Mark 8:22-26 – A Ministry of Touch

“Healing” by Ivan Filichev

They [Jesus and his disciples] came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.” (New International Version)

Spirituality is, of course, a matter of the spirit. It is also a matter of the body. It may be lost on us that the way our spirituality is expressed is through our very real physical selves. A disembodied spirituality is really no spirituality, at all.

Christianity is profoundly physical. A core doctrine of the Church is the incarnation of Christ, God becoming man. Jesus has a real flesh and blood body. His physical body was the vehicle by which he did the will of God. Christ’s earthly ministry directed attention to people’s holistic needs – including the physical body.

So, perhaps it ought not surprise us when Jesus intentionally and literally touches people. From one person to another, Jesus was attentive to the power of compassionate and healing physical touch. For healing does not happen from afar; it is close enough to be personal, touching the spirit, the emotions, the mind, and the body.

In today’s Gospel lesson, some folks came to Jesus with a blind man in tow. They were evidently concerned and close enough to the man to beg Jesus to touch him. Yes, touch him. The small group of people were looking for a tangible reach from Jesus.

Just the other day, I visited a dear lady in the hospital for which I’m a Chaplain. As I began to speak with her, she reached out her hand, and I took it. I then realized that she was blind. This patient, in the dark because of her eyes, and in a strange unfamiliar place, needed more than a verbalized healing prayer from me. She needed a very real physical connection. The ability to compassionately touch another person has tremendous power.

“To touch is to give life.”

Michelangelo

Skin-to-skin contact is vital for our mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Sensory deprivation is a real thing, and it’s a pervasive problem, especially during a pandemic.

We now know that whenever we feel unusual stress and pressure in our lives that the body releases the stress hormone cortisol. One of the biggest things actual physical touch can do is reduce the abnormal stress, allowing the immune system to work the way it should. What’s more, touch helps calm our heart rate and blood pressure, enabling us to have a more regulated way of life.

Jesus took the blind man by the hand and walked him outside the village. Let’s pause on that factoid for a moment. There was a man who literally walked with Jesus, hand-in-hand, for perhaps a few miles. I wonder what he experienced, just in that walk. What seems clear to me is that this event of walking was part of the man’s healing. He quite simply needed this bodily experience with Jesus.

I find it a bit humorous that some commentators struggle with the process of Christ’s healing the blind man, as if Jesus himself was struggling with trying to heal the guy. However, by taking the approach of an embodied spirituality, we can discern that this man required a great deal of touch from Jesus. The spitting, the putting the hands on the eyes, and then doing it again, was all deliberately tactile and just what the man needed for his healing of both body and soul.

Christ’s physical body was an instrument of grace. And our own bodies are meant to bless others with appropriate and compassionate touch. I realize this gets complicated with social distancing practices and concerns with health during a pandemic, yet we can still be agents of healing through simple acts of touch, including the following:

  1. Hug others. Hugs are healthy. I completely understand that some people aren’t huggers, and we ought to be guarded hugging others we don’t know very well. I usually ask before I hug someone outside of my family or church. Unfortunately, many people have had bad experiences being touched, and my heart goes out to them. Yet, the need for meaningful and positive touch still remains both for us and for others.
  2. Pet the dog. My wife’s little dog is a prima donna. He drives me nuts sometimes (maybe most of the time). Yet, because of his disposition, he is the perfect little gentleman when in a care facility or in public. He likes the attention. If you have a pet, let other folks pet them. I’m a busy guy, but when it comes to taking time for neighborhood kids to pet the dog while I’m walking him, I’m all in. It is a simple ministry that anyone can do.
  3. Hold hands or offer light touch. This can and perhaps should be a liberal activity within most families. It can also be done with others. It’s not weird to do this, even in some contexts with strangers. For example, when leading someone in the hospital to their appointed place, depending on the circumstance, I place a light hand on the back or shoulder. Hospitals aren’t exactly destination vacation spots, so folks can be nervous when in them. Simple ways of appropriate touch help calm the anxiety.
  4. Fist pumps and elbow bumps have replaced handshakes, and that’s a good thing. Fist and elbows just aren’t the same thing as a good old fashioned tight handshake, yet it is still an opportunity to touch. Some touch is better than no touch. Don’t give up on practicing ways to physically connect, even if those ways aren’t ideal.
  5. Use your eyes. There are just going to be some circumstances and places where you cannot offer an actual physical ministry of touch. So, use your eyes. Imagine in your mind offering a hug or a handshake to the person and intentionally focus that picture to your eyes. Since our physical eyes communicate a lot, the other person will pick it up.

Every day is an opportunity, for the believer, to walk with Jesus along our life’s journey. As we allow Christ to touch our lives, we, in turn, are able to touch others both spiritually and sometimes even physically through compassionate ministry.

May you know the grace of being touched by Jesus, and the blessing of touching others with the love of God.

