Faith and Healing
I’m preaching this weekend up on Guemes Island, at the little community/ UCC church there. Guemes is the nearest of the San Juan Islands, yet the least developed or inhabited. As if people hop-scotched over it on the way to the more alluring Orcas, Lopez or San Juan.
The gospel text for this Sunday is Mark 10: 46 – 52, the story of the blind beggar Bartimaeus.
The story concludes with Bartimaeus regaining his sight and Jesus saying to him, “Go your way, your faith has made you well.”
Those words are a double-edged sword. On one hand, they are spoken to a man who has shown great courage and persistence. So they are a kind of blessing. When crowds told Bartimaeus to pipe down, shut up and stop making a fuss, he didn’t. He shouted out all the louder. Amazing.
He was brought to Jesus who asked (oddly one might think), “What do you want me to do for you?” (Isn’t it obvious — apparently not.) “To see again,” said Bartimaeus.
Seeking healing, truly wanting healing, accepting healing can take enormous courage. Ask anyone who has overcome addiction to drugs or alcohol.
And while the life and earnings of a blind beggar may not be great, it was a life Bartimaeus was used to. It had a certain “pay-off.” Bartimaeus was not just willing to give that up, he was eager to do so. He wanted to be healed.
It reminds me of one of my favorite Woody Allen jokes.
There’s a guy who goes to see a psychiatrist.
“Doc,” says the guy, “We have a problem. My brother-in-law — he thinks he’s a chicken. He goes around the house scratching, building nests, pecking. It’s a mess. It’s driving my sister crazy. We have to do something.”
Psychiatrist: “Sounds like a simple neurosis. I can help him. Bring him in. We’ll get him over this delusion of being a chicken.”
Man: “Oh no, doc, we can’t do that . . . we need the eggs.”
There are sometimes “eggs” a.k.a. benefits in our maladies, payoffs to our problems. We get something out of them.
Not this guy, not Bartimaeus. He really wanted to be healed. He was willing to risk total change, complete transformation. He was willing to risk “seeing” — in the multiple senses of that word.
But there’s another side to this story.
The words of Jesus to Bartimaeus, the words of blessing and encouragement — “Go your way, you faith has made you well” have another aspect, a different edge.
Such words of blessing have been turned into a bludgeon. They are turned against people who are sick, suffering or disabled when they become, “If only you had more faith, you would be healed.” Translation: it’s your fault you are sick. If you had more faith you would be strutting around like a peacock.”
This, we might say, is “the problem” with miracles. Everyone wants one. Not everyone gets one. They lead some to say, others to feel, that if they or those they love aren’t “healed” then somehow it is because their faith is inadequate.
The truth is that most people do not get a miracle like Bartimaeus did. The further truth is that it is cruel when religious people say or insinuate that this is because a sufferer’s faith isn’t strong enough. “If only your faith were stronger . . .”
The wonderful preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, observes,
“Faith does not work miracles. God does. To concentrate on the strength of our own belief is to practice magic. To concentrate on the strength of God is to practice faith.”
Sometimes, perhaps often, it is the people who continue to trust and love as best they are able in the midst of very difficult situations and suffering — when there is no cure — who are the miracle.
Months back I wrote a piece here titled “What To Say (and not to say) To Someone in Trouble.” I was drawing on an article by a young (35 year old) seminary professor, Kate Bowler, who has incurable cancer.
Bowler wrote about the ways that words like, “your faith has made you well” can be misused and turned into a cudgel to beat up those who suffer. Here’s from that earlier blog post:
“Bowler is out with a new book Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved. What a great title. With grace, Bowler argues that such easy platitudes aren’t true.
“Not all suffering can be explained,” she says.
“Here her (Bowler’s) personal journey and scholarship converge. She studies and writes about the the “prosperity gospel” in America. The assumption of the prosperity gospel is that if your faith is right, health and prosperity will be yours. Another lie we love.”
I (Tony Robinson) look upon the Bible’s miracles as signs, that is they point beyond themselves.
They are “signs” of a larger truth, of Jesus’ larger purpose — not to do CPR on a few hearts, but to do open heart surgery on us all; not to heal one blind man at a time, but to heal the spiritual myopia of each of us; not to release one woman from a disfiguring paralysis, but to release the whole of humanity from our paralysis to sin and fear.
The miracles of Jesus are signs, signs of God’s presence, of God’s longing.
Sometimes healing means trusting in God and extending love as best we are able, even when we aren’t cured.