Tag Archives: Healing

Flames of hate and of love.

Matthew gospel chapter 12.

It’s been a terrible week for religion hasn’t it?! Here in the United Kingdom lots of us are hooked on a television dramatization of the Wolf Hall novels by Hilary Mantel about Tudor England when Thomas Cromwell was advising king Henry VIII. In those days we burnt alive those we called heretics: that is people who disagreed with us. Few people are more dangerous than those who think they know exactly what God wants and have the power to pursue their beliefs in God’s name. Of course ISIS is utterly unrepresentative of Islam today. Let’s be profoundly thankful for that. But they think they know what God wants and in God’s name they have burnt a man alive. In 16th century Tudor England religion and politics couldn’t be separated out. They burnt people alive because they were afraid of political upheaval if they allowed ‘heretical’ religious ideas to get a foothold. They could have taught ISIS a ghastly thing or two.

In chapter 12 of his gospel Matthew presents us with some stories about religious leaders who were sure they also knew what God wanted. Their certainty would lead rapidly to the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.

Look at verses 9 to 14 of chapter 12 – the story of a man with a withered hand. His condition was presumably seen as ‘just the way things are’. When Jesus appears in the synagogue the congregation gets nervous. Jesus already has a reputation for not accepting the way things are. What will he get up to here, today? What we are really nervous about, they must have been thinking, is the way he keeps breaking the rules that God has laid down.

In Mark’s version of this story Jesus asks the man to stand out. Jesus is asking him to take a personal risk, to take a step of faith, to use that part of his body that was not withered. So there they are, the two of them, Jesus and the man, standing there in full view of a crowd who are just waiting to see if Jesus will break the religious rules. They expect Jesus will and they are ready to pounce. They are so rule-bound they can’t see the love-in-action that knows when rules should be broken. They can’t deny the facts. People are being healed. But people who break the religious rules must be in the service of Satan mustn’t they? They can’t be one of us can they? Being rule bound can lead to cynicism and denial about love-in-action as we see in verses 22 to 30 of this chapter.

In his book, ‘The Crucified Is No Stranger’, Sebastian Moore says “We will murder to protect our mediocrity” – the mediocrity of keeping religious rules in the name of God, of accepting the way things are. Jesus is more concerned with the sheep that has fallen into a pit (verse 11). The needs of the sheep, or the man with the withered hand, overrule the religious demand to keep the Sabbath. Love overrules mediocrity; in this case the mediocrity of law-keeping. “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (verse 12) Sebastian Moore suggests there is an innocent child within each of us and we are afraid of our vulnerability. If we gave the child in us any chance who knows what might happen? Everything might go to pot. Us adults need order and stability. We cannot allow the reign of love to have any part in our safely ordered society. So, out of fear of that vulnerable part of us, Sebastian Moore suggests we will sometimes murder and lie, even crucify, just as Jesus was crucified, to protect our defences and preserve our mediocrity.

A truly religious community (no matter what its rules and beliefs) will be one in which people are being healed (in the broadest sense of that word) in ways that challenge the accepted limits of what is reasonable and what is ‘natural’. Such healing will cause wonder and sometimes persecution.

It’s open. Come in!

Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!                                   Matthew chapter 7 verses 7 – 11

William Temple, an Archbishop of Canterbury in the 1940s, said, “When I pray coincidences happen.” My personal experience verifies the truth of this. Yet it was precisely this experience of ‘answers’ to prayer that undermined my traditional belief in a personal God ‘out there’ somewhere managing the affairs of this world (caricatured as the bearded old man above the skies). Why did this ‘God’ apparently ignore so many requests? There have been times when I wonder if my prayers have an almost geographical range. Blunderbuss requests for peace in Iraq or the poor in Africa have no (immediate) discernable effect, whereas sniper rifle shots at a specific, limited target seem to fall within the Archbishop’s truth. Please note that I speak here very tentatively. In my last post I referred to my unease when this mysterious process becomes the primary focus of religious events from Lourdes pilgrimages to Pentecostal healing services. Most of them are concerned with healing of one sort or another and of course I deeply desire healing: for people I love, for people I hear about in the media. The suffering of the world moves me.

The Archbishop’s point about coincidences can include physical and mental healing. Again, I can verify the truth of this from my own experience but still I find myself in the presence of mystery. Trying to explain it gets us into real trouble, especially the temptation to think that we can manipulate the process for our own selfish ends. (There are warnings about this kind of temptation a few verses after today’s passage and I’ll explore them in my next post.)

This morning in bed I was flooded by a sense of profound peace. What more could I want? There was no point in asking for anything. To do so would have been to superimpose my puny desire on this ineffable mystery. What I personally want seems pointless in the midst of such reality. So, still speaking very tentatively, I read “Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find……” in the context of the rest of chapters 5 to 7. Apart from physical healing the question arises, how desperate am I to find the narrow gate; to enter the realm of the rule of love; to begin the rehabilitation process for my addiction to anxiety, resentment and all the rest of the mental junk that afflicts us? The good news, the Gospel, is that the door I am knocking at is open. The truth I am looking for, the peace I desire, is already present. As many saints and sages have testified, the God I am looking for has already found me: is and always was present in every fibre of my being. I am simply one beggar telling any other beggar who might be interested, where I have found bread.

Mark’s Gospel chapter 5

He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain…..Day night among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance he ran and bowed before him;; and he shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me?…….

There are two ways in which people can reveal some of their innermost thoughts in public on the streets of our towns and cities. Most of them are talking on their mobile phones, scattering personal information around to anyone who happens to be passing. The others are just muttering aloud as they walk past, or sit next to you on the bus – these we tend to label a bit ‘mad’. We wouldn’t say they were possessed by a demon but that’s what folk in Jesus’ day thought. He encounters such a person in this chapter: self harming and not just muttering but howling and shouting: a danger to himself and others.

Remember, the Gospels are not biographies. Here in this episode Mark, as usual, gives us a skilfully woven narrative, but let’s not assume that these things happened exactly in this way on one day in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Instant healing of a seriously disturbed person? Possible, no doubt. Miracles, as they say, do happen. But suppose the ‘demoniac’ as some versions label him, was not that different from me?

Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion; for we are many.”

So many voices clamouring in his head!  Well……there can be quite a racket going on in my head too: voices accusing me of not being good enough; muttering,  ‘just look at him, he’s a disgrace’; ‘oh my god I’m going to be late’; going over an encounter I’ve just had with someone and ‘giving them a piece of my mind’; ‘I’m no good at this’; ‘I don’t want to be here in this boring crowd’; and so on and so on. Of course I am ‘civilised’ enough not to let any of this babble be heard by those around me.

Now, I am also fortunate enough to have caught a glimpse of a much deeper truth about who I am. Underneath the mental clamour is the vast, silent, stillness and presence that we call God. Once I have sensed that deep truth, that loving, graceful, accepting Presence, it becomes possible for me to keep returning to it. The more I learn to practice getting in touch with those depths, the more the clamour in my head subsides to be replaced by a loving awareness not only of who I am but of everyone else too.

A small charity called The Prison Phoenix Trust teaches prisoners to meditate and do yoga; to turn their prison cells into, you might say, monastic cells. Its quarterly newsletter publishes moving letters from inmates describing their journey from self harming and the racket in their heads to the discovery of the spacious peace from which flows the healing that they need to move on in the recovery process that will set them free even while serving the remainder of their prison sentence. For most of us healing is a gradual process like this. We remain wounded human beings but underneath there is wholeness.

Was the ‘demoniac’ in Mark’s story healed instantly? We don’t know and it doesn’t matter whether or not such a miracle of healing happened. What lots of us do know however is that healing encounters happen, whether through meeting someone, or reading something, or in some other way in which Presence catches our attention and gives us a sense of who we truly are.

Mark’s Gospel chapter 3. Who am I?

‘Mark’ (whoever he was) is a skilful writer. He has a plan. The stories he gives us are meant to fit together. It often helps to read a whole chapter in one go. That way we can get his drift and begin to understand what he is telling us about Jesus.

Chapter 3 is about people who just don’t get what Jesus is about, even his family. At the end of the chapter, Mark gives us a strong hint about how to get it – how to really ‘see’ Jesus.

The chapter begins in a synagogue with people who don’t see. Or rather they only see what they want to see. They’ve made up their minds and are watching, waiting to pounce if Jesus puts a foot wrong, breaks the rules….

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent…..

Mark has just given us the story about new wine bursting old wineskins (see my previous blog post). Here’s the new wine of Presence and love overriding religious rules.  As Brother Roger of Taize said, “Nothing is really serious except the loss of love.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but ‘they’ can sometimes be the critical voices in my head which are watching to see if people are going break the rules. I mean, I’ve got standards haven’t I, and I think people ought to live up to my standards! The voice in my head can be lightening quick with criticism of others (and incidentally of myself when I fail to live up to my own standards). Like those watching Jesus in the synagogue, I can be afraid of the reckless, outrageous, healing  abundance of Compassionate Presence.

Jump for a moment to verse 21:

When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him,  for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He has Beelzebub, and by the ruler of demons he casts out demons.’

The gossip is upsetting Jesus’ family. It’s serious: much more serious than not keeping the religious rules. So Mark follows this with a comment about the stark danger of cynicism, of a blindness so absolute that it is impossible to see compassion and love when it is staring you in the face.

….whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never receive forgiveness….

Then comes Mark’s punchline story.

Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting round him; and they said to him, ‘Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.’ And he replied, ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’ Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’

Some time before Mark wrote his Gospel, Paul of Tarsus had written a letter to Christians in Galatia:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Our sexual orientation, the circumstances of our life (whether inherited or adopted), the roles we play – father, mother, business person, social reformer, etc. etc. – are all an important part of living but they are all secondary to the essence of who we are.  To follow the teaching and example of Jesus of Nazareth is to discover this profound truth about ourselves: we are human beings-in-communion, with God, and with the whole of creation. Discovering the will of God, as Jesus puts it, is not a question of, ‘Right, this is what I have to do next.’ It is the startling discovery that – to quote Irenaeus, an early Bishop – ‘the glory of God is a human being fully alive.’