Monday 26 October 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (30/50) – His Ministry of Healing: In Word and Deed

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirtieth of the fifty emails.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.
Matthew 4:23-25

Matthew summarises here what he describes more fully elsewhere, and what the other gospel writers also make clear – that the story of Jesus cannot be presented without telling of his acts of power and compassion, of healing and transformation.

The ancient world had its fair share of ‘healers’, but Jesus was different – and people knew it. Not only does the list of those healed emphasise the authority of Jesus over all kinds of sickness, but his healings are a sign that, after years of seeming silence, God’s saving rule is now beginning to dawn in Israel. In words and in works, Jesus is proclaiming nothing less than the arrival of God’s reign, announcing and enacting the presence and power of the kingdom – bringing sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, mobility to the lame, even life to the dead.

In the exorcisms, individuals oppressed in different ways are freed, signalling a defeat for the powers of darkness. Their deliverance – not by any magical means, but by a rebuke and a command – mark the presence of the kingdom. Where those with skin diseases of various kinds are socially ostracised, Jesus breaks taboos in stepping outside the ‘circle of purity’ in order to rescue them, not only making them whole but reintegrating them into the community. All of which shows that the works of the kingdom are not just an exercise of bare power but an expression of covenant love – bringing liberation and renewal, touching the whole of our lives, reconstituting the people of God.

In his ‘nature miracles’ too, Jesus demonstrates the good news he proclaims, that God’s rule over all creation – not just Israel – is being exercised. His works reveal in advance something of God’s purposes for the restoration of the whole created order, offering us glimpses of a renewed cosmos from which the powers of darkness will be ejected, when sickness and pain will be no more, and God’s creation will be restored to its original harmony.

Within the context of the gospels – and as the letters will make clear – the victory is bound up with the work he will do on the cross and in his resurrection. Meanwhile, as we look forward to the final redemption that will come to every part of creation, we delight that no area of the world is beyond God’s reach, no aspect of life is exempt from his rule.

For further reflection and action:

1. Read about some of Jesus’ works of healing and deliverance in Matthew 8-9.

2. Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom not only with words but with deeds of power. How far can we be faithful to his teaching without acknowledging the place of healing and casting out demons? Dare we exclude the possibility of miracles today?

3. Even so, God normally works in normal ways through normal means. Reflect on the everyday, ‘normal’ ways you see God at work in your own life and in the lives of others.

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