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What Do You Want Me To Do For You?

Date: 15/03/2015/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Good morning.  We are continuing our sermon series based on the book, ‘Jesus Is The Question’ and today we are looking at the question of healing. Let me ask you, when we talk about healing, what comes first to your mind? Do you think of the physical healing of the body (like the healing of a disability), the healing of an illness or chronic pain, or perhaps the emotional healing of a broken heart, which can sometimes involve physical pain and symptoms as well?

I’m not sure what comes to your mind this morning when I mention the word ‘healing’. Maybe you think of Rose who passed away last week after a long struggle with cancer and you wonder where is God’s healing in all of this? Or maybe you think of your parent or friend who is suffering from ill health and you wonder if your prayers for their healing will be answered? Or perhaps you are struggling with some form of physical or emotional pain at this point in your life and you wonder if you will ever stop hurting and experience the healing of your body and your heart?

Christians have many thoughts and beliefs where it comes to healing and some of our beliefs vary greatly. Some people believe that God will heal our every illness while some believe it depends on God’s will for us and we have to learn how to accept the situation, no matter how things turn out. Some are able to respond with great faith and hope even as they struggle through long-term sickness while others may be left jaded and bitter about the outcome. So to be honest, I really struggled as I was preparing this sermon. I’m not sure what your personal experience and understanding of healing is but I know for some of us, it has not been an easy journey. So I would just like to invite you to ponder over some thoughts together with me this morning, ok?

Will you pray with me before we begin?

Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I struggled over the writing of this sermon because there are so many dimensions and possibilities that we could cover where it comes to the issue of healing. More than that, I’m sure each of us has our own personal beliefs and experiences where it comes to healing. Some of us may have experienced healing in some way in our lives and we’re very thankful. Some of us may not have experienced healing in the way that we had hoped and we struggle with bitterness and resentment. And maybe for some of us, we are still trying to figure out our own beliefs with regards to healing. So I asked God what should I share today…what does God want us to hear?

I’m sure you have heard stories of miraculous instantaneous healing before but to be honest, those are rare, few and far between. So how do we make sense of healing in our day and age? How is healing today similar or different from those in the gospel accounts? Let’s look at our bible passage for today and see what we can glean from it.

This gospel account is from Mark 10:46-52 about Jesus’ encounter with a blind man at Jericho.

Mark 10:46-52 (ESV)
Jesus Heals Blind Bartimaeus
46 And they came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a great crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way.

What are some things we can learn from this passsge?

1)    God knows us by name

Healings and encounters with Jesus in the gospels are highly relational.

Here in the account given by Mark, he is careful to identify the blind man by name. This blind man was a beggar. Certainly not someone important or famous. But Mark identifies him by name. Not just by his first name or by some casual nickname but by his first and last names — Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus. And Jesus calls Bartimaeus to him. That is how God knows us. God knows each of us by name. God calls us by name. Have you ever been in hospital and the doctor doesn’t really know you by name but by your ailment? “Oh, that woman with a broken arm or that man with diabetes…” Well, Jesus wasn’t like that. Jesus knew Bartimaeus not by his ailment but by his name.

Interestingly, Bartimaeus also grasps who Jesus is. Among the crowds that surrounded Jesus, he correctly identifies Jesus as the Son of David. He is one of the very few who calls out to Jesus using the title, Son of David. Despite being physically blind, Bartimaeus recognizes the royal lineage of Jesus. He sees the royal dimensions of Jesus’ identity and believes that Jesus is able to show him special mercy and heal him.

I’m not sure if you or your loved one is dealing with physical illness or pain this morning. I’m not even sure if any of us will experience healing like Bartimaeus did. The one thing I can assure you is that God knows you by name. God knit you together in your mother’s womb and God knows you intimately. God sees you. The question is: do you see God? Can you trace the hand of God at work in your life? Do you know God’s heart for you intimately?

