Acts 9:32-35 – Healed

St. Peter heals Aeneas, 12th century mosaic in Palermo, Italy

As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon, saw him and turned to the Lord. (New International Version)

The early church was growing. Both in numbers and in faith, the new believers following the words and ways of Jesus could be found everywhere in Judea. The Apostle Peter, therefore, decided to get out of Jerusalem and visit some of these folks in the town of Lydda, on the Mediterranean coast.

Back when Peter was following Jesus around in his earthly ministry, the Lord told the disciples that they will do the works he did, and, what’s more, they will do even greater things than Jesus himself. (John 14:12-14)

Peter emulated the example of his Lord. He simply stated that Christ is the one who heals you, Aeneas, so get up, take your mat, and go on home. (Mark 2:10-12; John 5:1-8)

The act of healing the paralyzed man, Aeneas, was a sign that the merciful saving ministry of Jesus was in effect, even when Jesus isn’t bodily present. Christ made it clear that the Holy Spirit would be the continuing presence of God on this earth. (John 16:1-15)

We, too, have this same Spirit.

The work of ministry is always done to the glory of God. People hear the good news, see the miracle, and believe in Jesus.

There are some who examine today’s New Testament lesson and expect that they (and all other believers) ought to be able to do exactly what Peter did: heal another miraculously.

Then, there are others who look at the same account and relegate it to some bygone era in which only the original apostles, like Peter, could do that sort of thing – if it even happened like that, at all.

To expect a dramatic physical healing, every time, all the time, is not consistent with healing narratives in Holy Scripture. And to never expect a miraculous healing is equally inconsistent with the biblical data.

It seems to me we need to reject both extremes. That’s because healing comes in all sorts of different forms.

An event which causes the need for healing and health, or a condition which prevents good health, isn’t limited to the body. A person’s mind, emotions, and spirit can also be damaged and need healing, as well. In fact, whenever there is trauma to the physical body, it profoundly effects the person’s thinking, feeling, and praying.

We need to beware of desiring the fast solution of dramatic and miraculous healing because of not wanting to deal with our emotions.

Perhaps you, like me, have had the experience of going to work or church when experiencing a difficult time in life. There is an emotional heaviness because of a strained, broken, or lost relationship. Or maybe there is emotional pain from an unexpected or unwanted situation.

Yet, when someone asks how you are doing, the response “Oh, fine!” tumbles automatically out of your mouth. But you are anything but fine. Inside, down in your heart, or painfully present in your head, the hurt dominates your thoughts and feelings.

Healing is for people. Fixing is for things and machines. It would be weird if I said I was going to heal a tractor. It is equally strange to try and fix people. To heal is to straighten what is broken. We cannot fix our emotions because, when hurt or damaged, they need healing – a process of restoration – and it usually doesn’t happen overnight.

Our emotional healing is like walking a slow journey. Along that path, our emotions are crying out for us to pay attention to three things:

  1. Grief. Grieving is the normal emotional reaction to any significant change or loss. To grieve our painful situations, whatever they may be, is necessary to healing our emotions. Putting a lid on our grief and sucking it up in a delusional show of strength at best prolongs our healing, and, at worst, brings further damage.
  2. Grace. Grace is an act of bestowing honor or forgiveness to a person. It is not dependent upon whether one deserves it, or not. Grace is the opposite of being judgmental. It chooses not to hold something over or against another, even oneself.
  3. Gratitude. Gratitude is a deliberate act of thankfulness for a specific act. It is both an attitude and an emotion. Gratitude comes from a heart of appreciation. Habits of gratitude creates new ways of being with others. And creating new experiences is one of the best ways of helping to heal the bad experience we just went through.

Embracing those three elements of grief, grace, and gratitude sets us on a healing path. Also, there are practices which we can utilize with each of those three which promote their healing work in our lives. For me, some of those practices include humor and laughter; meditation and other spiritual practices; walking the dog; watching cartoons; and journaling.

Healing is an art. It takes time, lots of practice, and plenty of love. Healing comes from God, which is a good thing, because the Lord knows exactly the kind of healing we need.

God of all comfort and healing, our help in time of need: We humbly ask you to relieve the suffering of your sick servants everywhere. Look upon them with the eyes of your mercy; comfort them with a sense of your goodness; preserve them from the temptations of the enemy; and give them patience in their afflictions. In your good time, restore them to health, and enable them to glorify your most holy name and dwell with you forever in the land of the living, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 5:1-11 – Surprised by Generosity

The Miraculous Catch of Fish by Patrick J. Murphy

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”

Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So, they dropped the nets, and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.

Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. (Common English Bible)

One of the most fundamental characteristics of God is generosity. God’s benevolent nature defines the divine stance toward humanity. This may not seem overly remarkable. Yet, when the infinite holiness of God intersects with the prideful arrogance of sinful people, gracious generosity is the unpredictable and amazing result.

Many people on planet earth have been raised with a god who is aloof and something of an old cranky curmudgeon. Such a god gets easily angry and zaps people with lightning or some natural disaster. It is no wonder so many persons have fled from belief in God.

Can we, however, entertain the notion that the Creator God of the universe is quite the opposite of the perpetually upset deity?

In Jesus, we have displayed for us what the basic disposition of the Divine truly is.

On one occasion, Peter (a guy who could raise the ire of most gods) was going about his business, fishing in the Sea of Galilee. Having not yet encountered Jesus, yet stopping to listen to his words, Peter ended up having this uninvited stranger literally get in the boat with him.

There was something remarkably different and compelling about Jesus since Peter did not immediately toss him out. Such a calm, confident, and gracious nature – nothing like Peter had expected. So, here is this ordinary fisherman face-to-face with the Christ of God. 

Jesus told Peter to put the boat out and cast the nets. Peter, an experienced fisherman and knowledgeable about the water, knew for certain that he would not catch anything. But, out of deference to Jesus, he did so, anyway. The result was such a large catch of fish that the nets nearly broke from the weight.

The Great Catch by John August Swanson (1938-2021)

Peter’s response is instructive. He fell at the feet of Jesus in a profound sense of his own smallness and sinfulness. Next to Jesus. Peter saw how little faith he really had. He rightly discerned that he did not deserve such generosity from Jesus, an overflowing abundance given to him despite his unbelief. 

In the face of such grace, in the vortex of an incredible mercy, having seen the generosity of God directed squarely at him, Peter left it all behind to follow Jesus.

So, here we have the nature and character of God before us. No perturbed deity. No exasperated god ready to raise a storm and toss the boat over with Peter in it. No, Jesus, the Son of God, does not operate that way. There is no strong-arming people into faith. God’s tactics steer clear of base manipulation through guilt, or mind-twisting others through shaming them. 

Instead, God is beautifully and simply present with people – showing grace and generosity in places where one would least expect to find it. 

If confronted with such love, what would you do?

Early in my life, I viewed God as some eternally bored deity who would occasionally get out his divine BB gun and shoot people in the rear, just for something to do. God, in my understanding, cared nothing for the real lived experiences of people on earth.

But much like Peter of old, Jesus showed up unannounced in my life. And what I found was like Peter – a kind, benevolent Being who showered such generous love on me that my heart was immediately captured. I have never looked back since.

We intuitively know, down deep in our gut, in the very marrow of our bones, when genuine Love is among us. Generously true Love immediately connects with the deepest needs of our lives. No evangelist must convince us with offering free gold crosses or promised blessings. None of that matters when Love incarnate is present, when the great God of all is among us.

Peace, hope, and faith are the results of the divine loving presence. They cannot be conjured or ginned up through excessive asceticism or extreme discipline. Love is a gift. Love is a person. And it is given generously and graciously from the One whose very nature is charitable and hospitable.

Praise be to God!

Gracious God, you sent your Son to me even though I was neither looking for him nor expecting anything from him. Thank you for breaking-in to my life so that I could break-out for you with glory, honor, and praise.  Amen

Luke 9:10-17 – Jesus Feeds Five-Thousand

The Feeding of the Five Thousand by John Reilly, 1958

When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done. Then he took them with him, and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida, but the crowds learned about it and followed him. He welcomed them and spoke to them about the kingdom of God and healed those who needed healing.

Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to him and said, “Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.”

He replied, “You give them something to eat.”

They answered, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish—unless we go and buy food for all this crowd.” (About five thousand men were there.)

But he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” The disciples did so, and everyone sat down. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. (New International Version)

Jesus feeding five thousand people is not just an incredible story that happened a long time ago. Today, Jesus is still in the miracle business because he is still in the kingdom business. Christ still takes our meager resources and turns them into something that has a large impact on a lot of people. 

For that to happen, all we need do, is follow the Lord’s simple instructions: “You give them something to eat,” and, “Bring them [five loaves and two fish] here to me.” Jesus, using a simple act of obedience by his disciples, did one of the most famous miracles in history.

Jesus can multiply whatever little we possess to accomplish his kingdom work through us. 

It is true that Jesus most certainly can do miracles without us. And yet, Christ chooses to use us simple folk to participate in his work. God uses our simple prayers for the miracle of a transformed life. The Lord uses our imperfect speech to bring new life to others. Jesus takes our miniscule bank account to bring a river of financial resources to many through a small act of giving. 

Faith is our true work – to believe God can do the extraordinary through our ordinary loaf of bread and piece of fish.

The Compassion of Jesus Motivates Him To Do Miracles

Jesus withdrew to a solitary place. The crowd, however, did not leave him alone. But rather than being annoyed by the situation because this interruption was not on his divine day planner, Jesus looked at the large group of people and had compassion on them. 

Christ’s heart went out to thousands of people, so he set about the work of healing the sick. Please know that God does not begrudgingly deal with you, as if you were an interruption to his day; the Lord has compassion for you.

The Desire of Jesus is For Us to Participate in the Miracles He Does

After a full day of healing, Christ’s disciples came to him as if he was unaware of the people’s need for food.  They had a very rational and realistic answer to the problem of hunger in front of them; dismiss the crowd so they can go out to eat. 

Jesus calmly responded, “They don’t need to go away; you give them something to eat.” 

I detect perhaps a hint of sarcasm and a slight eye roll in the reply of the disciples, “We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.” But their math was way off because they did not count Jesus. 

The Five Thousand by Eularia Clarke, 1962

Jesus simply said, “Bring them here to me.” My friends, if we have ears to hear, Jesus is still saying this today to us – bring them here to me. Through simple prayer and active obedience, we must give Jesus what we have, no matter how little or insignificant.

Most of what happens in Western Christianity, much like the ancient disciples, is a reasonable doing of rational ministry. Many ministries have little to nothing to do with the impossibility of faith and seeing God work in ways that are incomprehensible to our modern sensibilities.

The earthly miracles of Christ were not an isolated instance. God has always been taking the impossible and making it possible.

Now there was a woman who had been married to a member of a group of prophets. She appealed to Elisha, saying, “My husband, your servant, is dead. You know how he feared the Lord. But now someone he owed money to has come to take my two children away as slaves.”

Elisha said to her, “What can I do for you? Tell me what you still have left in the house.”

She said, “Your servant has nothing at all in the house except a small jar of oil.”

He said, “Go out and borrow containers from all your neighbors. Get as many empty containers as possible. Then go in and close the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all those containers. Set each one aside when it’s full.”

She left Elisha and closed the door behind her and her sons. They brought her containers as she kept on pouring. When she had filled the containers, she said to her son, “Bring me another container.”

He said to her, “There aren’t any more.” Then the oil stopped flowing, and she reported this to the man of God.

He said, “Go! Sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what remains.” (2 Kings 4:1-7, CEB)

What if we were to live as if God was interested in doing the miraculous? Would it change the way we pray, and the way we act? 

What if we understood just enough of Jesus, of what he can and wants to do, that we are bold to say:

  • “This might sound crazy, but what if we found out the names of everyone in our community who needs food and go love on them and feed them?” (instead of only the rational means of a food pantry)
  • “This might sound crazy, but what if we used our property to create a community garden and help people grow their own food?” (instead of only the rational means of government aid) 
  • “This might sound crazy, but what if we prayed for one-hundred people, by name, to be healed?” (instead of only the rational means of relying on the pastor to pray)

Most of our plans are humanly possible and doable. Maybe we ought, instead, to seek the impossible.

We may often do nothing out of a sense that God either cannot or does not want to use me or what I have. However, it just won’t do to stand afar off and expect God to work without us giving what we have, whether that something is time, money, conversation, food, hospitality, or whatever. 

Our excuses won’t do for Jesus – my home is too small, I don’t have enough money, I am not smart enough, my schedule won’t allow it, I don’t have enough resources…. In God’s economy you don’t need much, at all. Just a mustard seed worth of faith will do. Jesus wants us to be a part of the miracles he is doing.

Conclusion

I can visualize the disciples befuddled by Christ’s words. I can imagine hearing their excuses. “You want me to do what?  Feed thousands?  Lead someone to Jesus?  Pray in front of others?….” 

The miracle for many a believer is to be open, real, and transparent enough to believe that Christ can do the impossible through confessing sin, participating in ministry, having a spiritual conversation with an unbeliever, or just naming out loud what one actually thinks and feels.  

The question is never, “Can God use me?” The real question is, “What miracle does God want to do through me, and through us as a community of faith?”

It is no accident that when Jesus distributed the bread, it sounds a lot like communion. The Lord’s Supper may seem to be irrelevant – only something we do to remember Jesus, or a mere ritual. But God’s design is much bigger. The Lord wants to do a miracle. 

God wants our observance of Christian communion to bring a healing which the world cannot give. It appears irrational that Jesus can use a small Table to feed and reach thousands. Yet, we don’t serve a God who is limited to work through rational means. 

O God, our heavenly Father, you have blessed us and given us dominion over all the earth. Increase our faith and our reverence for the mystery of life. Give us new insight into your purposes for the human race, and new wisdom and determination in making provision for its future, no matter whether it makes sense, or not, in accordance with your goodwill, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Luke 1:46b-55 – Mary’s Magnificat

Mary’s Magnificat by Br. Mickey McGrath

Mary responded,

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
    How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.” (New Living Translation)

Mary’s great song of praise grasps the reality of being pregnant with the Messiah. Mary affirmed that the all-powerful God “has done great things for me.” Indeed, the Lord shows mercy to everyone who worships and adores such mighty acts.

It strikes me that Mary, instead of being full of worry and afraid of the future, and as an unmarried teen with child, is full of the Spirit and faith. Mary neither complained nor fretted for the nine months of her pregnancy; she praised God and was clear-headed about the grace shown to her.

Mary’s canticle gives us insight into the mystery of the incarnation: God chooses the weak, those of low esteem, and the powerless.

Mary was rather ordinary. She had no wealth. She possessed nothing which would cause anyone to pick her out of a crowd. Yet, she is the one chosen by God. And her wonderful response to grace demonstrated that there is so much more to any person than what we can see with our eyes and perceive through our earthly glasses of high positions and strength of personalities.

The mother of Jesus had the wisdom to discern that her situation typified the Lord’s egalitarian work of leveling the field. Mary’s pregnancy normalized the needs of all people. Her son, the Deliverer, would carry this understanding into his own life and ministry – declaring good news to the poor, comforting the brokenhearted, proclaiming freedom for captives, telling those who mourn that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

God is full of grace, mercy, and power to the powerless and the needy. The Lord has our backs. Perhaps if we all, both individually and corporately, continually used our words to identify and declare the great things God has done we would realize the consistent blessing of the Lord. 

As we near the night of our Lord’s birth, take some time to reflect on the ways God has been good to you in this Advent season, and like Mary, offer praise for each act of mercy. Mary exhibited no helplessness but had her heart calibrated to detect the grace of God when it was present.

Great and mighty God, I will praise you with all my heart.  You care for me and always show mercy to those who worship you.  Fulfill all your good promises in me, and in all your people, for the sake of your Son, the Lord Jesus.  Amen.