Sunday, March 4, 2012

What if Jesus Never Cured Anyone?

...the leper (Mark 1:40-44) who met Jesus had both a disease (say, psoriasis) and an illness, the personal and social stigma of uncleanness, isolation, and rejection. And as long as the disease stayed or got worse, the illness also would stay or get worse. In general, if the disease went, the illness went with it. What, however, if the disease could not be cured but the illness could somehow be healed?

This is the central problem of what Jesus was doing in his healing miracles. Was he curing the disease through an intervention in the physical world, or was he healing the illness through an intervention in the social world? I presume that Jesus, who did not and could not cure that disease or any other one, healed the poor man's illness by refusing to accept the disease's ritual uncleanness and social ostracization. Jesus thereby forced others either to reject him from their community or to accept the leper within it as well.

John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, (New York: Harper Collins, 1994), 82.
What if Jesus never cured anyone? What if the gospel writers embellished on the idea of people being cured of their diseases upon meeting Christ? At first glance, it seems highly blasphemous to even consider the thought. The gospels are loaded with examples and I have spent my entire church life hearing & believing that people were miraculously healed. What mattered was that the "blind see, lame walk, the leprous are cured, the deaf hear..." And yet - was that even close to what truly mattered to the heart of Jesus? And has that thinking led the modern church to become lazy & focused on the wrong type of prayer & approach for/to a hurting world?

I believe Jesus cared far more about the social world than we often see or want to believe in our modern world. Rather than following Him, though, the church & its followers have made the focus about the physical world. We worry about things & attempt to take care of things to impact the physical world around us (or if we are really spiritual - the physical world across the globe from our locations). Raising money, donating food items, helping with medical supplies, giving clean water, donating clothes, etc. The point is not that these are bad steps to take. In fact, they are often very useful & extremely helpful. The problem is that they merely take care of the tip of the iceberg of the human problem. I can clothe a poor man. I can feed that poor man. I can help that poor man get medical care. I can even get that poor man a job. But the problem remains that to me he remains "that poor man" instead of who he actually is as a child of God.

The social world is a far more difficult problem because it forces us to expand our communities & deal with social stigmas that all of us have worked together to create. We can't merely throw money & a quick photo opp at social problems and expect them to go away. We certainly feel better when we give the homeless person a meal through the window of our car. What the homeless person could use, though, would be a meal at our dining room tables. The social trumps the physical, in other words. Jesus sought to heal the illnesses of people - the conditions that prevented them from being part of the established society. Who cares if they could walk, see, hear or feel clean skin again? What mattered more was feeling the importance of being wanted, included & a part of something larger than themselves.

We must stop reading the Bible to see what we want to see. Jesus never focused on the physical problem. It was never the issue for Him. He always went much deeper - striking at the heart of the predicament. He healed illnesses by not allowing social boundaries to prevent relationships from developing. What if Christians decided to take that same step of depth? What if we stopped throwing money & supplies at physical problems and started worrying about how we might make a dent in the social ones? If we did, we might stop making people statistics that need "x amount of this" and "y amount of that" in order to live and instead help people actually feel loved. Now that would truly be Christlike.


Ryan Russell said...

A bit more profound and well thought through then just some random quote...

So what are your proposed solutions or ideas? How would this look? How would a modern US church be changed? How would you lead the change of heart & approach? Do you dare say that not all world problems can be cured with a capital campaign or offering?

Landon said...

Excellent questions Ryan. First off the easiest - yes I think that typical capital campaigns & offerings often go for less than highest effective ministry purposes. New buildings & high ministry budgets aren't producing world or even American change...

I am still contemplating solutions. I think one of the things we have to do is break down the ability for people to go to church simply with the people they are most comfortable with. I also think too often we all go to church and only talk with the people we know & recognize. Christians (myself included) have to be forced out of that. I also believe that the church has to move out of his standard: song, welcome, songs, offering, song, communion, message, closing song/announcement mentality. The church is very accustomed to its predictable patterns. What if we were "forced" to serve on Sunday mornings? We could do a Sunday Brunch for the homeless or less fortunate. We could go downtown and clean. We could visit hospitals, hospices, and other areas of loneliness & grief. That seems to be far more in tune with Christ than parking my ass in a chair for just over an hour.

Not sure where I fall in terms of leadership. Not sure I have the gift of leadership - certainly never felt like I did when I worked for the church. I also know that not having the gift doesn't excuse me from not contributing. I guess my role needs to be figuring out how to break down barriers where I can - with the poor, broken, lost, etc. That starts with making efforts to introduce time devoted to those groups & not a building & pastoral staff.