2)    Jesus is interested in our whole person

We are whole beings. There is no neat division between the spiritual, physical and emotional. Each aspect affects the other intrinsically and each makes up the whole of who we are. Often when we talk about healing, the first thing that comes to our minds is the healing of the body. Or perhaps the healing of a broken heart. In the gospels, do we see Jesus care for those who are suffering from physical or emotional pain or sickness? Yes, absolutely. But we also see that Jesus is often more concerned about their spiritual well-beings. In every encounter, whether physical healing takes place or not, Jesus told  the people he wanted them to see beyond the signs and miracles and to see God. That’s what truly matters to Jesus. He wants us to be able to see beyond the outward signs and to see the God who made us and loves us for all of eternity. It is not just what is happening to our temporal bodies. It is our eternal well-being that God is deeply interested in. That’s why we see that this gospel account doesn’t just end with Bartimaeus recovering his sight. He recoved his sight and started following Jesus. It wasn’t just about the recovery of his physical sight. It was the opening of his spiritual eyes. He finally found the one who made him whole.

3)    Jesus cares about our deepest yearnings

Notice in verse 51, Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Why does Jesus have to ask? Everyone around must have been thinking, “The guy is blind! Of course he wants to see!” Most of us have the tendency to assume that we know what another person needs or wants. But Jesus is showing respect for the man by asking him. He is not presuming to know what he wants. He is asking and listening. It is Jesus’ way of recognizing that the blind man is not defined by his disability. Jesus’ question is a way of relating to the man as a human being. It was also his way of inviting him into a healing relationship.

Perhaps what the blind man wants, more than anything else in the world, is something other than the restoration of his sight. What might be his deepest yearning? Maybe he desired reconciliation with his family. Maybe what he wanted most was to share his life with somebody. Jesus didn’t presume. He wanted to hear what was on his heart.

In the same way, Jesus cares about our deepest yearnings. What is your deepest yearning? It’s no coincidence that this message on healing is linked to the question of our longings. And it’s no coincidence that the first chapter I was allocated to preach on in this series was on the question of longing. Jesus cares about your longings. What or who do we long for? What and who do we yearn for even in the midst of sickness and pain?

You know, the question “What do you want me to do for you?” is one of Jesus’ favourite questions. If you think about it, it’s actually a very unexpected question for the Saviour of the world. Unusual for someone in power to ask this kind of question. It’s more like a servant’s question: what would you like me to do for you?

In Bartimaeus’ case, he responds by asking Jesus to restore his sight. Jesus tells him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” But instead of going his own way, he starts to follow Jesus. The healing partnership turns into a relationship between teacher and disciple.

Some of you may say, “All this is well and good. But what happens when we do not experience the physical healing that we yearn and ask God for?”

That is a very valid question and it’s one that I have no easy answers for. But as I was struggling over the writing of this sermon, I came across two stories that I think answer this question in a more powerful and poignant way than anything I could preach today.

Joni Eareckson Tada

I’m sure some of us have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada? She had a diving accident when she was 18 and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. She said she wanted desperately to be healed. She would ask God to heal her and strain to move her shoulders so that she could get up from her bed and walk, like in the gospel accounts but she never could. She said it felt like Jesus had passed her by. And she thought, “What kind of Saviour is that? What kind of healer, what kind of deliverer would refuse the prayer of a paralytic?” So she become very depressed and bitter.

But in the midst of the darkness, hymns would surface in her heart and she would start singing, “Abide with me…When other helpers fail and comforts flee, help of the helpless, I’m so helpless, O abide with me.” And she cried out to God and said, “Please show me how to live.” And she slowly realized that what she was searching for is a deeper healing. Although physical healing was a big deal to her, she realized that her soul was a much bigger deal to God. So she asked God for a deeper healing. And for the last 46 years, that has been her prayer.

So as she prayed for deeper healing, did God heal her of her paralysis? No, she has not been healed of her quadriplegia. In fact, as the years went by, she also suffered from crippling chronic pain and breast cancer. Allow me to read to you from her own account in her own words:

“Well it was early on in my marriage to Ken, maybe about three or four years, and he was really starting to struggle with the 24/7 non-stop day-to-day routine of my disability. And one night before we went to bed, he sat on the end of the mattress and slumped-shouldered confessed, “I can’t do this. I feel so trapped. Joni, I just feel trapped.”

Out of nowhere I spat out, “Well where was your head when we got married? Didn’t you know it was going to be like this? Didn’t you understand I was a quadriplegic? Didn’t you realize it was going to be this hard?” As soon as I said those words, I wish I could have stuffed them back in my mouth. And I quickly apologized.  “O Ken, I don’t know what got into me, that’s just not like me. That’s not like me at all to say that.”

