Compassion and Healing
The theme for this year’s prayer week services was: “Shalom, the Healing work of God.” During the sessions we looked at the God of Healing of the Old Testament. We also looked at Jesus as our healer. On one evening we took note of the rituals of healing that we find in the Christian Church. And we also look at the theme of Healing and hope for this world and the next.
The number and types of diseases we are subject to as human beings is endless. There are so many types of diseases, disorders, and dysfunctions, that doctors can barely keep track of them all. It seems that for every illness that is cured, ten new one come on the scene. And we are painfully aware that in our congreagation there are many people suffering from serious illnesses.
There are times when we ask: does God care about those who are sick? Is he moved by our sickness and disease? How are we supposed to relate in the church towards those who are sick?
Jesus healed people out of love. He healed because he cared for the sick. He was not merely a medical professional, a “health care provider” going about his daily business. He grieved with these people. He shared their pain.
We all feel shock when we get the bad news that something terrible happened to someone we know and love.
We feel frozen / paralyzed/ we don’t know what to say; we are unable to respond; we feel powerless to do help or do anything that will make the situation better.
It’s the most devastating feeling of helplessness when you’re standing by and see your friend suffer.
So we sometimes say the wrong things; or we say nothing at all for fear of saying the wrong things; or we feel sorry for them and treat them with rubber gloves for fear that they will break before our very eyes.
We wonder: how are to support those we love in the midst of their suffering?
What role does the community of faith play in healing?
The Bible has many stories of healing that involve the support of friends or the community of faith. Today I want to take two stories of healing and show a striking contrast that I believe speaks to us today:
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. 2 Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. 3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” 7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” 8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Matthew 9: 1-8
Jesus… came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!” 4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins....” Then he said to the paralytic, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 And the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to men.
Dr. J. Wilbur Chapman, a famous evangelist of the past century, said that the New Testament records tell of forty people, each suffering from disease who were healed by Jesus. Of this number, thirty-four were either brought to Jesus by friends, or else He was taken to them. In only six cases out of forty did the sufferers find their way to Jesus without assistance. Of the vast number of people who find their way to Jesus today, most of them reach Him because their friends and Jesus’ friends are concerned about the welfare of their souls! What is true in the area of spiritual healing is also true for physical healing.
Choir: Healer of Our Every Ill
I imagine the story of the healing of the paralytic a little bit like this: A number of friends where sitting around after work sharing some laughs, socializing, and catching up on the latest news of the town. Then one of them starts to tell them about his cousin who has this incurable disease that they call palsy for lack of a more defining word. He is totally helpless, and utterly dependent on his family to look after him. They have to feed him, bathe him, and do everything for him. The family finds it hard to do all these extra tasks. But, that isn’the most difficult part. The hardest thing is that they can’t help him. They don’t have the money to give him good medical care, or at least make things more manageable for him.
As these friends talk about the poor man, they may even wonder about the age old question: “did God punish him or his family for their sins?” “Why is this happening to him?”
And while they discuss the senseless life of this poor soul one of them has a brain wave. “Did you guys hear about this Jesus-person that came to town? I hear that people are flocking to him from all over the place. Supposedly, he can do miracles. He gives sight to the blind and heals people with skin diseases. I wonder if he can do something for our friend.”
“Well,” another might have said, “we can’t just sit around and do nothing. We gotta do something. How about taking him to Jesus?” And the rest, as they say is history…
Whatever may have happened in the story that was not recorded in the Bible, there are a few significant things that strike us about these friends:
1. They were moved by compassion for their friend’s suffering. They saw his need. They saw his inability to help himself. They saw how his situation affected his family.
2. They didn’t wait to be asked for help from the paralytic or his family. They took action on their friend’s behalf.
3. They believed that Jesus could make him well. They risked being ridiculed and laughed at as they were carrying this man on his mat through town. They opened themselves up for criticism.
4. They didn’t wait for Jesus to come to them. Neither did they wait for someone more qualified – such as a priest or a health care professional - to figure out what to do. They took him to Jesus on faith that he would make him well.
5. Their faith was rewarded. I wonder if Jesus would have asked them something like: “Whatever possessed you to do what you did?” But, we know that Jesus saw their intention and healed the paralytic spiritually and physically.
In contrast to this story we have the healing at pool at Bethesda. In this story we get the feeling that there was not much support from the community for the people trying to get into the pool. The sense that we get is that it was every man for himself. As a result this man missed the opportunity to be healed for 38 years. Nobody would help him into the pool when the angel of the Lord would stir the water. In the end this man is also healed by Jesus. But, the absence of a community of faith and support forced him to be alone in his misery for 38 years of his life.
In both stories it is not by human hands that anyone gets saved or healed. The healing of our spiritual and physical conditions depends entirely on God. That is what God does best! But, the lesson we learn from these stories is that friends – the supportive community of faith – makes all the difference in the world in our battles with disease.
When friends take the innitiative and take action to help another, things start to happen. They couldn’t heal him from his illness, but they could and did arrange a meeting with the healer and the savior of his soul. And that’s what they did.
Many people in our circle of friends and relatives are suffering from physical and spiritual illness. We may feel the shock when we first hear of their condition. We may even feel sorry for them, and wish that we could take their spot. We may do the only thing that we know how to do – to pray for them. But, there is more that we can do. We can take action like the friends in our story did. We can reach out with many gestures of love and compassion – and that is indeed what many of you are doing. I commend you for that! At the same time I also invite you to be bold and take dicisive action to bring each other before the healer of our every ill.
May God grant us the strength to be the healing community of faith that he wants us to be. May we give thanks to God for our health care professionals. And let us affirm our faith with our words and actions that Jesus is the healer of our body and soul. May we be a community of faith that actively participated in God’s healing work in the world.