AFTER THE HEALING TOUCH
Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps
Old First Church, Middletown
Texts: Isaiah 58:1-9; Luke 13:10-17
Several years ago, Robert Guillaume published his first book in the series of “happily ever after” with the story of what happened to Cinderella after she married her prince. Now, Guillaume took a jaundiced view of life after the “they lived happily ever after,” so you can just imagine what hap-pens when Cinderella really doesn’t like sleeping in a royal bed while the street sweepers sleep among the cinders. Just like Guillaume approached fairy tales in this manner, I have always wondered what happened to the people that Jesus touched or healed. What happened to them afterward?
In this story, Jesus describes the woman as having been bound by Satan; this was more than a mere physical ailment––it was a spiritual one as well. Luke’s Gospel uses an interesting Greek word to describe how the woman was afflicted: kyphotic. One scholar has pointed out that instead of translating the word as “bent over,” a better translation would be “bent into” or “bent with.” In other words, this infirmity had so become a part of the woman that it had eaten into her very soul.
Our lives are often like that. We have let the infirmities of the world affect us in such a way that they eat right into us. They become of how we define ourselves. We can’t seem to shake loose. Whether it’s a money problem or a relation-ship or a real physical infirmity, we feel trapped. Nothing seems to change. Like the woman whom Jesus healed, we have become spiritual pretzels, for lack of a better term. How do we move beyond this awful situation? What can we do? Jesus isn’t just going to pop around the corner, touch us, and heal us––at least not in the same way he healed people in his own day. But there are ways to straighten the pretzels that we often feel we have become.
Although we may become overwhelmed at the enor-mity of certain situations that hold us in their power the process of discernment through reflection and prayer can help us to break them down into smaller, more manageable parts so we are able to work on them in discrete units. But it takes more than using the intellect and sensibilities given us by God; it takes being open to surprising possibilities, even the ones that don’t seem to be the answer we expect. Then, with God’s help, we can unbend ourselves and take on the manageable piece. It’s a longer process and it takes a lot of reflection, prayer, and willingness to look at the situation that has bound us in a new light, but in the end, it’s more effec-tive and more satisfying.
I want us to go further this morning. The question is what we do after the healing, after we have found a new way to address an old problem. It is an essential part of our faith that we share our insights with others. This is different than the traditional evangelical model of saving souls for Christ. I wouldn’t presume to think I could save anyone’s soul. Only God can do that. But I do think there are ways we can share our spiritual insights with each other and the world to create a world more in keeping with Jesus’ vision of God’s realm.
It’s a bit like what Jesus said about hiding your light under a bushel. What good is the light if no one sees it? Each of us here in this room has some insight, some part of God’s Holy Spirit in us and each of us can share that insight with another to help unbend someone else. That’s what we do when we are healed––share our healing with others.
We don’t know what happened to the woman whom Jesus healed of her infirmity. I like to think that she went home and shared her good fortune with others, perhaps by explaining how she had become bent, describing the forces that overwhelmed her, and then how she had been healed.
Each of us has had some experience, somewhat like the woman who was healed. For some of us, it is moving beyond rank fear, the kind of fear you have when you face the real possibility, indeed probability of your own death. It’s just a few weeks off, but as we approach September 11, we’ll see those awful videos of people on the top of the World Trade Center making the terrible decision to jump rather than be engulfed in flames.
When I see those videos, I find myself caught up in the fear that those persons must have felt and get some sense of the paralysis that fear can cause in us. Unlike the story of the woman with issue of blood who touches the fringe of Jesus’ cloak we read earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus reaches out and heals this woman who had been bent over. That woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years must have lived with the same kind of fear for under Jewish law, not even her husband could touch her for the blood defiled her. She might as well have been dead.
When I read passages like this I think of how people have responded when given diagnoses that literally change their lives. In her book Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved Kate Bowler looks at her life as a 35-year-old professor of Christian history at Duke Divinity School and mother of a two-year old child after she has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
That was four years ago and she is still with us, struggling to live, continuing to teach, and being a mother to her son Zach and a wife to her husband Toban. In one of her blogposts she goes after the so-called “self-help” books that tell us to get over it, pick ourselves up and start all over again.
It’s important to recognize the isolation we feel when confronted with such terrible life-changing events. The woman who was bent over was isolated from others and from herself as well. How do you deal with something that cuts you off from the rest of the world, including your own family?
Bowler, born into an evangelical Mennonite family in Canada, had always been taught that prayer would guide her through the most difficult times and that everything happens for a reason. But deep down inside, we know that’s a lie. What would be the reason for suffering? What is the reason for the deaths of those we love? To teach us faith, virtue, patience? Come on, now, what hooey.
In this morning’s reading Jesus reaches out to the woman and sure enough, there was the religious establish-ment of the day chiding Jesus for healing her on the Sabbath. In similar ways, we hear the voices of so-called righteous leaders telling us what is right and what is wrong. We hear the voices of those who claim they have a corner on the truth, usually directly from God’s mouth to their ears, to tell us how to live. We hear it from certain preachers and politi-cians giving us solutions that neither address the problems we face nor the reality of our lives.
Our Nation has become like a spiritual pretzel, twisted and unable to stand up straight and face the internecine violence that is devastating our society. We may respond to posts from organizations asking us to sign onto this or that and although we hope that our responses will bring about changes the underlying issues are not fully addressed.
One of the problems is, of course, often we are not even sure where to start. Frustration and uncertainty bend us over, or as one scholar noted, bend us into ourselves, a more accurate translation of the Greek. Jesus’ healing here is more than a physical one; it is also a spiritual one. Freeing our-selves from our own spiritual pretzels will enable us to free the world as well.
We have those opportunities standing before us. Each of us has a gift to share with someone else. The only question that remains is how we live after we are healed.
Let us pray: Healing God who sent Jesus to open our eyes and heal our souls, move us beyond our gratitude in being healed and to bring healing to others. In the name of the One who heals and gives new life, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.