Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Pain of Being Healed

The gospels' accounts of Jesus healing people have always intrigued me. Most homilies I hear focus on what Jesus is doing in these scenes, and I suppose that's all well and good. But I am always drawn to think about the person being healed.

Take for example the man with the withered hand in Luke 6. However it was that he earned his livelihood, he had an inherent life struggle where others took full functionality for granted. What was his social standing like?  The Pharisees are picking a fight over religious rules, and what does Jesus do? He tells the man, "'Come up and stand before us.' And he rose and stood there." Was Jesus just using this man to make a statement about the Sabbath? Hardly. There was something in Jesus' presence that drew this disabled man. That something filled him with the confidence of being called, loved and freed to stand up in front of everyone and, at Jesus' request, hold up for everyone to see this part of him that had caused him his life's frustration. "Looking around at them all, he then said to him, 'Stretch out your hand.' He did so and his hand was restored" (Luke 6:10).

But think. What happened to the man later? He suddenly had the functional use of both his hands. We don't know how long he had had his problem, whether it had been life-long or not, and we don't know how his muscle function was right off. There was going to be an adjustment period for him, a re-learning, a clumsiness in learning to live with two hands. If he went on living at his former mastery level, what would this say about how he integrated into his life what Jesus had given him? Healing itself causes more challenges to be worked through. Perhaps he had only begged before. What would become of his standing in the community? Would people be willing to give alms to a man who now appeared, on the outside at least, to be completely whole?

Another healing story I love is in John 5 -- the man at the pool of Bethesda . This was a spot where the chronically ill and disabled gathered. Jesus sees this man, knows he has been sick for a long time (38 years), and approaches him with a question: "Do you want to be well?" It is a very telling question. When we have a chronic condition or situation we lose a sense of power, of choice, and the situation can become our identity. I am sick. I am blind. I am sinful. I am bitter. I am afraid. I am lonely. I am proud. I am disorganized. You get the picture. Jesus doesn't ask the man about his problem. He asks him if he wants change. The man's response is equally telling: "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." I am powerless. Even among us cripples, other people are more powerful than I am. No one helps me. No one loves me enough to put my needs before theirs. I've been abandoned. I won't say it's funny -- ironic is a better word I suppose. Here is the Son of God personally singling out this man to help him, trying to provoke him, to awaken a desire in his soul, and the man is stuck on how he has no help. Jesus is so humble, so patient with the man. He blows no trumpet, doesn't announce how of course the poor schmuck has no help, but Jesus the Do-Gooder is now here, so he should stop his miserable whining, realize in Whose presence he actually is, get a grip, and receive this wonderful magic trick He was about to do over him. No. Jesus, humble, but with all the power the man lacks, speaks the word of command, and instructs the man to be the instrument of his own healing. "Rise, take up your mat, and walk."

Now, there's a guy who was going to face a hugely different life the next day! Talk about learning to live all over again!

Step one: God heals us. Step two: we have to learn all over again who we are. We are changed by encounters with Christ, and that change can indeed happen instantaneously. But there is an organic process, too, a growing process, and I think that happens more in a pace with the rest of the unfolding of life. The foolish thing, though, is to lose sight of the healing we have, especially in the Sacraments. We are foolish to live as if we have no power when we have been given divine life itself. It is foolish to sink into believing we have no hope of transformation when the Church lays out for us all of the riches of grace. If we look to someone other than Christ to figure out who we are, we will be lost and hopeless. Follow the presence of Christ, and you find the path to Life.

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