Day 29: True Healing
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
There is nothing like the Name of Jesus for restraining anger, assuaging the swellings of pride, healing the wound of envy, restraining the course of wantonness, quenching the flame of lust, moderating the thirst of covetousness and putting to flight all lasciviousness. For when I name Jesus, I set before myself the image of Man, meek and lowly, kind of heart, sober, chaste, merciful, peerless in purity and holiness and at the same time, the Almighty God, who heals by His example and strengthens us by His help.[i]
Bonaventure (d. 1274), Bishop of Albano
Lord Jesus Christ, by your patience in suffering you hallowed earthly pain and gave us the example of obedience to your Father’s will. Be near us in our time of weakness and pain; sustain us by your grace, that our strength and courage may not fail; heal us according to your will; and help us always to believe what happens to us here is of little account if you hold us in eternal life. Amen.[ii]
Old Testament Lesson
Why does God need to vindicate his name? He sent the Jews into exile for their sin. But this has caused harm to God’s reputation. Other nations now think God is capricious for doing so. God gave the children of Abraham the Promised Land but now they are scattered throughout the ancient Near East. It seems God can’t keep his promises. So God foresees the restoration of His people. They will be sprinkled clean from all their impurities. God will be vindicated and the people will return. He’ll heal them by turning their hearts from stone to living flesh. The blood which used to be sprinkled on the altar in the sacrificial system will be replaced with the cleansing waters of Baptism. Christians typically read this text as a prophecy of the New Covenant with the Holy Spirit as its instrument, Baptism as its outward visible sign and spiritual healing as its goal.
23And I will vindicate my great name, which has been defiled among the nations and which you have defiled, as holy. 24Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the LORD God, when I vindicate myself among you in your sight. 24And I will take you out of the nations and I will gather you from the foreign lands and I will bring you into your land. 25And I will sprinkle pure water upon you and you will be cleansed from all your uncleanness, and from all your idolatry I will purify you. 26And I will give you a new heart and a renewed spirit I will put within you and I will remove your heart of stone from your body so that I might put in you a heart of flesh. 27And I will place my Spirit within you so that I might make you walk by my statutes and keep my judgments to do them. 28And you will live in the land which I have given to your forefathers. You will be my people and I will be your God.
New Testament Lesson
The OT Law clearly taught that a miracle worker who led the people astray was to be put to death (Deut 13.1-5). Further, the OT Law clearly stated that no work was to be done on the Sabbath (Lev 23.3). So, when Jesus comes along and starts healing on the Sabbath and offering criticisms of the religious leadership, the Pharisees feel justified in resisting him. But this remarkable miracle throws them. There was no getting around the facts of the case – the man was blind, but now could see. How could a sinner who disrespected the Law do this? The resulting interrogations show their heart of stone. The Pharisees cannot get past their pride and power and thus cannot see a work of God when it is right in front of them. The man born blind goes from bewilderment, to confessing Jesus as a prophet to his final confession of Jesus as “Son of Man.”[iii] Jesus not only heals him physically, but spiritually as well.
1Now as He was going along, He saw a man blind from birth. 2And His disciples asked Him saying, “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents, resulting in his being born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned. It happened so the works of God might become evident in him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it’s day. Night is coming when no one will be able to work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6After saying these things, He spat on the ground and made mud out of the spittle and put the mud on his eyes. 7And He said to him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam” (which, when translated, means “sent”). Then the man went away and washed and returned able to see.
8Then his neighbors and those who saw him previously when he was begging were saying, “This isn’t the one who was sitting and begging, is it?” 9Others were saying, “Yeah, that’s him,” but others were saying, “No, but it’s someone who looks like him.” He kept saying, “It’s me!” 10So they said to him, “How did you receive your sight?” 11He answered, “The man named Jesus made some mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and I could see again.” 12And they said to him, “Where is He?” He said, “I don’t know.”
13They brought the one formerly blind to the Pharisees. 14Now on the day Jesus made mud and anointed his eyes, it was the Sabbath. 15So, again, the Pharisees asked him, “How did you receive your sight?” And he said to them, “He anointed my eyes with mud and I washed and now I see.” 16So some from the Pharisees were saying, “He can’t be a man of God – He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” But others were saying, “How could a sinful man perform such signs?” And there was division among them. 17So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about Him since He opened your eyes?” He said, “He’s a prophet.”
18But the Jewish leaders didn’t believe that he was once blind and received his sight until they called the parents of the one who received his sight. 19And they asked them, saying, “This is your son whom you say was born blind? Then how does he see now?” 20So his parents answered and said, “We know that he is our son and that he was born blind. 21But how he now sees, we don’t know, and who opened his eyes, we have no idea. Ask him, he’s of age, he can speak for himself.” 22His parents said these things out of fear of the Jewish leaders since they had already commanded that anyone confessing the Christ, would be banned from the synagogue.” 23For this reason his parents said “He’s of age; ask him.”
24Then he asked the man who was blind a second time and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” 25So he answered, “Whether He’s a sinner I don’t know. There’s one thing I know. I was blind but now I see.” 26Then they answered him, “What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I already told you, but you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become His disciples too, do you?” 28And they reviled him and said, “You are one of His disciples; we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses. We have no idea where this man comes from.” 30The man answered and said to them, “Well, isn’t this amazing? You don’t know where He comes from, yet He opened my eyes.” 31”We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is devout and does His will, God listens to this one. 32From of old, we have not heard of anyone born blind receiving his sight.” 33”If He weren’t from God, He wouldn’t be able to do anything!” 34They answered and said to him, “You were entirely born in sin and you’re going to teach us?” And they threw him out.
