Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Wondering about Jesus Healing

I am more and more aware of the "incarnational" aspect of all God's interactions with us. As I have repeated frequently lately, the Eternal God who lives outside space and time interacts with humans who are in the here and now. What must God do to squeeze Himself into our world to interact with us? And at what cost? The Greek word kenosis, meaning emptying, is applicable to Jesus' Incarnation but is probably also at work in all God's interventions in the world. This raises the question, what impact does being in space and time have on God as He honors the laws of the universe which He created?

Save/heal/rescue, these and other words can all translate the Hebrew and Greek words describing God's interventions. Matthew 9:27-31 describes Jesus saving two men from blindness. It is a nice, neat transaction. They cry out, "Have mercy on us Son of David (Messianic King)!" Jesus asks, "Do you believe I am able to do this?" They say, "Yes," and He touches their eyes and declares, "According to your faith let it be done to you." And they could see.

This model of healing is: Prayer + Faith + Jesus = Miracle/Healing. It tends to put a huge emphasis on faith; you receive according to your faith. It also creates a tension; "if you receive according to your faith, well, it is on you. If it did not happen, then your faith was lacking." Very neat and simple, which I like, but life is rarely neat and simple, and I do not like blaming people's lack of faith as the only answer....

Matthew 15:29-31 recounts massive numbers of sick and suffering being placed at Jesus' feet. The crowd is "amazed" (in the sense of wonder) at this taking place. It must have been an awesome sight indeed. It is lots of blind, deaf, lame and broken people being made whole. We are not given any indication of the what transpired between them and Jesus. Did He ask each of them the same "do you believe?" question, did they all have faith?

I bring this up because today we read John 5:1-18 at Morning Prayer and I plan to use it Thursday in our evening discussion. (You may want to read it)

Jesus is in Jerusalem. It seems it is where the sheep were brought into the temple for slaughter. There is a pool there (archaeologists have found it, just as described). We hear that there are many invalids ('asthenos' means weak, impotent, sick, who are then further identified as blind, lame and paralyzed) there. It is not described as a mass healing, although lots of people needed it. First point of reflection: no reason is given, but clearly Jesus did not heal everyone He came across.

The man had been 'sick' (same word) 38 years. We are not told how old he is or what the illness is, but it seems Jesus knew he had been sick a long time and that Jesus appeared to have initiated the conversation. Jesus asks,  "theleis hygeis genesthai" [theleis= wish, will, desire; even delight in] [hygeis= whole, sound, healthy; 'true' when applied to doctrine. We get our word hygiene from the Greek.] [genesthai= be, become, come to pass, be made] As you see these three words, it is informative to imagine different combinations to get a feel for what Jesus is asking. "Would you delight in becoming your true self?" "Do you really want to be healthy?" "Do you wish to become whole?" The question, in the Fourth Gospel, is always open to deeper meanings and the people usually have symbolic import and value. What the Author likes to do is take events and then express them with a parable-like openness to greater depth of meaning. The nameless man (yet they somehow knew how many years he was sick) does not respond in the affirmative and does not verbalize faith. Instead he says that he has no one to put him in the pool when it is stirred up.

[technical note--Some ancient copies have an additional verse which explains that an angel stirred the water and the first one in was healed. However, superior ancient texts do not have this explanation and many Bibles do not include it in the main text, but as a footnote. Stern's Jewish NT Commentary, p 169, quotes Jewish Sources which indicate there were health rituals there in Roman times. The Jewish Annotated NT, p167, calls it a "healing sanctuary." The explanation may have been widely known by the readers of the Gospel so no explanation was needed, but later added by a scribe.]

What do we note about this response? The man switches the discussion from "do you want/will/desire health?" to "not my fault, I am a victim here..." This is not the faith response we read about with the blind men at all. Yet, for some reason, Jesus seems to not care. Instead, He said to him, "Stand" [the Greek word is egeiro, it means to rise, to wake from sleep, to rise from the dead. In Matthew 9:5-6 Jesus similarly tells a man on a pallet "Your sins are forgiven, rise, take up your pallet and go home." When Jesus says that He will rise from the dead the same word is used.] "Take up your mat" the word for 'take up' is also used by Matthew for "take up your cross and follow me." "Walk," (peripateo-means to walk or walk around; it also means to walk as a disciple in the Fourth Gospel) Jesus said, and the man walked.

The narrative shifts from healing to a debate; because it was a Sabbath, Jesus' opponents become enraged. Without getting into the details of that debate, suffice to say that there were arguments about the exact "content" of the Sabbath rest, some thinking it meant to refrain from work while others added other activities as infractions. Jesus clearly did not think this was a sin against the Sabbath, but His opponents did. It boggles the mind that they missed the miracle to pursue the accusation against the Lord. However, there was some opposition spin going on. Later on, we see that the underlying issue was Jesus' language about God. Calling YHWH, "my Father," meant that Jesus made Himself equal to God (v.17-18). This is, of course, very important but not what I am focused on here. Nor will we consider that the man basically turned Jesus in to the authorities (hopefully because he was simply obtuse). It is noteworthy that Jesus comes back to find him and warns him not to sin unless something worse befall him (also echoed in the Matthew healing).

What are we to think about Jesus saving/healing this man? What of the warning about sin? The direction I would go is not the only one. I think Jesus is reminding him that there are worse things than being crippled, I do not see any causal connection between sin and illness being made here. I know sin can produce illness, but I do not believe illness is a specific punishment sent by God for sin.

Jesus' assertive healing intervention here remind me that God sometimes acts on our behalf without our cooperation. Sometimes the faith of the recipient does not factor in. In light of the "many" other invalids who were not addressed, it seems, for reasons known only to Him, Jesus does not provide blanket coverage for everyone. This is a mystery. It is a reminder that God's Kingdom has not yet come. It is a reminder that life is full of salvation and healing, but that we still live with sin, sickness and death.

Probably the most important thing is that Jesus, the one who calls God "my Father" will also be raised and He promises to raise us up--and all will be healed then, all will be made whole. Perhaps, at one of the many levels of the story, Jesus is asking each of us, "Do you want to be made complete, whole, healthy? Would you delight in the fullness of life? then pick it up and follow me. I will provide all you need."

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