John 13:1-17 – Stinky Feet Love

Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, by Leszek Forczek

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So, if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the reasons I like Jesus so much is that he loves me as I am, and not as I should be. Jesus loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin. Jesus loved even Judas and washed his feet. Jesus serves people because they need his love, and not so that they will love him back.

I read about a man who lives in Paris. His wife has Alzheimer’s. He was an important businessman, and his life was filled with busyness. Yet, he said when his wife fell sick, “I just couldn’t put her into an institution, so I kept her. I fed her. I bathed her. Through the experience of serving my wife every day, I have changed. I have become more human. The other night, in the middle of the night, my wife woke me up. She came out of the fog for a moment, and she said, ‘Darling, I just want to say thank you for all you are doing for me.’ Then she fell back into the fog. I wept for hours to know this grace.”

Sometimes Christ calls me to love people who either cannot or will not love me in return. They live in the fog of some sort of disability, depression, poverty, or common spiritual blindness. As I serve them, I may only receive brief glimpses of gratitude. Just as Jesus loves me within my own spiritual confusion, so I desire to continue loving others as they walk through whatever fog they are in.

Lord willing, my life will be useful through my words and my witness. If God desires, my life will bear fruit through my prayers, my service, and my love. Yet, the usefulness of my life is God’s concern, not mine; it would be indecent of me to worry about that. I simply desire follow my Lord’s example.

Neither many Christians nor churches wash feet anymore. So, the following is today’s Gospel lesson put in a slightly different context:

It was just before the biggest and most important feast of the year, Passover. Jesus knew that it was finally the time for him to face the cross and die for the world’s sins. Having spent the past three years loving his followers, he now wanted to leave them with a clear demonstration of his love that they would never forget.

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already gotten a hold of Judas Iscariot to betray Jesus to those who wanted him dead and gone. But it was all according to plan. Jesus knew that his heavenly Father had given him all authority because he was his Son, and he was ready to do what needed to be done to secure salvation and return to his rightful place at his Father’s right hand.  So, Jesus got up from the meal, rolled up his sleeves, put an apron on, and ran a sink full of hot water.  Jesus told the servants to take the night off, and he began taking the dishes from the dinner table and started washing them, taking care to do all that waiters and dishwashers would do.

When Jesus came to take care of Simon Peter’s dishes and serve him dessert and coffee, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to serve me?” Jesus replied, “I know you do not understand why I am doing this since it seems like something that is beneath me to do, but later you will look back on this night and understand completely what I am doing.”

“No,” said Peter, “this is not right – you are the Master, and this is not what a well-respected rabbi does – you are only disrespecting yourself and making us all look foolish. You are not going to take my dishes and wash them.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash these dishes and serve you, you are not going to be able to follow me anymore and you will have no part of what I am doing in this world.”

“Well, then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “if that is the way it really is, then don’t just wash the dishes – come on over to my place and clean out the fridge and scrub the kitchen floor!”

Jesus answered, “A person who has had a decent meal needs only to wash the dishes so that he can enjoy the freedom of hospitable relationships with me and those around him.  And all of you here have had a decent meal, though not every one of you.”  For Jesus knew that Judas was only picking at his food in anticipation of betraying him.

When Jesus was all done washing the dishes and serving his disciples, he took his apron off, rolled his sleeves back down, and returned to the table.  He looked them all squarely in the eye and said, “Do you understand what I just did for you?  You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so, for that is exactly what I am.  So, now that I, your Master, and your Teacher have washed your dishes, you also should wash one another’s dishes.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I am telling you the plain truth that no follower is greater than the one he follows, nor is a preacher greater than the one he preaches about.  Now that you know that it is your task in this life to provide humble loving service, you will have God’s stamp of approval on your life if you quit thinking about how to possess and use power for your own purposes and start thinking about how to use the authority I am giving you to love other people into the kingdom of God.

Loving Lord Jesus, how shocking it was for your disciples to be served by you in such a humble manner.  But I cannot be spiritually cleansed unless I allow you to love me in an almost embarrassing fashion.  Help me not to be so proud that I neither refuse your humble loving service toward me, nor neglect to offer that same kind of service to others.  May love be the word, the idea, and the action that governs my every motivation and movement in your most gracious Name, I pray.  Amen.

Hebrews 6:13-20 – Holding onto Hope

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. (New International Version)

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Humanity needs hope. We all require a confident expectation that things will be different or better. Hope is what our ancestors in faith had in abundance.

How did Abraham receive what was promised by God?

Abraham received what was promised because of hope. He believed God’s promise of having a place to belong. His faith caused him to make a major move from the city where he had always lived. What’s more, Abraham understood that the promises of God don’t end in this life. He looked forward to being a permanent resident in the eternal city.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going. By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:8-10, CEB)

Why did God swear an oath to Abraham?

The Lord wanted to reinforce Abraham’s faith and encourage him. God desired to convincingly show that divine promises are sure.

The Lord spoke to Abram in a vision and said to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, for I will protect you, and your reward will be great.” But Abram replied, “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?…. You have given me no descendants of my own, so one of my servants will be my heir.”

