I’m probably alone in this, but sometimes I feel like Jesus has a funny way of healing people.
To my eyes and ears, Jesus’ healings have a hard edge to them.
For instance, we are told that one time Jesus heals a man with a “withered hand” on the Sabbath, and the religious experts are pretty ticked off about it (Mark 3v1-6). There are some interesting aspects to the story:
- according to the text at least, the man hasn’t asked Jesus to heal him; in fact, Jesus initiates the whole process (in front of the community in the synagogue)
- the man’s life isn’t at stake (even for Pharisees, saving life on the Sabbath was actually permitted)
There’s a sense in which Jesus is standing there, and commands the guy (who is not supposed to be in the synagogue), “Get in here and stand up in front of everyone so they can see what’s wrong with you.”
Can you sense the social awkwardness?
What begins to emerge is the possibility that Jesus is essentially using this man’s affliction and subsequent healing as an example, as a way to push the religious authorities into a corner (and to begin to plot Jesus’ death).
And all of this happens very publicly, in front of everyone. The man is healed, but first the man has to stand up in front of his community.
To me, it’s very tense. Why couldn’t Jesus have privately healed the man? Why couldn’t he have pulled the Pharisees and the Herodians aside and performed this act of political theatre in front of them alone?
Why subject the man to this public scrutiny?
A few chapters later, Mark relates the story of a woman who has been suffering—”bleeding”—for twelve years. Without going too deeply into social laws of the time, the cultural laws maintaining purity at this time were quite strict; this poor woman would have been strictly and severely ostracized.
So in a way you can understand her desperation to get to Jesus; to be made whole again. She reaches out her hand and grasps the edges of his cloak (or prayer shawl) and, “immediately”, we are told, her illness is gone.
Awesome. And then she goes away and is restored to life and community, right?
Almost. Not before Jesus very publicly calls attention to her.
Before her ultimate restoration, Jesus makes sure the entire group of people knows that she is there, and that she has received a healing.
Again, part of me wonders why Jesus didn’t pull her aside, privately bless her and then restore her to the life.
Why the public display?
The last healing story actually comes out of John’s gospel. Jesus finds a man by a pool believed to have healing properties. The man had been there for thirty-eight years. Jesus asks him, “Do you want to be made well?”
The man explains why he can’t get into the pool in time, and Jesus responds by saying, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
For some reason, on top of all the very public displays of Jesus’ healings, this one has been sticking with me.
And it’s all because of the mat.
I don’t know the mat looked like. If it was comfortable; if it was threadbare and worn; if it was donated. I don’t know any of the details.
But I do know what it represented.
It represented the man’s weakness.
It represented his brokenness.
It represented his need for restoration; for health.
And Jesus tells him to pick it up and take it with him.
If I put myself in the man’s place, I would have longed so deeply to leave the mat behind. Who wants to carry around the reminder of our past? Our brokenness? Our shame?
But instead, Jesus tells him, “No: actually this is the thing you have to bring with you. I know you’d like to leave this part of your life behind, but people need to see this. They need to ask, ‘Hey what’s with the mat?’ And you have to tell them your story.”
Looking back over these three stories, Jesus’ there’s always another agenda operating around Jesus’ healings. They are never “the endpoint.” If they were, it’s possible for Jesus to be considered more of magician—a first century “House”—than the Messiah. The healings are there to make theological points, to tell stories, to point people towards God’s restoration agenda for the entire world. Not to say that it’s great to be healed, but we need to remember that God’s (and Jesus’) agenda is always bigger than our own individual situations, and the healings are always a part of that agenda.
So maybe Jesus has done something for you. Maybe there’s some brokenness in your past (gosh I know there’s some in mine).
And maybe what you really want to do is to leave your mat behind.
But instead Jesus is telling you, “Pick it up; pick up your past. Pick up your brokenness, the things you’ve seen, the things you’ve done, and even though I have restored you, tell others about them.”
Obviously, just because you carry your mat with you does not mean that you’re still crippled. But somehow you still have to tell people about it.
Live your life in such a way that people go, “Hey what’s with the mat?”
What does your mat represent? Have you left it behind? I think in so many ways Jesus is saying to us, “Go back and get it; carry it with you. Not in a shaming way, but in a way that helps others.”