Greetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions.
In this summer series on the theme “Grounded” we turn to one of the foundations of our faith – healing.
We listen to a Matthew 4:18-25 read by Chip Cosper, a scripture lesson that tells of Jesus offering healing to the people.
As Jesus was walking along the Sea of Galilee, he watched two brothers – Simon, who was called Peter, and Andrew – casting a net into the sea. They fished by trade. Jesus said to them, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of humankind.” They immediately abandoned their nets and began to follow Jesus.
Jesus walked along further and caught sight of a second pair of brothers – James and John, ben-Zebedee. They too were in their boat, mending their nets with their father. Jesus called them, and immediately they abandoned both boat and father to follow him.
Jesus traveled throughout Galilee, teaching in the synagogues, proclaiming the Good News of the kindom of heaven and healing all kinds of diseases and sicknesses among the people. His fame spread throughout Syria, and people suffering from illnesses and painful ailments of all kinds – those who were demon-possessed, those who were epileptic, those who were paralyzed – were brought to Jesus, and he healed them. Large crowds followed Jesus, coming from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and Transjordania.
Reflection from Kim
As we just heard, Jesus was known for healing every disease, every sickness, all those afflicted with various diseases and pains, as well as those who were demon possessed, epileptic, and paralyzed. This kind of scene is mentioned repeatedly in the gospel of Matthew. Here are a few examples:
That evening they brought to Jesus many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. 8:16
Then Jesus went about to all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kindom, and curing every disease and every sickness. 9:35
Many crowds followed Jesus, and he cured all of them. 12:15
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 14:14
Great crowds came to Jesus, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 15:30-31
In yet another reference, we are told:
Large crowds followed him, and he cured them there. 19:2
And finally, in chapter, 21,
The blind and lame came to him in the temple, and he cured them. 21:14
With all of these references to healing the masses in the gospel of Matthew, you’d think there was a pandemic happening!
Yes, medical science was less advanced then and there probably were a lot of health issues. But there was also a very firmly entrenched understanding of illness as the consequence of sin. Sickness, blindness, being lame, possessed by demons, all of these conditions were seen as a consequence of separation from God, of violating God’s laws. Physical infirmity was seen as a form of punishment from God. So, many, many people who were sick or infirm in some way were generally ostracized, marginalized, and devalued. They were seen as bad people. They were shut out from the blessings of God. And, evidently, there were a lot of people labeled in this manner.
The numerous references to Jesus healing the masses are intended to undermine this idea of connecting sickness with punishment from God. Jesus rejects this association and offers extravagant healing and welcome to everyone. We see the embodiment of the universal love and grace of God in these mass healing events. We see a huge door, wide open, welcoming all people to the commonwealth of God. Jesus is showing that all of the hurting people in the crowds have not displeased God. God is not angry at them. They are loved. God is seeking them, wanting them to have abundant life.
While we may no longer see sickness as a Divine punishment for sin, we do know that physical problems can result from unhealthy behaviors. We know that stress can create dis-ease which is manifest in physical illness. We know that how we live can contribute to physical, spiritual, and mental unwellness. We know that institutions, systems, and culture can adversely impact our health. And we see this in our context today in many ways. Air pollution is causing increased asthma. Stress contributing heart disease. Food contents negatively impacting bodily health. Lack of access to healthcare causing sickness and even death. There are lots of connections between human behavior and health. But that is science and public policy. That is not theology. That is not Divine punishment.
The Bible begins with the image of the Garden of Eden. Life is in balance. There is harmony. What is needed is provided. There is shalom – a state of peaceful well-being for all of Creation. And the Bible ends with an image of a garden where there is peaceful well-being for all. Everyone is cared for and fed in a system of balance and beauty.
The repeated stories of Jesus healing people is a way of showing Jesus inviting people to the garden, welcoming them to a reality of compassion and abundance. Creating communities of balance and mutual care and interdependence.
The image of Jesus as a healer is really the essence of Christianity. Our faith is about creating a reality in which people flourish and thrive – physically, emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. It is about creating a world of belonging and care. It is about abundant life and joy for EVERYONE. That is what we see in these many references to Jesus healing the crowds.
For this kind of mass healing to occur, yes, we know that individual choices are involved, but we also see that culture, institutions, power arrangements, economic systems, patterns of behavior and attitudes also are a big part of creating a healthy environment for everyone. For all to live in a context where they can thrive and flourish, all of these aspects of communal as well as individual life have an impact.
To be healthy, to live in a healthful context, also involves cultivating patterns of human relationships that involve self care, mutual understanding, forgiveness, and compassion. Mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health involve a comprehensive context promoting well-being in all of its dimensions.
During this pandemic, yes, an airborne virus has brought the world to its knees. And no magic wand can wave that away. But it has also exposed the many ways that our personal choices and societal arrangements are contributing to our dis-ease. We see the power dynamics, divisions, economic disparities, and prejudices that are influencing health outcomes. We are very much in need of healing on many fronts!
It’s interesting that after the lesson we heard from Matthew about healing the crowds, we are given the Sermon on the Mount. These are the teachings that tell us how to be whole and healthy and how to create a healthy community. Jesus offers a path of healing and wholeness that encompasses relationships, self care, power arrangements, wealth, and the Earth. Jesus shows us the importance of compassion, service, generosity, and mutual care. Jesus shows us a way of healing the pain we cause ourselves and others individually as well as in society. He offers healing balm for the multiplicity of ways that we make life less than it could be for ourselves and others. It is healing of all that diminishes our lives and the life of the Earth. The foundation is the sacredness of life and Creation.
While we are given many examples of Jesus healing the multitudes, we also see that Jesus did not restrict this healing power to himself. We are told in the gospel of Matthew that Jesus gave authority to the disciples to heal every disease and sickness. Jesus sends the disciples out to proclaim good news, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and cast out demons. [Matthew 10:1, 8]
This work of healing involves us all. We are all needed to minister to the actual physical ailments of one another and to provide support and help as we can. But we are also needed to create communities in which EVERYONE is loved, accepted, valued, treated with dignity and respect, and supported so that all can flourish, thrive and live abundantly.
Jesus did not invite his followers to the ministry of healing as a punishment or a burden. We are invited to be part of the healing of the world because it is a blessing. When we offer the healing power of our faith to others and to the world, we find that we are healed and made whole. Amen.
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