Then the Lord said to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord counted him as righteous because of his faith. (Genesis 15:1-6, NLT)

What are the “two unchangeable things?”

The promise and the oath. God promised to Abraham:

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”(Genesis 12:2-3, NIV)

God confirmed the promise with an oath:

“I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:16-18, NIV)

Is there a way to be motivated and encouraged in the Christian life?

Yes. Hope in God’s promises and the confidence that our efforts to live for Christ are being seen and they are not in vain. We need one another. So, it is important to maintain significant relationships with other believers so that we will not lose our spiritual vitality and become discouraged. The author of Hebrews also stated:

We should keep on encouraging each other to be thoughtful and to do helpful things. Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that. We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer. (Hebrews 10:24-25, CEV)

Faith and patience, fueled by an unshakable hope, has always been the way believers have lived their lives. For the Christian, we have a promised inheritance, focused on the person and work of Christ. All of God’s good promises are fulfilled in Jesus.

God of hope, in these times of change, unite us and encourage us with your promise and oath. Help us overcome our fears and enable us to build a future in which all may prosper and share, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hebrews 6:1-12 – Don’t Give Up

Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (New International Version)

Whenever things get tough and really hard, it is inevitable that there will be people who drop out. It happens in every arena of life, including the Christian life. Sometimes life becomes so overwhelming that we feel like we’re just not making a dent in any of our issues or responsibilities. It is tempting to simply give up and leave it all behind.

Today’s New Testament lesson addresses a group of people who were considering leaving the Christian faith. Some folks had already left, causing confusion with the people still around about how to think about this and what to do going forward.

Who is the author talking about?

He’s talking about those who made a profession of Christ. Are they actual Christians? This gets at the heart of what makes a Christian a Christian. And the answer is that a Christian exhibits both faith and obedience, both trust and perseverance. Real Christians profess the name of Christ with their mouths and demonstrate faith with their actions by obeying the words and ways of Jesus.

What are they in danger of?

Apostasy is a deliberate and intentional renouncing of faith with no intention of ever going back to Christ. An apostate is a person who once professed faith, then rescinded it. This is the author’s point for crafting his message to the struggling Christians. In their hardship, they were seriously toying with the notion of leaving Christianity altogether.

Why would they ever renounce their faith?

Because of hard circumstances, spiritual overwhelm, and grinding tiredness. Adverse situations never leave us the same. They either make us bitter or better, depending upon our response to them. If Christians believe that the Christian life should be an unending journey of victory and glory in this life, disappointment will settle in rather quickly. Missed expectations are typically the manure which fertilizes the field of apostasy.

How can they be restored?

The author of Hebrews makes it clear that they cannot – not because God never gives second chances to people but because the hardness of heart in the apostate is such that they have no intention or desire to live for Jesus. In fact, they now have a hatred of Christ and show contempt for him. We are not talking about flaky or fickle people. We are talking about folks who, with their full faculties intact, put as much energy into resisting, rejecting, and renouncing Christ as they can. This isn’t a momentary lapse in judgment. Rather, it is a calculated decision to hate all that is Christian, after having once loved it.

Where does this happen?

It happens in the heart. When Jesus told his parable of the soils, he was not talking about four different kinds of Christians. The point of Christ’s parable is that there is only one kind of Christian – the other three simply demonstrated they were not the genuine article to begin with. All four professed faith but only one proved it through growth, maturity, and harvest. (Matthew 13:1–23; Mark 4:1–20; Luke 8:4–15)

According to Jesus, there is either no response, a superficial response, a temporary response, or a genuine response. The person who does God’s will is the real deal.

Some people make a dichotomy between faith and obedience, as if they are separate things. Yet, in truth, they are a package deal and cannot be separated. The following all belong together and are not to have any division between them. It is a matter of “and,” not “or.”

Faith and works.

Past and future.

Grace and merit.

Event and process.

People fall away from their faith commitments when they are unable or unwilling to hold the “and’s” together. Whenever the rocks and thorns of life hit them and stick them in ways they don’t like, it is crucial to respond in a way which doesn’t compromise staying on a path of spiritual maturity.

So, where are you on the journey of faith? How do you handle missed expectations and grave disappointments? Are you okay? What do you need? Are there ways others can help?

There are other options besides giving up. Go ahead and explore them.

Grant, O God, that I may never lose the way through self-will, and so end up in the far countries of the soul; that I may never abandon the struggle, but endure to the end; that I may never drop out of the race, but ever press forward to the goal of my calling; that I may never choose cheap and passing things, and embrace the eternal; that I may never take the easy way, and so leave the right way; that I may never forget that sweat is the price of all things, and that without the cross, there cannot be the crown.

So, keep your people and strengthen us by your grace that no disobedience and no weakness and no failure may stop us from entering into the blessedness which awaits those who are faithful in all the changes and chances of life down even to the gates of death, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen