Easter Encounters: Encountering Healing
22 May 2022
Rev Miak Siew
Today, we come across a familiar story – the healing at the pool of Bethesda. You may be familiar with it because I have preached on it several times, and I have made references to it very often. And while it may be familiar to you – it is definitely familiar to me – I find something new in it every time I revisit this story. Let us encounter this healing story once again this season of Easter.
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5:1 After this there was a festival of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes.
In these lay many invalids–blind, lame, and paralyzed.
One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.
When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?”
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”
Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.”
At once the man was made well, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a sabbath.
<M> What stood out for you from this passage?
Some of you may notice “Stand up, take your mat and walk” – an echo of another healing account from chapter 2 of Mark’s Gospel. Remember the one where the man’s friends made a hole in the roof to get him to be near Jesus? Jesus asked the scribes present “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, “Your sins are forgiven”, or to say, “Stand up and take your mat and walk”?” (Mark 2:9)
I will come back to “Stand up, take your mat and walk” later.
Some of you may notice the way the sick man replied Jesus. Jesus asked him a Yes / No question – “Do you want to be made well?” But the sick man dodged the question.
Some of you may notice that Jesus healed on the Sabbath – and that one of the actions Jesus told him to do – take your mat – broke the Sabbath law too.
What stood out for me is how this passage showed the difference between being cured and being healed. (I understand / interpret being made well as being healed)
<M> What is the difference between being cured and being healed?
When we say someone is cured, we mean that the ailment or illness the person is suffering from has been resolved or gone away.
When we say someone is healed, we mean that the person has recovered to a state of well-being.
Both can happen – though they may happen in different time frames.
As I have said earlier when I welcome Jonathan back to on the prayer leader roster, that last June, Jonathan had a liver infection, and he was admitted the ICU. He suffered from septic shock and as many of you know, almost died then. While he may be cured of that infection, healing is still taking a while. He had to go through several procedures the past year and the healing journey continues – both physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The healing takes longer than the curing.
<M> Is it possible to be cured, but not healed? Can you think of some examples?
So, as some of you have experienced after getting Covid, you may be cured of Covid-19, but there may be some way to go before you will consider yourself fully healed.
Or you may have a fracture like Molly who had a fall – and the doctors had to put a metal plate and screws to hold the pieces of the bone – in a way, the bone isn’t fractured anymore, but it will take some time for healing.kk
This ”being cured but not healed” may not be physical too.
Some folks may have experienced something traumatic and may have been hurt or harmed, and while that incident has passed for some time, they are still triggered by experiences that remind them of the traumatic incident.
I know – because I have such an experience. I have been burned by a hot surface (not badly) as a child – and because of that incident, I am pyrophobic and I don’t react well to hot objects.
Some of you may notice sometimes when we are passing microphones to each other here that we would ask the other person to put it down instead of passing the microphone directly to each other because we have been “zapped” before. The incident has passed – “cured” in a way – but we are still not healed.
Some of us may have been betrayed by people before. That incident may be over, and the fallout from that betrayal may be over as well, but we may not be healed yet – we may still be distrustful of people.
Being cured yet not healed can also happen beyond the context of individual healing. It can happen in society too. When we deal with specific problems without addressing the systemic issues that give rise to these problems, we can cure the problem, without healing. The problem very likely will happen again, in one form or another.
At the risk of oversimplifying, I would give you an example – it is just like catching a thief and throwing the thief in jail, without addressing the underlying societal problems that drives the thief to steal.
It may just be a story – Les Miserable starts with Jean Valjean sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserable, was on his way to work in February 1846 when he witnessed a thin young man with a loaf of bread under his arm was being led away by police. Bystanders said he was being arrested for stealing the loaf. He was dressed in mud-spattered clothes, his bare feet thrust into clogs, his ankles wrapped in bloodied rags in lieu of stockings. “It made me think,” wrote Hugo. “The man was no longer a man in my eyes but the specter of la misère, of poverty.”
Catching the thief doesn’t bring about the healing required to prevent theft again. Addressing poverty will.
So we can be “cured,” yet not healed.
Then what about the reverse?
<M> Is it possible to be healed, but not cured? Can you think of some examples?
Yes, it is possible to be healed but not cured.
I have seen this in some PLHIV (People living with HIV). They have come to terms with their illness, and have found themselves at peace with their condition. They take care of themselves by being on anti-retroviral medication so their viral load can be reduced to undetectable levels (because zero=zero), they work through the underlying issues they were struggling with, and they figure out how to find meaning in their lives.
I have seen people experiencing great tragedy, and while what happened cannot be undone, they found ways to come to terms with the tragedy, and figure out how to make meaning of what happened, and grow out of that tragedy.
I have personally witnessed situations where one is healed but not cured in my experiences walking with people with terminal illness. Many of them reach a point of where they were at peace with their illness that they live out the last days of their lives well. They may do what Kerry Egan, a hospice chaplain, calls the “spiritual work of dying”- “the work of finding or making meaning of one’s life, the experiences it’s contained and the people who have touched it, the betrayals, wounds, unfinished business, and unrealized dreams.”
Some of us may be doing physiotherapy or rehabilitation exercises to address some injury, illness or physical condition. That can be circumstances of experiencing healing but not cured.
Then there are circumstances that is not about physical healing but emotional and mental healing. Learning to deal with the grief from losing a loved one, emerging out from a breakup, coping with changes in life – these can all be situations where healing can take place without a change of the circumstances (the curing).
Jesus asked the man “Do you want to be made well?”
<M> What do you think being made well looks like to this man?
It is not only about being able to walk again.
It is also about how he sees himself. Will he be able to break out of his old mentality of helplessness and hopelessness? Will he be able to adapt to the new circumstances? Will he be able to thrive?
And beyond how he sees himself – how will he be treated by the people around him? How will they react to his healing? Will they still treat him as an outcast? Will they find ways to include him?
“Do you want to be made well?”
<M> How does being made well look like to you?
Being made well is at the end of the day, Shalom. Being in right relationship with God, self, others, and all of creation.
I made a less ableist and more inclusive translation in my sermon “Welcome Home,” part of the Home is the Way sermon series at the beginning of this year. I translated “Stand up, take your mat and walk” to “Rise, Take Up Your Mat and Live.”
Rise – Rising requires us to have hope, to have faith in God, to trust in God’s promise that God is always with us, that we are beloved, and God will not abandon us.
Take Up Your Mat – the spiritual work of healing. Whether it is to make peace with our past, learning to accept our circumstances (what we cannot change), find/ make meaning of our lives. Engaged in the hard work to move beyond where we were, what we were used to.
Live – We live into the participation of God’s transforming work in the world.
There is a Hebrew term I learn from my Jewish friends in seminary, and I hear Rabbi Miriam and Rabbi Beni talk a lot about – “Tikkun Olam”
Tikkun means to repair or improve. Olam means the entire world. In Jewish teachings, any activity that improves the world, bringing the world closer Shalom – the state where all things are in right relationship with one another.
I return back to Les Miserable – and rather than telling you, I want to show you.
Instead of punishing Jean Valjean, the bishop tells the constables, he told them that he did indeed give Jean the silver he stole, and even passes him the more expensive candlesticks and tells him to lead an honest life.
Healing doesn’t come about from punishing someone, but showing someone grace.
There are many levels of healing that God is doing –
Healing of the individual
Healing of community
Healing of society
Healing of the world
Do you want to be made well?
Do you want the community to be made well?
Do you want society to be made well?
Do you want the world to be made well?
We can say “but Jesus said there will always be the poor amongst us, so we can’t eradicate poverty.” We can say we are powerless to change things. We are helpless. The rich and powerful control everything.
We can play victims.
But Jesus asked a Yes/ No question.
Do we trust in Jesus? Do we trust God’s promises?
Take up your mat!
**It isn’t easy. We mustn’t oversimply the journey of healing. I want to share a little more (this came to mind when I woke up this morning)
Jonathan’s journey wasn’t easy. He was fighting for his life when he was admitted to the ICU. His body was not in a good shape because of the septic shock. The low blood pressure prevented blood from flowing to his hands and feet.
Because of COVID – it was difficult to see Jonathan. We could only connect via video calls. When we finally got to visit Jonathan at home, he was better, but a large portion of his hands and feet were darkened. We knew that he may lose his hands and feet because the lack of blood meant that of the tissue has died.
Through the weeks and months – there was progress – and the next time we visited Jonathan, I was stunned. There was a lot of healing. It wasn’t complete – but it was a miracle. Jonathan coming back to lead prayer today to me is a miracle.
Rising and trusting in God isn’t easy for Jonathan. And I want to share his story because we often want healing to be a return to what was – but that usually doesn’t happen. Healing means that we are well, even though things are not what they used to be. Healing also includes our mental and emotional state, and our acceptance of what is.
I hope to encourage those of us going through difficult times – that it is ok to struggle, to doubt – and God is with us through all the way. God’s promise isn’t that we will not go through difficult times, but God will be with us all the way.
I hope that we can be part of the healing God is doing in the world – that be part of the tikkun olam that is working towards shalom.
Allow yourself to be God’s instruments of love and peace.