Luke 4:38-44 – Every One of Them

“Healing” by Ivan Filichev, 2014

After leaving the synagogue he entered Simon’s house. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked him about her. Then he stood over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. Immediately she got up and began to serve them.

As the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them. Demons also came out of many, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Messiah.

At daybreak he departed and went into a deserted place. And the crowds were looking for him; and when they reached him, they wanted to prevent him from leaving them. But he said to them, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” So, he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the most fundamental truths about the person of Jesus is that he heals all kinds of people. 

Even people who know very little about the historical Jesus know that he was a guy who brought healing to people while he was here on this earth.  For many Christians, the fact that Christ healed people is almost a “ho-hum” moment because we are so familiar with the Gospel stories about him doing the supernatural. 

Observation: Christ Healed Every One of Them

Yet, as with most Scripture stories we encounter, we really need to slow down a bit and let the story sink in. Then, we are likely to make simple but profound observations of the text. One of those observations is this: When people brought the sick and infirmed to Jesus, he healed every one of them. Christ laid his hands on each and every one of them and cured them.

Every one of them, Jesus healed. There is apparently no disease, no infirmity, no sickness, no malady, and no situation too much for Jesus to heal. Without exception, no matter the problem, every individual who came to Jesus was healed by Jesus. 

Observation: Every One of Them Were Healed Through Others

Here’s another simple but profound observation of the story: All those who had any who were sick brought them to Jesus. In other words, those needy folks didn’t come to Jesus on their own. It was their family, friends, and neighbors of the sick persons who brought them to Jesus for healing.

It is good to care for the sick. It is also good to encourage them to look to Jesus for their help and healing. Yet, it is also very good when we bring them to Jesus ourselves. 

Perhaps one of the main reasons we are not seeing more healing and new life in the Western church is because we are not bringing the needy to Jesus. Maybe it is our lack of faith and action, and not the sick person’s, that prevents healing from being realized. 

Methinks that a profound dearth and lack of prayer for others might be at the core of all the physical, mental, and spiritual sickness that abounds in this world. So, let us bring people to Jesus so that he will heal and cure every one of them.

A mosaic of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, from a Byzantine Church, c.1100 C.E.

Observation: Christ Cares about Every One of Them

Jesus accepts, heals, and cures those at the margins of society. The sick, infirmed, and demon-possessed were the most marginalized people in the ancient world. They were at the mercy of a caring relative, that is, if they had one. If not, the only way of making it was to beg and rely on public charity. Yet, that was difficult because, in many cases, depending upon the illness, they were considered impure. No one would get near them. They couldn’t participate in the community.

But Jesus welcomed them. He took the time and attention to place his hands on each one of them. Their divine healing was much more than physical; being cured meant they no longer needed to be at the margins, unaccepted and unwanted. Jesus was giving them full inclusion to society.

The good news of Jesus Christ consists of meeting the holistic needs of people for health and community. Our Lord desires to integrate excluded people into society. If that takes the miraculous healing of sickness to do it, then Jesus will make it happen.

Observation: Christ Looks to Heal and Care for Every One of Them, Besides Just Us

It can be a real temptation to believe that our little group has the corner on Jesus. We don’t. Jesus was given for the life of the world – not just a few people who look, think, and act like you and me. In today’s story, the people didn’t want Jesus to go. That’s understandable. Yet, Christ left them because there were others in need of healing of both body and soul.

Christ’s mission is so much broader than we sometimes see or expect. Evangelical Christians camp on saving the soul. Progressive Christians hang their hat on social justice and the real physical needs of people. In reality, the gospel involves both body and soul. To only focus on one aspect is to truncate the gospel as only okay news, not good news.

I would argue there is far too much proclaiming of okay news today. Christianity needs a full-orbed gospel that addresses the holistic needs of people, just like Jesus did. It needs a robust Trinitarian theology with the love of God the Father, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit delivering souls from spiritual death and saving bodies from worldly injustice.

Anything less is simply picking and choosing what we want and trying to keep Jesus to ourselves. Let’s not do that. Instead, let’s preach the gospel, a kingdom message in which the power of God comes upon people – transforming them from the inside-out and bringing them from the outside-in.

