Twenty-First Day of Lent

Luke 18:35-43
35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”
38 He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?”
“Lord, I want to see,” he replied.
42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

There were laws in Jesus’ day which laid responsibility on people to look after people who were blind. Unfortunately, perhaps because they have grown tired of the endless responsibility, this man is forced to beg. Not only that, he isn’t even begging in the city but outside it (Luke 18:35).

The persistence of the man perhaps gives a clue to his character. He will not be silenced, nor will he be put in his place and so he cries and cries until Jesus stops and pays attention.

Should it not have been obvious to Jesus what the man wanted Jesus to do? After all, at his very first sermon in Capernaum when he read from the scroll of Isaiah, he claims “recovery of sight to the blind” as one of the marks of his ministry (Luke 4:18). So I find this a curious question.

The emotional high point for me in the telling of this story is the man’s response to Jesus curious question, “Lord, I want to see,” (Luke 18:40). Who could fail to respond to that?

Whether the man meant it or not, I feel certain that Luke did mean us to take this both literally and metaphorically. The man wants to physically see, but there is also a need for him to perceive things in a new way. He is already partly along the way to seeing the world in a new way. He calls Jesus “Son of David,” and “Lord” (Luke 18:38-40). In fact he rejects the description given by the leaders of the procession who refer to Jesus as “Jesus of Nazareth,” in favour of “Jesus, Son of David’”(Luke 17:37, 38).

Does the blind man already see more than the people who are hanging around Jesus?

As we saw yesterday seeing is such a characteristic Lukan way of indicating that understanding has dawned. And which of us wouldn’t echo the man’s request, regardless of how long we have been on the road as disciples. There is always more to see and understand. Always new journeys of faith to take. And we can never get to the place where we have seen everything because Jesus keeps on doing new things that take us by surprise.

This story also reminds me of the difference between healing and cure. Jesus may be hinting at this in the story. His question, unusual as it is, may be designed to elicit from the man the nature of the miracle he wants. The ambiguity of the answer allows us to imagine both forms of seeing. And so Jesus’ response is twofold.

“Receive your sight,” is the cure. The man can now physically see.

“Your faith has healed you,” is the deeper healing, the deeper and more insightful seeing. And with this new insight the man follows Jesus and praises God.

It’s a challenging thing to imagine ourselves into the position of this man just after Jesus has asked the question. How would you answer the question “What do you want me to do for you?”

What cure would you seek?

What healing would you seek?

What is most necessary for you to follow Jesus closer and to praise God?

I want to see.

Nineteenth Day of Lent

Luke 8:40-56 
40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’

46 But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’ 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.’ 51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. ‘Stop wailing,’ Jesus said. ‘She is not dead but asleep.’

53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child, get up!’ 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

These two stories are a complex, interwoven tapestry that tell us an awful lot about who Jesus is, what his mission was and what it is to be a disciple.

Luke starts off with the story of a young girl of twelve years old, and so just about to hit puberty, who is the daughter of a wealthy man. But she is sick. The man throws himself at Jesus feet pleading with him to come and heal his daughter which Jesus consents to do, but he is hampered in his going by the crush of the crowd.

This story is then intercepted by a story of an older woman, who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had visited all sorts of doctors but none had been able to heal her. The implication is that for twelve years she was ritually unclean and thus unable to touch anyone or be touched by anyone. Think of the isolation.

Her faith to reach out and touch Jesus, secretly, results in her healing, but also in Jesus being apparently too late to heal the daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus.

There are all sorts of parallels in the story. The number twelve for instance. A young girl and an older woman and of course the sensitive issue of blood, spoken and unspoken. A rich man who throws himself at Jesus’ feet, an impoverished woman who does the same. A young girl who is healed by the conscious touch of Jesus and a woman who is healed through her touching of Jesus without his knowing. A child healed through encounter, a woman healed prior to encounter.

I am struck by this very physical and real demonstration of Jesus ministry which he described elsewhere as “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matt 20:16). Here the impoverished and ill woman interrupts the request for help from the community leader who is made to wait until Jesus has dealt with her illness.

