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Lessons from Luke - Week 2

Updated: Apr 24




Healing and Wholeness

Luke 8:40-56

At this year’s Oscars Awards Ceremony, the actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the movie, “The Holdovers.”  Now, I have to admit that I didn’t actually watch the Oscars.  But when I heard about Ms. Randolph’s acceptance speech, I went back and watched it for myself.  People were calling it strong, impassioned, and captivating, and as I watched it, I understood why.  As she accepted her award, she said, “God is so good.  [...]  I thank you to all the people who have stepped in my path and have been there for me, who have ushered me and guided me. [...]  For so long I’ve always wanted to be different, and now I realize that I just need to be myself.  And I thank you for seeing me.”  Then she thanked her theater teacher by saying, “when I was the only black girl in that class, [...] you saw me and you told me I was enough.  And when I told you ‘I don’t see myself,’ you said, ‘That’s fine, we’re going to forge our own path.  You’re going to lay a trail for yourself.’”  Ms. Randolph finished her speech by saying, “I pray to God that I get to do this more than once.  I thank you for seeing me.”  What Ms. Randolph experienced and expressed so beautifully, is the power of being seen and understood–of having others recognize both our gifts and our struggles, our strengths and vulnerabilities and then offering us affirmation and encouragement.  It’s a powerful gift to be seen and understood.

You know, several months ago, Elmo, the little red furry friend from Sesame Street, asked a simple question on the internet.  He said, “How is everybody doing?”  Apparently, this question struck a nerve, because the floodgates opened, and people started sharing their struggles.  One person said, “Elmo, I’m depressed and broke.”  Another said, “I’m at my lowest.  Thanks for asking.”  Someone else said, “Elmo, I’m going to be real.  I’m at my [...] limit.”  After millions of views and over 15,000 responses, the official Sesame Street account followed up with a post directing people to mental health resources with the hashtag, “Emotional Wellbeing.”  

What this trauma-dumping incident revealed, in case we weren’t already aware, is that many people are not doing well.  In fact, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience mental illness each year.  And I don’t know about you, but my prayer list is chock full of people who are sick or suffering, grieving or dying, lonely, at their lowest, or at their limit.  There are so many who are in need of healing, including ourselves.   

But according to journalist AJ Willingham, “something remarkable happened” when Elmo asked how everybody is doing.  Willingham says, “People started thanking Elmo and his pals for asking, and talking about what it means to feel safe and understood in a time when so much is dangerous and confusing.”  So while Elmo’s question exposed the fact that a lot of people are in need of healing, it also revealed what a powerful gift it is to be seen and understood.

Perhaps that’s why today’s scripture is so powerful.  In Luke, chapter 8, Jesus is approached by Jairus, who is a leader in the synagogue.  Jairus’s 12 year old daughter is dying, and he pleads with Jesus to come to his house so that he can heal her.  Jesus agrees, but as he’s moving through the crowd, a woman reaches out and touches the hem of his garment.  This woman has been bleeding for 12 years, and in an effort to find a cure, she’s spent all of her money on doctors.  No one has been able to heal her.  But when she touches Jesus’ clothes, she’s healed instantly and Jesus feels power go out of him.  He asks, “Who touched me?”  Now, there’s a huge crowd pressing in all around them, so Peter’s a little incredulous: of course someone must have touched him.  It would be difficult to get through this crowd without someone bumping into him.  But Jesus is insistent: He wants to know who touched him.  He wants to see this person who sought out his power.  The woman realizes that she’d better explain herself, so she comes forward and falls down before Jesus and tells him her story.  And Jesus sees her.  He listens to her and wants to understand her situation.  Jesus doesn’t shame her for her illness, and he doesn’t scold her for reaching out to touch his clothing.  Instead, he acknowledges her faith and the initiative she took in seeking her own healing.  Jesus sees and understands her.  And that’s a powerful gift.  

While all of this is happening, someone comes from Jairus’s house to tell him that his daughter has died.  Jesus tells Jairus to have faith, and then he goes to Jairus’s house.  When they arrive, he enters the house with Peter, John, James, and the girl’s parents.  When Jesus tells them that she isn’t actually dead but only sleeping, they laugh at him.  That’s preposterous!  They can see her, and it’s clear that she has passed away.  Jesus sees her, too, of course, but he has a deeper understanding of the reality of her situation.  He takes her hand and says, “Child, get up.”  And immediately, she gets up.  She’s been healed.  Yet Jesus doesn’t stop there.  He sees the girl and understands her needs better than anyone, and so he directs her parents to give her something to eat.  It’s a powerful gift to be seen and understood.