Healing God, we bring to you all those who are discouraged, depressed, diseased, disordered, and damaged in some way by the sin of this world. Cure them by your mighty power so that they will be included into our communities, as well as your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

The Suffering of Christmas

Christmas:  a time for joy and a time for cheer…  But, unfortunately, it is also a time of profound loneliness and a yearning of days gone by for many people.  A few years back, I received a call on Christmas Day.  One of my parishioners was stretching out to put the angel on top of the family Christmas tree, and fell over dead from a heart attack.  The family’s Christmas will never be the same again, a weird mix, a strange amalgam of both happiness and heartache.  Tragedy that occurs around the holidays makes all future holidays awkward and different.

I also know folks who were expecting a juicy Christmas bonus, instead finding a pink slip and a surprise lay-off from their job.  Children of divorce probably know the strangeness of the holiday the most, being shuttled here and there obtaining more gifts than they need but more bitterness than they want.  For every one of us who look forward to Christmas Day, there is another who dreads facing another season with unpleasant memories of what happened and what could have been….

Whether Christmas is chiefly joyous for one or sorrowful for another, the bald fact of the matter is that we all suffer in some way.  Let me offer a definition/description of suffering for you to ponder: 

Suffering occurs when someone or some circumstance acts against your will and damages either your body, mind, soul, spirit, or all/part of them, creating the great need for healing.

Suffering creates a portal, an opening to either love or hate.  It brings us to the point of decision:  We did not choose suffering; it chose us.  But the choice for healing is very much in our control.  Suffering is an event, maybe even extended over time, which will make us either bitter, or better – it’s your choice.

There are numerous people who will offer you a cup of bitterness, the sour wine vinegar which will dull the pain.  Jesus had such an offer while he hung on the cross, and he refused it.  Nothing was going to stand in the way of his full faculties experiencing the vicarious suffering for our sins.  Dulling the pain doesn’t bring healing; it only makes us forget for a time and just prolongs the actual healing.

Instead, the wise choice is to take charge of your life and choose the hard path of healing.  There is a world of difference between the pain that is forced upon us, and the pain which we choose so that we become better and healthy.  The pain of violation must be followed with the pain of healing. 

“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

A major way you know your choice of healing is happening is when your heart and life open-up to love, when the shape of grace begins to mold your soul and brings a reception to people who benevolently wait to help with kind words and ways.  Your sight becomes different.  The world becomes brighter.  Decisions are motivated more by love than by protection.  There is the willingness to persevere and patiently complete the process of healing and see it through to a new maturity.  You cease trying to manipulate others and focus more on your own responses to people and situations.  Every day becomes a fresh opportunity to love God by serving others.

Because God is love, and we are created in the image of God, this means we were designed to receive and to give love.  We are love, as well.  To not love is to buck our inherent design from the beginning of time.  We are not just to grit our teeth and force loving words and actions; we are to tap into the originality of our souls and be love.  The great task of the Christian life is to awaken to who we really are, to become a whole person, complete and mature.  The means for this to happen is through the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Jesus, our great professor in the faith, knows that suffering is a teacher.

Far too many persons are perplexed as to why they still struggle and hurt.  They have prayed.  They have read the Bible.  They have tried, time and time again.  Hurt and pain might and is very personal; but healing is communal – it demands more than our own efforts.  Unless we open ourselves to the love of others, and risk putting our souls on the line, we will not realize the peace we long for and the mending of our spirits. 

The first step is speaking to someone who is safe, someone for whom you trust, and telling them where you are in your soul – not making yourself look better than you are, and providing a real picture of the state of your life – and, not diminishing the very real abuse which occurred against you by saying others have it harder than you.  In other words, be real.  Humility and honesty will always serve you well.

Yes, it’s Christmas.  How will you choose to deal with it?

Luke 9:1-6 – On Power, Authority, and Mission

Jesus and the Disciples by Rudolph Bostic (1941-2021)

Jesus called the Twelve together and he gave them power and authority over all demons and to heal sicknesses. He sent them out to proclaim God’s kingdom and to heal the sick. He told them, “Take nothing for the journey—no walking stick, no bag, no bread, no money, not even an extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, remain there until you leave that place. Wherever they don’t welcome you, as you leave that city, shake the dust off your feet as a witness against them.” They departed and went through the villages proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere. (Common English Bible)

You have likely heard the old nineteenth century adage from a member of the British Parliament, Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The rest of the quote, which we seldom hear is this: “Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority.”