But you know what? It is like me. It is just like me. And so God does not remove the hardships. He allows them, purposes them, plans them, ordains them, permits them and pain and problems and paralysis become the lemon that He kept squeezing in my life, revealing all sorts of things from which I needed to repent…bitterness, spitefulness, selfishness. I don’t like it when God squeezes that lemon, but I need it. My disability even to this day so many years later is still squeezing me, revealing the not so pretty stuff of which I am made. And in the last ten years or so of my marriage to Ken, chronic pain has been a big issue. I remember oh maybe ten years ago, I was in the worst of my pain…I’m talking about mind-bending, jaw-splitting pain and Ken had to get up extra times at night to turn me. This went on for several weeks. But one night before we turned out the lights, he sat on that bed again and confessed, “I feel trapped.  I can’t do this.” But this time my response was, “O, sweetheart, I don’t blame you one bit. If I were in your position, I’d feel exactly the same way. I would feel trapped. So I’m not going to fault you or scold you, I just want you to know I’m going to cheer you on and pray for you somehow that the Lord Jesus can get us through this. And I just want you to know that I believe that God’s grace is going to help us, sweetheart. We can do this.”

It was a visible weight that lifted off my husband’s shoulders. I could just see it. Anxiety, fear just seemed to dissipate. It was a huge turning point in our marriage.  God was doing a deeper healing in both of us and I tell you what, we needed it. There’s nothing sweeter than finding Jesus in your hell. And Ken and I are so grateful for the affliction. I know that sounds strange, but all of it helps us stay hungry for the bread of life, it helps us stay thirsty for the living water. And suffering is this…it’s not just a lemon, it’s a textbook that keeps teaching us about who we really are.”

“And suffering is this…it’s not just a lemon, it’s a textbook that keeps teaching us about who we really are.”

Paul Kalanithi

The second story I read two days ago was about a Stanford University neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi who died March 9, 2015 (just a few days ago) at the age of 37.

He was in his sixth year of residency when he was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. For a non-smoker, that was shocking news. He wrote essays for The New York Times about his journey and insights grappling with mortality and the meaning he continued to experience despite his illness. After his diagnosis in 2013, he and his wife, Lucy decided they wanted to have a child. And Elizabeth “Cady” Kalanithi was born in 2014.

He closed one of his last essays with these words for his infant daughter:

“Yet one thing cannot be robbed of her futurity: my daughter, Cady. I hope I’ll live long enough that she has some memory of me. Words have a longevity I do not. I had thought I could leave her a series of letters — but what would they really say? I don’t know what this girl will be like when she is 15; I don’t even know if she’ll take to the nickname we’ve given her. There is perhaps only one thing to say to this infant, who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past.

That message is simple: When you come to one of the many moments in life when you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more, but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”

Reading what he wrote moved me deeply. Paul Kalanithi didn’t get better. In fact, he died. But he faced his mortality with courage, purpose and insight. His daughter brought him a joy unknown to him in all his prior years. For a brief moment in his life, he knew a special joy before his physical body gave way. Perhaps we can say his daughter brought healing to his life even though it may not be what most of us first think of when we talk about healing. But perhaps to him, the healing his daughter brought was profound beyond words.

I wonder if there are deep truths we can learn from these two lives…and the lives of all the precious ones who have passed before us. Can we still have hope even when we don’t experience physical healing? Is God still at work in our lives even when death is imminent? Can we still experience joy and spiritual wholeness even in the darkest of times?

Honestly, I don’t have all the answers for you..or for me. The perennial question of “How can God be good if evil or suffering exists?” continues to haunt us. All I can do is to encourage you to not close your minds to God when things don’t go the way you had hoped. I invite you to keep your minds open and continue the dialogue with God and with us, your community, as we journey together through the good and the bad.

And to know that God loves and cares for you relentlessly…regardless.

Today, we pondered these three things together:

1)   God knows us by name
2)   Jesus is interested in your whole person
3)   Jesus cares about your deepest yearnings

So what is it that you truly want Jesus to do for you?

What will you say when he looks you in the eye and asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?”