In today’s Gospel Story (Mark 1:29-39) Jesus is healing people. The Psalm says “Praise the Lord, who heals the brokenhearted”. Jesus seeks out hurting and suffering people, drives out demons, heals people suffering for any reason, mainly internal. He brings the direct experience of his Father’s loving care and compassion. In each person he heals he is making our Father’s love and compassion real and visible, healing the brokenhearted. He did it then, and he is doing it now through us, who would be his followers.
We say the church has Christ’s mission, to continue his healing ministry. Religious traditions do this quite well. Some provide medical care, missionary work on several fronts, education, social service, food, housing, and more, doing their best to live the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. But what to do when the pain and suffering are brought about by a religious tradition claiming to act in the name of Jesus? Spiritual abuse is real, and is causing a great deal of harm and suffering. Traditions make rules to keep out people who make them feel uncomfortable, often people they don’t know or understand and so are fearful of. Their position is “we alone have real access to God, so if you want to get to God you have to go through us, and do it our way”. Jesus faced the same situation in his day. The temple system had rules to keep the “outcasts” away, certain classes of people who were not accepted — lepers, unbelievers, sinners. Rules were more important than people. The offered a sense of safety and security. But trying to be open to the Spirit offers neither safety nor security. It is a real adventure of trusting and letting go, journeying and growing, encountering the unexpected, taking chances. Jesus resisted these systems, and this cost him his life, allegedly in the name of Yahweh whom he was accused of offending. When we reduce the Gospel to a series of rules, it makes us feel safe and in control, but leaves no room for the Spirit. We already have all the answers, and we will inflict them, along with our condescending and condemnatory judgement, on any who disagree. An example of this is the notion “hate the sin but love the sinner”, which is applied only to one particular “category” of person. Then there is the nasty reaction to Pope Francis when he says priests can bless persons in same sex relationships if they ask for a blessing. Many good folks have simply walked away from religions and have been living a good life. Without using religious terms they are living the Gospel values in their own way. We might recognize this and ask what God is saying to us, and perhaps find God in amazing and unexpected places and people.
Jesus’ life was a mixture of prayer and ministry, both of which are necessary. What does “the Lord heals the brokenhearted” mean for me these days? I’m still trying to figure out what the Spirit is calling me to do in all this. My life is not as dramatic and energized as it once was. I have a great deal of freedom on many levels. Does this give me any responsibility? I’ve been blessed with serious health issues which have led me to some life changing experiences and relationships, all of which have been God being God in my life. I don’t have a particular parish or community to focus on, so I’m kind of theoretical. I’m coming to realize how real and practical God’s mercy is. I have lots of questions, very few answers, more wondering and wondering. I suppose it has a lot to do with trying to recognize the Jesus I know as he is happening in the people I meet every day. Over the years I’ve experienced God being merciful to me, and I still experience it now, but how to live it with others? Even today, as I write this, I know good people who are being treated badly, often unfairly and unjustly, by religious systems simply for being who they are, which a system doesn’t like. There is a lot of this. It is wrong, but what to do about it? How do I support them? I know good folks who are dealing with terrific health or relational issues, brokenhearted in their own way. How do I help bring Jesus’ healing to them? I get many requests for prayer, which I take seriously, but I keep wondering what it all means, and if there isn’t something more I could “do”? How some religious traditions treat people is spiritual abuse, allegedly in the name of God, who doesn’t abuse anybody. What can I do to help with spiritual healing? Perhaps my call is fairly simple — ask the grace to live our Father’s love and compassion with everyone I meet. I don’t need to know, just to be ready and respond to the grace of the present moment. It is no easy thing. God is not in generalities, but in individuals, real persons, some of whom I might see as annoying.
My Army experience, for which I am most grateful, let me have close contact with people who thought and lived very differently from what I was used to. Many had no religious connection or interest. We worked together for the good of the command, the accomplishment of the mission. It wasn’t always easy. Overall they were good folks, and I learned a lot. I hope I learned to think beyond myself and my comfort. My mission was to take care of the person in front of me, do what I had to do. I also learned the importance of doing what was right because it was right, and so got kicked around a few times. What does this mean now? Maybe having answers isn’t important, while questioning is important. It forces me to expand my horizons. Faith takes on a more dynamic meaning, a way of living open to grace, trying not to get attached to what is, ready for whatever is coming, walking slack as Jesus walks point. Just sayin . . .