It’s almost as if Jesus knew this well before Lord Acton uttered it nearly two millennia later. Jesus Christ, in a truly wise and generous display of leadership, shared his power and authority with others. Rather than hoarding power and using authority to gain more authority, the Lord Jesus, rightful Ruler of the universe, delegated power and enabled those who ministered with him to share in carrying out his mission.

The only real Christian ministry is a bestowed ministry, granted to us by the delegation of Jesus. What this means for us, practically, is that believers minister as servants of God and stewards of the power and authority given to us. Grasping this basic accountability helps us to truly serve others with sensitivity and care – knowing we must give an account for the privilege of ministering in Christ’s name.

“There is no stronger test of a person’s character than power and authority, exciting as they do every passion, and discovering every latent vice.”

Plutarch (46-119, C.E.)

This has tremendous implications for us in all areas of life. Within the family, this means that parental authority can and ought to be delegated in wise increments, over time, as children grow and mature. The concept that a dad should be some sort of supreme leader who barks orders and demands fealty from mom and the kids is downright misguided, not to mention incredibly weird.

It also means that in the church and in faith communities, the wise use of power and authority will seek to identify and mentor younger disciples who will be given appropriate authority for expected ministry. Church leadership will listen to and equip those who have passions for particular service with the requisite authority to engage in effective ministry.

At the workplace, this involves forsaking a top-down approach of authority in favor of distributing power equitably amongst the workers with the greatest responsibilities.

In the political arena, this means Christians won’t tie their hopes in gaining power but rather in giving it away. They will seek equity and the common good of all citizens. And if that means deferring to a voice which isn’t being heard, then that is precisely what we do. Perhaps we see so little civility and concern for the other because Christians are much too enamored with dramatic miracles fueled by power.

Mosaic in the Papal Basilica, Rome, of Jesus and Disciples

Let’s not lose sight of the reality that healing sicknesses and suppressing the demonic is solely derived from Christ’s own authority, not ours. To press this reality home, Jesus instructed his disciples to take nothing with them. No staff, bread, bag, or money. Live among the locals, with them, on their turf and with their activities. Use the power and authority given to improve their lives and in so doing, lead them to greater spiritual truths.

If they don’t accept this gracious ministry, move on. No arm-twisting. No manipulation. No guilt-tripping. And definitely no using your given authority for grandstanding. A simple warning with shaking the dust off the feet is sufficient.

Every detail of the mission Christ gave to the disciples was a lesson in sheer and total dependence on God. Humble ministry and modest lifestyle will set the best table for a proper focus on benevolent and compassionate ministry. Just as increased knowledge ought to be used to love better and show us how much we actually don’t know, so increased authority ought to be used to serve others better and show us how much power we don’t have so that we might continually seek after the God who possesses all power and authority.

The good news is that God’s infinite and supreme power is given and focused in the person of Jesus Christ, who in turn, graciously bestows the authority to his followers so that they may proclaim forgiveness and new life. It’s a big message requiring large authority. And Jesus freely gives it:

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV)

It’s enough to make old Lord Acton smile in his grave.

Eternal God, you call us to live with faith in a world filled with so many challenges. Help us remember our mandate and our mission to use our given authority properly, lovingly, and confidently with obedience to our Lord.

Teach us by your Word, through our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in our prayers to learn and understand what you would have us to be and to do, so that we may fulfil our calling as Christ’s Body here on earth.

Draw your church together into one great company of disciples, together following our Lord Jesus Christ into every walk of life, together serving him in his mission to the world, and together witnessing to his love, in the strength of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Matthew 20:29-34 – The Irony of the Gospel

As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

“Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.”

Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him. (New International Version)

“Irony” is a term used to describe when an outcome of an event is contrary or different from what is expected.  Here are a few examples: The firehouse burnt down. The police officer got arrested. When I was a little kid, my family doctor’s name was (and I’m not kidding) Dr. Fail. And he smoked like a chimney in his doctor office.

There is an ironic lesson in today’s Gospel lesson: A crowd of people with 20/20 vision are spiritually blind. 

The great need of the crowd is the same need of the two physically blind men: They both needed their eyes opened to Jesus and to what God was doing around them.

Just so you know, Matthew tends not to use the term “crowd” in a favorable way. He views the crowd as a mass of people who are mostly lost, but the crowd themselves tend to think they are just fine. 