35Jesus heard that they had tossed him out. When He found him He said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36The man answered and said, “Who is He, Sir, so that I might believe in Him?” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him and the one who speaks with you is He.” 38And he said, “I believe, Lord.” And he worshiped Him.
- Our text in Ezekiel probably occurs toward the end of the Babylonian captivity. Imagine having spent your whole life in exile and God starts making over-the-top promises about restoration. How would you react? With cynicism? With joy? With trepidation over the change to come?
- Why does God keep giving us “second” chances? Why does he allow so much sin and brokenness to exist in the world if it is an affront to him?
- For what are you in need of healing? Can you identify in some way with the man who was born blind?
- What do you do to guard against ignorance? How well do you know what Jesus really said in the Bible (have you ever read it cover to cover)? If someone challenges you about your faith, could you defend it like Peter tells us to be ready to do (1 Pet 3.15)?
Reflection by Kevin Dodge (email)
One of the most famous stories from the ancient world comes from Plato’s allegory of the cave in the Republic. In it, Plato asks us to imagine that for our whole lives, we’ve been chained and forced to look straight ahead at the wall of a cave. Imagine further that there is a fire burning at the entrance to the cave such that at night, shadows are projected onto the walls. After many years, we would start to think of the reflections on the wall as reality. We might even gain skill at anticipating the various figures as they walk by the flickering fire.
But imagine, one day, that a kindly person releases us from our chains and leads us out of the cave. Our first reaction would probably be blindness since we would have never used our eyes in the light before. We probably wouldn’t be able to see a thing. The whole experience would be bewildering as we tried to make sense of this vast new world that exists outside the cave.
But, over time, as our eyes adjusted, we would start to realize that the shadows on the wall weren’t reality even though our whole lives we thought they were. Rather, it’s life outside the cave that was the true reality all along, a reality we somehow knew existed, but could only access through shadows.
Plato is using this allegory to talk about education. We are born in ignorance and have to be enlightened. When we pursue the true, the good and the beautiful, we are pursuing the reality outside the cave.
Yet Plato’s cave is also a helpful metaphor for the spiritual life. We are born in sin and need grace to enlighten us and lead us away from our ignorance and toward the light of God. Light illumines our souls so we can intuit spiritual things and not just fixate on material things.
Both of our texts today are loaded with symbolism. The sprinkled water in Ezekiel is an obvious sign of cleansing and purity, but a less obvious sign of the promise of the Holy Spirit who will come to reside within us in Baptism, the outward sign of the New Covenant. In our NT text, the man who was born blind is a metaphor for those steeped in sin who need grace to come to the light and see. Only Jesus, who took on flesh so that He might illumine the world, is able to do that.
What we learn from our texts today is that it is our natural state to be ignorant. We grope around in the dark and hope to find our way. Unfortunately, the reaction of the Pharisees in John’s story is an all-too-familiar reaction for religious people who are groping in the dark. The Pharisees were experts in the Law which was supposed to bring light to the people. As St. Paul put it, “The Law is holy, and the commandment holy, righteous and good” (Rom 7.12). However, their niggling interpretation of the Law had heaped so many burdens on the people that it was no longer a source of freedom nor was it leading people toward God.
Our faith should be leading us to greater freedom, greater joy and deeper relationships with others. Unfortunately, religion can be one of the most divisive forces we will ever encounter. There are thousands of Christian denominations just in the US, all reading the same Bible, professing to love the same Christ and expecting to be part of his kingdom. Protestants especially have been guilty through time of splitting the Church over and over again because we cannot seem to get along.
What we need is true healing. We need to have our souls sprinkled clean from the filth and division that reside within us. We should be ashamed that Christians cannot sit in the same room with each other and have civil conversations. We should be scandalized because of the divisions in the Church, a Church which Jesus expressly desired to see unified (John 17.22).
The answer to this is the reconciliation that can only come by the work of the Spirit. We see this in the ecumenical efforts the major denominations have been conducting for decades now, enabling us to inch closer together. We see this through inter-religious dialogue where we do the hard work of getting to appreciate each other and our different (often mutually exclusive) thought systems. We do this by learning to love and respect each other in spite of our differences.
The evidence for divisiveness and brokenness is all around us in our churches and our society. One of the fruits of sitting quietly with God in Lent and confessing how we have contributed to the brokenness around us is that we might just experience healing. We cannot heal ourselves, but we can be washed clean. The first step is being willing to accept the grace that only God can give. Only grace can turn hearts of stone into hearts of living flesh.
Ask for anointing and prayer from a Priest for an ailment that is bothering you. Ask God if a physical infirmity is trying to lead you to a deeper place spiritually.
Traditionally, Christians have fasted from meat and heavy foods on Wednesdays and Fridays. Consider following this practice.
Find someone who is suffering and try to alleviate their pain with kindness, a backrub, whatever you can do. See if the ministry of simply being present doesn’t aid the healing process.
[i] Boneventure and W.H. Hutchings, The Life of Christ (London: Rivingtons, 1888), 335.
[ii] http://www.stthomasreidsville.org/bcp/prayers_sick.htm, accessed 12-15-2015.
[iii] Brown, The Gospel According to John I-XII, 377.