Bruce Epperly brings to a close his series of four posts reflecting on the possibility of divine healing. The reflections emerge from his recently published book -- Healing Marks (Energion, 2012). Bruce's theological orientation is relational. As a Process Theologian, he believes that there is a connection between spirit and matter, and thus healing is possible. In this reflection he looks to the story of Bartimaeus, the man born blind. What does the healing of Bartimaeaus say to us as 21st century scientifically sophisticated persons? Is healing possible? What is its nature? With questions like these in mind, let us hear from Bruce.
Urgency and Gentleness – A Reflection on the Healing of Bartimaeus
Is God’s quest for healing unilateral or relational? Does God take into account our freedom and creativity in relationship to God’s own freedom and creativity? Do we have freedom to “yes” or “no” to God, and even propose “new” possibilities that add something to God’s activity in the world?
Agency and urgency are at the heart of the healing of Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:46-52) Desperate for a cure, Bartimaeus cries out to the healer Jesus as he passes by. Bartimaeus’ plea is so insistent and urgent that his companions try to muzzle him. But, the more they order him to be quiet, the louder this sight-impaired man shouts. Sensing this may be his last chance to regain his eyesight, Bartimaeus cries for mercy over and over again. Finally, he attracts the attention of the Healer, who calls Bartimaeus to his side and asks what seems to be an obvious, and yet improbable question: “What do you want me to do for you?”
In many ways, Jesus’ response to Bartimaeus is echoed in the story of the man at the pool. (John 5:1-9) Although it was obvious to any observer that the man was paralyzed, Jesus once again asks a curious question: “Do you want to be made well?”
“Duh….Thank you Captain Obvious!” as the Urban Dictionary reports. The answer should be clear, “I want to be cured, and stand up and walk?” But, as “totally obvious” as Jesus’ question is, the man at the pool comes up with “reasons” or “excuses” rather than unequivocal “yes.”
In both narratives, Jesus’ approach is relational and open-ended. He does not initially tell the two persons with disabilities what is planning to do for them. Nor does he cure them immediately and without their consent. Despite Jesus’ ability to work within natural causation to restore sight and strength, he makes room for his companions to define the healing they seek. Jesus’ approach is persuasive rather than coercive; he encourages freedom and creative among the vulnerable. Although Jesus’ aim is abundant life, the quality of their response shapes how Jesus responds; it also determines the healing they receive. And, in the case of the man at the pool, the cure of his paralysis is part of a larger healing process, moving him from passivity to agency, and victimization to empowerment.
My recent book, Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel, affirms the relational nature of healing. Whether we see these stories as representative of Jesus’ whole person ministry, embracing body, mind, spirit, and relationships, in God’s quest for abundant life, or see the healings as relating primarily to social and spiritual transformation, it is clear that our agency is essential to the healing process. We may need a physical cure, but we almost always need spiritual, volitional, and emotional transformation to claim our well-being. We must choose wholeness, regardless of our medical or spiritual “miracles” that are available to us.
Jesus’ “methodology” of healing often appears as a form of spiritual direction, or friendship. Not content with a unilateral solution, Jesus invites persons to consider the deepest desires of their hearts and reflect on what they really want in a particular moment of decision. This is not just the case in terms of the questions addressed to Bartimaeus and the man at the pool; many other healings are relational and evocative. They involve decisions about how we will respond to God’s invitation to abundant life: four men overcome obstacles and choose to lower their friend through a roof they have just damaged; a woman chooses to leave the solitude of her outcast status, inspired step by step by her faith in Jesus’ healing power; Jairus and his wife maintain hope despite the crowd’s assertion that their daughter is dead; a foreign mother does anything to facilitate her daughter’s healing; another sight impaired man remains faithful in spite of receiving only a partial healing; Levi the tax collector quits his job to follow Jesus; a few people in Jesus’ home town choose to belief despite the overall skepticism about the healer.
Every moment is decisive: it involves our turning toward or away from the highest possibilities for ourselves and those around us. God presents visions and energy; our vocation is to ponder how we shall respond and live in accordance with our responses. Sometimes a solution is obvious and we turn away (for examples of turning from health to disease by family members sabotaging the quest for wholeness, see Scott Peck’s People of the Lie.) But, when we open to the possibilities of the moment – of this moment – creative transformation is possible and new spiritual and physical energies are released, sometimes eventuating in unexpected changes in physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.
So, listen throughout the day, perhaps you can hear God’s whisper, “What do you want me to do for you?” or “Do you want to be healed?” In the intricacy of call and response, what will be your reply? How will you respond to God’s invitation to health, creativity, and freedom?
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty three books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He recently served as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion). Healing Marks is now available for Kindle.