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, anticipating his passion and death. And we know that it is the crowd that will be the ones who eventually cry to have him crucified. 

Two blind men are marvelously and miraculously healed by Jesus. Ironically, the crowd remained unchanged and in the dark.

First Irony: A large crowd follows Jesus to Jerusalem, but only a few (2, in fact) are actually his followers. 

Throughout Christ’s earthly ministry, all kinds of people followed Jesus for all kinds of reasons. Some wanted to bask in the latest celebrity buzz that Jesus generated. Others wanted to see all the cool stuff he does, like healing people. Some were just plain curious. And a few were interested in being like Jesus by showing selfless compassion. 

Jesus wants genuine, authentic, real disciples who will follow his teaching, and not follow the crowd.

Many people desire to conform, to not stand out, and go with the flow. That’s great if the crowd is godly. Yet many, if not most, crowds of people are not godly. In the Old Testament, a few unruly complainers got the Israelites all stirred up and the result was the making of a golden calf with a complete turning away from the God of Israel. (Exodus 32:1-35)

Second Irony: Out of the massive crowd, it is two blind men that actually see Jesus for who he is, the Son of David.

Spiritual blindness afflicted the crowd. The blind men, however, discern it is Messiah Jesus coming near them. That’s why they go against the crowd by shouting out to him. They don’t care how they look. It doesn’t matter to them that they stick out like a sore thumb. 

Jesus often avoided big crowds. Most of his earthly life occurred away from the centers of power and influence.  Christ constantly swam upstream of the prevailing notions of righteousness. Jesus didn’t cow-tow to the crowd, but paid attention to the powerless and those without influence. 

The Lord Jesus didn’t “work the crowd” as the means of establishing God’s kingdom. He didn’t cozy-up to the rich and powerful. He wanted to avoid celebrity status. Jesus showed extraordinary love to two lowly overlooked people. He used his immense power for the powerless.

Third Irony 3: The ones following Jesus were the ones trying to keep the two needy blind men from Jesus.

One of the most ironic things about church is that sometimes Christ’s own followers are the greatest obstacle to others following Jesus. 

I can just picture a group of ladies shushing the two blind men: “Don’t bother Jesus, he is such a busy man. He has important work to do.” And I can imagine some men standing next to the two blind men and nudging them for shouting at Jesus saying, “Just stop, man, you’re embarrassing yourselves.” 

But the two men won’t stop. They shout all the louder. True and genuine faith is two blind men crying out in desperation for Jesus to help them. 

And Jesus asks a beautiful question: “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered, “We want our sight.” So, Jesus showed compassion and gave them their sight. It’s all rather simple and straightforward. Not only do the two men not listen to the crowd – Jesus doesn’t either. Christ mercifully heals despite what the crowd is saying.

I wonder: Why is it so hard for us to simply ask for what we want?… 

Maybe because we don’t want to buck the crowd, don’t want to look different, or don’t want to admit our need in front of others, we just stick to superficial conversations and insist everything is okey-dokey when it isn’t. 

A crowd of people may not be able to see others because they don’t even see themselves and their place in this world. Perhaps there is a plank in our own eye hindering us from seeing a speck in another’s eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

It is the pure in heart who will see God (Matthew 5:8). As for the crowd, though seeing, they do not see (Matthew 13:13). If we are concerned about how we will be seen by others, it is likely we will not be seen by God. And we will miss Jesus when he walks by, right in front of us.

Jesus was attentive to the two blind men out of all the people in the crowd because he was listening for them.

Once Jesus listened, he took the time to heal the two men. Jesus could have simply healed them without even stopping. He could have started a healing factory where everyone with a need just got healed, as if they were on some divine conveyor belt to be fixed.

However, Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving the blessing of time and personal response. The gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. It isn’t about simply meeting a need; it is about blessing other people. And that takes the time of relating to a person.

Jesus, furthermore, touched the men’s eyes. He didn’t have to do that. Christ could have healed without touching. In fact, it may have been gross. Many people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world. 

Listening, taking time to be personal, and physically touching is how Jesus blessed people. So, we have the dual privilege and opportunity of receiving blessing from Jesus and giving that same blessing to others.

May the God of hope fill you with joy as you seek to bless others in the name of Jesus. Amen.