm of human illness that Jesus can’t heal and make whole.
As a child, I remember being amazed by all these stories in the Gospels of Jesus healing all these people of their various ailments. But after my dad became sick and died from cancer my senior year in college, I began to become more annoyed by these stories. I had prayed for my dad to be healed. Others had prayed for him to be healed. If Jesus had asked us the same question he asked those two blind men, whether we believed he was able to heal my dad, we all would have affirmed absolutely yes, we did. But Jesus didn’t heal him of his cancer. Why not? Did we not have enough faith? Or what may have been worse, did he really not have enough power?
As I served as a student chaplain on the oncology unit of Emory’s downtown Atlanta hospital, and as I have since then served for nearly twenty years in pastoral ministry, I have prayed along with patients and parishioners and their family members and fellow church members and friends for Jesus to heal them of their various illnesses. Some have received the gift of healing, but many, if not most, did not, at least not in the way we prayed for them to be healed. Again, how do we make sense of these stories of Jesus healing so many when so many for whom we have prayed go unhealed?
One of the voices who has helped me better understand and appreciate these healing stories of Jesus is Rachel Held Evans, a New York Times bestselling author and popular blogger, speaker and conference organizer who died this May at the age of 37 from an infection, despite the fervent prayers of so many for her healing.
In her last book, Inspired, in which she describes falling in love with the Bible again, Rachel discussed the healing stories of Jesus. She wrote, “the point isn’t just that Jesus healed these people; the point is that Jesus touched these people. He embraced them just as he embraced other disparaged members of society, often regarded as ‘sinners’ by the religious and political elite—prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, Gentiles, the sick, the blind, and the deaf.” It was the healing hands of Jesus, to echo our annual conference theme, touching the often untouched with his compassion and grace.
She also draws out the eschatological, future-oriented meaning of these healing stories, which has implications for us here in the present. “The miracles of Jesus,” she wrote, “prefigure a future in which there is no more suffering, no more death, no more stigmatization, no more exclusion, no more chaos. They show us what it looks like for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven, and they invite us to buy into that future now, with every act of compassion and inclusion, every step toward healing and reconciliation and love.” In other words, these healing stories of Jesus invite each one of us to be about the healing work of Jesus in the world today, to be the healing hands of Jesus.
So how are we doing with that? How are you doing with that? How am I doing with that? As Rachel went on to ask, “Am I including the people who are typically excluded? Am I feeding the hungry and caring for the sick? Am I holding the hands of the homeless and offering help to addicts? Am I working to break down religious and political barriers that marginalize ethnic, religious, and sexual minorities and people with disabilities? Am I behaving as though life is more than a meaningless, chaotic mess, that there is some order in the storm?”
I invite you to pray with me: Have mercy on me, Son of David. Heal me by your grace. Give sight to the blind and voice to the mute, beginning with me. Help me to be your healing hands in your world. Amen.