[Listen to Audio] When John the Baptist sat languishing in prison, he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the real deal?” The Baptist wasn’t just fact checking. He probably realized that his prison stint would end badly.
Sensing that his own death was drawing near, John was taking the measure of his life. His question was something like this: Are you the one who can assure me that God is really on the move? That all I’ve said, and done, and sacrificed to tell people about what God is doing will amount to something? Or will it all have been for nothing?”
Jesus answered John’s disciples this way. Tell him what you’ve seen and heard. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:5)
In other words, we can believe that Jesus is the Messiah because healing follows in his wake. And as I’ll explain in a moment, it’s pretty clear that Jesus is saying that you can spot Jesus’ followers the same way. Where disciples show up healing happens.
John the Baptist would have understood that what Jesus is saying echoed the prophets. He would have realized that, in Jesus, God is mending the shattered creation.
As Isaiah put it, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom.” God is renewing the creation.
By contrast, many contemporary ears hear Jesus promising a miraculous cure for faithful individuals. Jesus will instantaneously fix you lumbago or your gout or your cancer if you have enough faith or if enough faithful people will pray for you.
We all know the problem with this way of looking at Jesus’ message. I mean, children do die of cancer. Young mothers depart this world, leaving grieving families behind. Addicts die from their destructive disease. Even when they believe and we pray.
In her reflections on healing, Sara Miles invites us to understand healing from a different perspective. She gets us there by reminding us of the time that Jesus asks a telling question. Do you want to be healed?
On the face of it, this may seem an odd question. That’s especially so if you think that Jesus is asking, “Would you like to be pain-free?” or “Shall we just put you in tip top shape this instant?” It would be like asking somebody, “Do you want this billion dollars?”
But that’s not the question that Jesus is posing. He’s saying something more like, “Are you willing to go through what it will take to be made whole?”
As Miles points out and as most of us know, healing can be painful.
For instance, talk to someone who has had a hip or a knee replacement. Their discomfort led them to undergo a major surgery with the hope of recovering full mobility. But the incisions cause discomfort as they heal. And rehab is not for the faint of heart.
I know people who have been sober for years. They wouldn’t trade sobriety for anything, and they remember well the misery of addiction. But most of them will tell you that the process of getting sober was frequently trying and sometimes simply miserable.
Healing is a process of radical transformation. And even though its trajectory is toward greater wholeness and more abundant life, the prospect of enduring the healing process can be daunting. Not surprisingly, some will hesitate to say yes. Some will refuse to be healed. A few will insist that they’re fine just as they are.
Jesus teaches us what the renewed creation will look like:
We will forgive those who offend us, especially the ones who hurt us and demean us and slander us. Instead of striking back, we will turn the other cheek.
We will never see another person as a mere means to our own gratification or advancement or amusement. No one will seem an inconvenience to us. Everyone will be worthy of our respect.
Our well-being cannot be separated from the well-being of everyone else. If we give a cup of water or a crust of bread to a stranger, we will be sure that we’ve comforted Jesus himself.
We will even love our enemies. They too are children of God, even when they cannot see us in the same terms.
Jesus means to turn the world upside down, to make Isaiah’s vision into a reality:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
In Jesus, God means to do more than cure a few diseases, mend some crooked bones, and bring sight to a lucky few blind people. God is reweaving the fabric of the entire creation. Restoring it to the peace that arises only from justice for all.
Today, people are asking the same question that John the Baptist asked. Only, they ask from the depths of cynicism. “So you say Jesus is the one? Really?” And I for one cannot blame them.
Too often the Church represents Jesus as if he’s interested only in narrow moral conformity or theological correctness. We portray him as a mere gatekeeper. The one who decides which person goes to paradise and who should writhe in eternal torment.
But Jesus himself said that we would know him by the healing he brings when he shows up. And Jesus created the Church to continue his work of healing. His charge to the the Church is clear.
Yearn to be a part of the healing that Jesus is bringing. Go into the world. Saturate this planet with the loving presence of Jesus.
We can bring good news to the working poor, to the handicapped, to the mentally ill, and to those who have fallen on hard times.
Instead of seeking merely our own comfort and security, we can insist on an economy with jobs that pay decent wages, on housing markets that regular people can afford, on schools that educate all social classes equally, on proper care for the handicapped, on humane treatment for the mentally ill, and on programs that offer a hand up when people struggle financially.
If we want people to believe that Jesus is the one, we have act as if we want this world to be healed. When we bring Jesus’ healing with us into this world, then those who wonder and doubt will have a reason to believe.