The Common Good
February 2006

Healing People, Healing Nations

by Robert Roth | February 2006

Is 'Get Rich or Die Tryin' just a current movie or is it also a national mantra?

With one hand God “builds up Jerusalem” and with the other “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (Psalm 147:2-3). While structures must change for people to find healing, individuals must give up their sinful ways and turn to God to redeem their nations.

Jesus’ healing stories highlighted in this month’s lections form neither the alpha nor the omega of his ministry. In their larger context, these healings follow his proclamation of the coming reign of God and precede his journey toward the cross and resurrection. Healing is the byproduct of lives that are deeply touched by love and liberation, whether that liberation is from brutal oppression or one’s own sinfulness.

Jesus’ ministry takes place under Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee, a protectorate of the Roman Empire. The healing power of compassion and sacrifice faces the triumphal power of systems striving for hegemony.

Any parallels with our search for healing and salvation—as persons and as a people—in our time and place? Is Get Rich or Die Tryin’ just a current movie or is it also a national mantra? In our pursuit of wealth and power, it is easy to overlook our own health and, intentionally or not, stand in the way of wholeness for countless others.

In the weeks ahead, the prophet and the Savior respond to the great good news of ascension, healing, and transfiguration with “keep silent,” “say nothing to anyone,” and “tell no one.” What’s up with that?

Robert Roth is a writer and social activist in East Lansing, Michigan.

February 5

Dignity

Isaiah 40:21-31; Psalm 147:1-11, 20; 1 Corinthians 9:16-23; Mark 1:29-39

Giving “power to the faint” and strengthening “the powerless” (Isaiah 40:29), God is the author of human dignity—the key requisite for human rights and social justice. The one who numbers and names the stars heals the brokenhearted and ministers to their wounds (Psalm 147:3-4).

The prophet Isaiah offers counsel and clear-eyed challenges through the reigns of four kings, persistently envisioning the sovereign of history lifting up the lowly and affirming the royal worth of all. Mark’s gospel emphasizes the dignity with which Jesus treats those he encounters. Jesus touches, heals, and lifts up all (Mark 1:31)—even women, to the astonishment of the Jews of that day. Even Gentile women!

Jesus takes the initiative in curing Simon’s mother-in-law of a fever. His teaching and preaching are consistently done in the context of curing the sicknesses and casting out the demons of those who have been most stripped of their dignity. To move throughout Galilee sowing human dignity and life-changing hope is to nourish the ground for a transformed world. This invariably challenges the social order, the status quo.

So, too, in 1 Corinthians 9, Paul becomes a slave for the slave, weak for the weak, and works inside and outside the law so that he might facilitate God’s salvation—bringing the fullness of redeemed life—for the defeated and downcast. And for those who despair violently? Again, the first step is dignity.

Last November, more than 7,000 cars were set ablaze in Paris suburbs by French teenagers and young adults of African descent. Raging from social, political, and economic confinement, these youth lashed out at symbols of mobility: automobiles. These youth have a fever, too. Gripped by an anger and hopelessness shocking even to their Muslim parents and grandparents, they are making destructive, unthinking choices. Law and order may quiet matters for a moment, but the real road to redemption—personal and political—will be the restoration of human dignity.

February 12

Dirtiness?

2 Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45

In the five decades after Mohandas Gandhi led India to freedom, not just from England but toward a society free of caste discrimination, Dalits (“untouchables”) slowly became judges and cabinet members. On July 25, 1997, a Dalit—Hinduism’s lowest caste—became president of India. Kocheril Raman Narayanan had been an author, a diplomat, and a scholar, and that day he came to symbolize healing change for countless “untouchables” and a vast, powerful nation.

Narayanan was the third son of Raman Vaidyan, who practiced herbal medicine in a small village in southern India. Surely the father instilled in the son ways of moving from infection to cleanliness, whether real or perceived.

“Be made clean!” These are the words of Jesus as he touches a leper. “Immediately the leprosy left him,” we are told, “and he was made clean” (Mark 1:42). The prophet Elisha sends a messenger to Naaman with some directions concerning his leprosy: “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). He did, and he was.

Exegetes suggest that both of these leprosy stories could refer to something other than the lethal, wildly contagious leprosy. Either could have been vitiligo or some other skin condition. This is significant because so many cutaneous disorders can be caused by extreme stress or psychological trauma.

What might oppression, emotional abuse, or seeing oneself as dirty do to a person’s skin? To a people’s spirit? How about loving words and touch? Or the cleansing waters of powerful, ancient rituals?

Whatever social placement, medical disease, or psychological condition makes one “untouchable,” a person might sing: “I cried to you for help” and be able to one day celebrate how “you have healed me” (Psalm 30:2).

Touching and being touched by God’s healing power, may we dismantle caste systems that bring estrangement and injustice.

February 19

Deliverance

Isaiah 43:18-25; Psalm 41; 2 Corinthians 1:18-22; Mark 2:1-11

This week’s passages connect sickness with sin, both within a person and broadly among people. The voice in Psalm 41 pleads for God to “heal me, for I have sinned against you.” If the cause of this illness is sin, note who have been delivered from “their sickbed,” “illness,” and “all their infirmities” (Psalm 41:3-4): “Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble.” Perhaps the sin is isolation from others and callousness to the weak. In that case, compassion and justice-making are good for your health!

Even as the one is called to serve the many, the faith of the many in Mark 2 brings the deliverance, and healing, of the one. Jesus begins the healing of this paralytic with “Son, your sins are forgiven,” but not before the faithful lower the man through the roof on a mat to Jesus (Mark 2:5).

The sin-sick people of Israel burden God in Isaiah 43. Speaking through the prophet, God nonetheless announces that “I am about to do a new thing,” “make a way in the wilderness,” and—graciously—“not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:19, 25). Because of their covenant with God, they are delivered. First, they must be forgiven.

Few Christians would disagree that torture is sinful. The debate now has shifted from whether U.S. soldiers and CIA agents are torturing enemy combatants and suspects to when, where, and how often. Because of new reports of medical involvement in coercive interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association have sent representatives to the base and weighed in on the appropriateness of “behavioral consultants.” In November, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution 90 to 9 opposing any U.S. use of torture on prisoners.

Heal us, O God, for we have sinned against you. Make us well, we pray. Help us deliver the enemy from torture, that you might deliver us all in the day of trouble. Save us not just from physical paralysis, but from a paralysis of conscience.

February 26

Discretion

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9

In November 2004, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blocked a new state law that would raise the ratio of nurses to patients from one nurse for six patients to one for five. He drove the matter into court for a yearlong battle. Soon, the verbal guns were blazing. Schwarzenegger missed the opportunity to tone down the rhetoric and make compromises in other budgets for the sake of human health.

Enter the nurses, who here typify the healing, redemptive, life-giving way of the cross. The California Nurses Association organized more than 100 public demonstrations, calmly and persistently opposing Schwarzenegger in support of their patients’ needs. In the end, Schwarzenegger dropped the suit.

The nursing drama suggests how bravado and bluster can never replace patient diligence as the present is re-ordered for a better future. Discretion really is the better part of valor. This is why, in 2 Kings 2, Elisha calls the prophets to silence as Elijah’s ascension approaches and Jesus directs the disciples to “tell no one” about the transfiguration (Mark 9:9).

Like Elisha before him, Jesus knows the larger drama is yet to be completed. For Jesus, the road will lead to the cross, then resurrection. Be discreet, he says. One day, a voice will again bridge the Savior and the prophets: “Our God comes and does not keep silent” (Psalm 50:3).

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