He also commends her for her faith (Luke 8:48) whereas the household of the synagogue leader struggle to have faith sufficient to see a miracle (Luke 8:49-50, 52-53).

I am also struck by the issue of shame in the story and how for so many of us our culture makes us ashamed of our bodies, of how they work or don’t work, of their size or shape and of what we do with them. This shaming resulted in twelve years of isolation for this woman. So I love the fact that Jesus calls her “daughter” and commends her faith and its part in her healing and tells her to “Go in peace!” (Luke 8:48). In so doing he restores her to physical and mental health, reintegrates her to community and changes her relationship to her physical self after twelve years of loneliness caused by the complexity of her body.

Even if just for today, resist body-shaming either yourself or others. Be kind to your body, pamper and spoil it. Rejoice in its abilities, and its non-conformity. Laugh at its strangeness. Be at peace with your body.

Lord Jesus
You knew tiredness in your body
And loneliness and rejection.
You knew physical pain
And you crossed that mysterious border
Between life and death.

Grant me patience with my body
And its limitations
Give me joy in its abilities
And wonder at its mysteries.

May its needs and desires
Be a source of delight
And never of shame

For Jesus sake
Who loved every body


Seventeenth Day of Lent

Luke 5:17-26
17 One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal those who were ill. 18 Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. 19 When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

20 When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’

21 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, ‘Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?’

22 Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, ‘Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, “Your sins are forgiven,” or to say, “Get up and walk”? 24 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the paralysed man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ 25 Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, ‘We have seen remarkable things today.’

What is there left to say about this miracle story which has been staple element of Sunday School curriculums for ever? Sometimes it helps to read it in a different translation, or to read it slowly, sentence by sentence, or to try and recreate the story from memory. “Reading” it in this latter way helps alert us to the elements of the story that we have forgotten or didn’t know were there. These are often aspects of the story that we avoid in our regular treatment of the account.

I’m struck this time by how far some of the Pharisees and teachers of law had travelled to see this Jesus fellow. They had come from the south of the country up to the rural north to find out what all the fuss was about. The teachers of the law are the theologians of the day and are concerned about the soundness or otherwise of Jesus theology and practice. And I note they are sitting. I imagine them making notes and murmuring among themselves as Jesus heals.

I wonder was it hot when the men were carrying their friend on the mat. Were they related or were they friends and neighbours? What was it like being so dependent on friends and being carried through a jostling crowd? As a part of the crowd, or near the house, why would you not make space for this man, given Jesus was healing people? Were you reluctant to lose your place close to the action? If yes, then how many in that crowd were pressing close to Jesus just for the spectacle? And what would be required of a person to surrender their great view in order to see someone else experience a miracle?

I want to believe that these men were motivated so strongly by love for their friend, and not just to see a ‘trick’ by Jesus, that they were willing to damage private property. I wonder what the owner of the house felt like after Jesus had left, and the crowds had wandered off, and those anonymous offenders had melted away? Did he pay for the repairs with delight having hosted a miracle by Jesus in his home? Did his place become a stop on the ‘tourist’ trail in the town? Or did the excitement of the events quickly fade in the face of the hassle and expense of having his roof repaired?

How much of the theological argument between Jesus and the religious leaders was heard by members of the crowd? How much did they care about it? What memory did they walk away with? The argument between powerful personalities, or the sight of a formerly paralysed man walking under his own strength?

Funny isn’t it, how often we churchy people, in our desire to be “sound” miss the joy of what God is doing right in front of our eyes? It seems to be in Northern Ireland religious circles that having sound theology is  sometimes more important than the fact that the power of the Lord is working through them.

God forbid that we should be so concerned to be correct about things that we end up denying or preventing or resenting the mess that must be caused to see Jesus work.

Take some time with this story and imagine yourself into the experience of one of the characters. Even stretch beyond the events recorded in the story and think of what life must have been like after all these things happened. What would ‘normal’ look like after a miracle?

God of miracles,
Forgiver of sins
Strengthener of legs
Winner of arguments,

Give me the compassion of Jesus
The perseverance of the friends
The patience of the man paralysed
And the tolerance of the one
Whose house was wrecked

That I might see the healing power
Of God at work in the world.