These two stories demonstrate Jesus’ power to bring healing and wholeness.  But I think it’s important to note the WAY that he heals.  Jesus’ acts of healing aren’t transactional.  Instead, they’re relational.  He takes the time to see and understand people, and in that way, he’s able to care for them holistically.  The woman’s bleeding stops instantly, so she experiences physical healing.  And that easily could have been the end of it.  Being healed after 12 years of bleeding is remarkable on its own.  But Jesus also gives her the opportunity to tell her story, to really be known and understood by him, and I imagine that probably fostered a different kind of healing in her life.  In the same way, the little girl is brought back from death, but then Jesus calls upon her family to give her food.  Perhaps this girl is nourished in that moment, not just by the food, but also by the care and attentiveness of her family.  You see, Jesus doesn’t just heal the presenting illness, but he heals in a way that recognizes the whole person, body, mind, and spirit.  He heals in a way that invites relationship and connection.  Jesus sees and understands.  And in this way, his gift of healing goes beyond the restoration of physical health and life.  His healing is holistic, and it fosters abundant life.  

But there’s one more part of this story that I don’t want us to lose.  While the woman who is bleeding is able to advocate for her own healing, the little girl is unable to do so, and so her father comes to Jesus on her behalf. Jesus restores her to life, but then he invites her family to participate in her healing by giving her food.  I think that Jesus celebrates when we seek our own healing, when we advocate for ourselves.  But Jesus also invites us, as we’re able, to participate in the healing of others.  We’re called to partner with Jesus in the work of healing by caring for the sick and the suffering, the dying and the grieving, the lonely and those who are at their lowest or their limit.  We’re called to be co-workers with Jesus in fostering abundant life.  

So how do we do this?  Well, to begin, I think it’s important to make sure that we don’t do harm as we try to help.  We can approach healing as Jesus did, by offering others the gift of seeing and understanding them–of getting to know their gifts and their struggles, their strengths and their vulnerabilities.  In the context of such relationship, of knowing and being known, we can help them advocate for themselves.  And if they’re unable to do that, then we can advocate well on their behalf, and share our resources in ways that help to foster abundant life.   

You know, I’ve seen such healing work all around me in recent days.  I’ve seen it in emails of encouragement to a friend who is losing his job and in a meal train for a family that lost a loved one.  I’ve seen it in private hugs of solidarity for someone struggling with anxiety, and in public demonstrations of solidarity for victims of gun violence.  I’ve seen it in a community of faith that has prayed faithfully for a member with cancer and in a church that erased millions of dollars of medical debt for strangers.  In ways large and small, followers of Jesus are accepting his invitation to participate in the healing of others.

 But what if the healing for which we pray and work doesn’t come to be?  Just last night, as I was finishing up this sermon, I learned that someone for whom I’ve been praying for a long time had entered hospice care.  And this afternoon, I learned that she had passed away.  She will not be healed in the way we had hoped.  It’s tragic and it’s devastating.  And the truth is, for many, the cure isn’t found in time.  For many, the wound doesn’t heal.  For many, bodies and hearts become scarred beyond recognition.  And I don’t know about you, but that leaves me with a lot of questions, and even some anger at God.  How come some people get the miracle and some don’t?  Why are some people cured and some aren’t?  How come healing seems so arbitrary?

You know, in an effort to find answers to these questions, I think that some have misinterpreted these stories of Jesus healing.  They have suggested that we just have to have enough faith and we’ll be healed.  Or we just have to pray hard enough and our loved ones will get better.  But the problem with that way of thinking is that it reduces faith to a transaction, and prayer becomes currency.  It becomes a kind of works-righteousness in which we have to earn healing for ourselves or others.  But Jesus’ acts of healing aren’t transactional.  They’re relational.    

So perhaps instead of seeking healing through transaction with Jesus, we might seek healing through relationship with him.  That doesn’t mean that healing will always happen in the ways we hope.  And it doesn’t mean that our questions will always be answered or that we’ll never be mad at God.  But maybe, just maybe, we might begin to see and understand healing through the eyes of Jesus–the one who sees and understands all of us completely, the one who came that we might have abundant life.  So if the cure doesn’t materialize or the miracle doesn’t happen, maybe we’ll have eyes to see the healing that happened anyway:  in the faith that was deepened, in the love that was shared, in the community that showed up to care and advocate and bear witness, in the gift being seen and understood, and in the promise of abundant life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  May it be so.  Amen. 


[1] Da’Vine Joy Randolph Wins Best Supporting Actress for ‘The Holdovers’/ 96th Oscars (2024), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpGA2B_AgYw, Accessed 3/24/24.

[2] AJ Willingham, CNN Online, “Elmo Asked People Online How They Were Doing.  He Got an Earful,” https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/31/health/elmo-checking-in-x-wellness-cec/index.html, accessed 3/24/24.

                    


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