Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Signs of healing

Struggling AGAIN with how to deal with Sunday's text choices.  The Narrative Lectionary offers up any possible combination of two stories from John's gospel - the sign that takes places at the healing of the royal official's son (John 4:46-54) and the healing of a man in the Bethesda pool in Jerusalem (John 5:1-18).  I already spent time over at the RevGals sermon discussion incoherently rambling (i.e. whining) about healing stories (which is similar to my rambling/whining about the whole gospel of John).  I'll try not to do that again.

Here's the thing - - Everything that drives me crazy about the over-personalization of every single Bible story comes to light when we come across a healing story.  I don't like it when these stories get read, and we move into a discussion that says if you just ask or pray for it, healing will come, because it doesn't.  Or it doesn't always. So then, in an effort to cover up for this God who didn't come through this time, we offer a perfectly wrapped up, individualized lesson in any number of ways:
1.  Well, we don't mean physical healing or cure EVERY time.
2.  Sometimes just asking is what makes things better.
3.  Asking for healing may have been what you wanted, but God knew better and gave you something you needed.
I don't like that.  It seems disingenuous.  Rope people in with stories about God who heals, Jesus who promises healing, then tell them we didn't really mean it.

I made my earlier rant about healing stories in the Bible, but now that I'm thinking it through, I don't think it's the stories in the Bible that are my problem.  My problem is the way we make 1-to-1 translations of things that are reported in Scripture to things we want to happen in daily life today.  Even we more liberal readers will do this literal application of Scripture thing with the stories about Jesus that we wouldn't do with stories about, say, Noah, or Moses, or Naaman.  We would laugh at the idea that we should build an ark for all the world's animal's if it looked like it's were going to rain.  We would put on a life jacket or better yet get a boat before trying to cross the Red Sea.  We'd think someone was CRAZY if they told us to put our hand in the water seven times and expect healing.  So, why is it that we would never take these pieces literally, but we read a story about Jesus healing and immediately start to figure out how to get physical healing for ourselves and our loved ones.

We do it because we want healing for them.  We do it because we love them.  We do it because we love life and we want to live it to its fullest.

And in all of this I'm not saying that healings with no other explanation than the intervention of God don't happen.  I actually think they do and they can.  I'm also not saying it is wrong to ask for healing.  I do and I encourage others to also.

I guess I'm just saying that every healing story in Scripture doesn't have to be about "how to get healing."*     Especially not in John.  Especially not when the healing is called a sign.

A colleague of mine just posted this in response to some of my thoughts that I'm also spilling over on Facebook:
"...[A] sign serves no purpose if you take it's meaning too literally.  If you refuse to move from a stop sign because it says stop, then you have taken the sign to (sic) literally.  If you expect the curves ahead to look exactly like the sign depicts then you are taking the sign too literally.  If you see Jesus' sign and think it's just about healing you've ignored the true meaning of the sign or taken it too literally."

 In John signs are supposed to point to something.  Signs aren't "the thing;" they point to "the thing."  So if we stop at the healing when we're reading a story that is called a "sign" in John, we're stopping too soon.  "The thing" is not the act of healing; "the thing" is the one doing the healing.  The sign points to the nature and mission of God (h/t David Lose for much of this), so what does this particular healing story tell us about the nature and mission of God?  And then the application, how can we join that nature and mission as followers of Christ?

I think I'm going to use those questions to write my sermon.

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

*In fact, I'm not really sure these stories exist at all - the "how to" kind.  I think the witness exists that we can and should pray for healing, and that we may or may not get it the way we hoped.  There isn't really a witness to a sure fire way to get healing every time.


Common Household Mom said...

As a lay person, I remember being actually appalled when I took the time to read through the stories where Jesus heals, and found that the purpose was not the healing itself, but rather to provide a sign, or to glorify God. And I have trouble with the passage in Acts where the cloths that Paul touched are used to heal (do I have that right? - I haven't looked it up).

The worst of all is when healing doesn't come, and some irksome dolt says it is because you didn't have enough faith, or you didn't pray hard enough, or you didn't pray in the right way, or there is some sin standing in the way which prevents God from listening to your prayer.

These are difficult questions you ask. There are no easy or complete answers!

SheRev/Stephanie Anthony said...

You do have that passage in Paul right, and can I admit that I never even HEARD of that until today?

My other least favorite answer people give when healing doesn't come is "You may have wanted healing, but God knows and gives you what you need." It's right up there with "Healing isn't always physical. I bet you had spiritual healing."

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Matthew said...

Thank you for your revised comments. I was intrigued by the original version, because it echoed some of my troubles with this text, both in personal terms and in preaching it. Your present comments have given me some great thoughts re the shape of the sermon, and about my own life of faith.

CMDBS said...

This was extremely helpful to me! thanks so much everyone, especially Stephanie!