You Don’t Have to Be a Doctor to Be a Healer

Doctor makes patient wait 3 hoursMark 1:29-34

From church, they went straight home to Simon and Andrew’s house along with James and John. They told him that Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. But when he came in, he took her by the hand and she got up, the fever gone, and began to serve them.

That evening, as the sun set, people started bringing their sick and deranged to the door – the whole city turned out – and he cured many with various illnesses and cast out many demons, but without allowing them to speak – they knew him.

Buried in the dustbins of theological research, in a 1985 issue (15:4, pp 142-50) of Biblical Theology Bulletin, there is a wonderful little paper by John J. Pilch: Healing in Mark: A Social Science Analysis. Pilch writes:

Jesus and all healers of that period could only perceive illnesses and not diseases…. Notice in each healing instance the almost total disregard of symptoms (something very essential to disease). Instead there is constant concern for meaning…. Jesus’ activity is best described etically as healing, not curing. He provides social meaning for the life problems resulting from sickness.

The wholeness of persons is essential to Jesus’ mission. Remember, in Jesus’ day and in ours, sickness is not so much what makes you sick, but about what makes you unable to participate in meaningful community. When you’ve got malignant cell growth you have a disease – call it cancer. When you are bedridden with cancer and no insurance coverage and are a financial and emotional burden on your family and neighbors, you are ill – and so is everyone else who is affected. When you have plaque that prevents adequate signal transmission between brain cells, you have a disease – call it Alzheimer’s. When you (without knowing what you’re doing) disrupt your family’s life and abuse your caregivers, its effects are demonic.

In both cases, it’s the second condition Jesus is addressing. He’s providing new conditions for those who were not able to participate in life to do so. The miracle is not in the suspension of the laws of nature – the demons already know and acknowledge Jesus. The miracle is in the rehabilitation of people who have no access to meaningful participation or self-determination.

Think about it. Doctors don’t get famous for curing diseases. You might say she’s a great doctor and recommend her to your friends if they have a similar complaint. But the doctors who are famous – the ones on TV, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Chopra – are addressing the larger issue of illnesses that are largely sociologically constructed and perpetuated.

Bonus: You don’t have to be in medicine to be a great healer. All you have to do, in whatever field you’re in, is address the larger issues that keep people from meaningful participation and self-determination.

Jesus’ Strategy for Church Bullies

Cartoon by David Hayward

Mark 1:21-28

On they went to Capernaum where, on the holy day, they went to church. And he started teaching. People were captivated with what he had to say because he had real conviction about it, rather than just droning on like the clergy. Right away, though, a person with an evil spirit started yelling: “You’ve got nothing to do with us, Jesus of Nowheresville. You’ve come here to wreck our church, haven’t you, you holier-than-thou-think-you’re-a-big-shot!”

But Jesus said, “Shut up and get out of here!” And the evil one left, shaking his fists and screaming obscenities all the way out the door.

Everyone was unsettled, whispering among themselves, saying, “How’d he do that? That took cojones! He even tells the s-o-bs where to get off – and they do!” And so he began to be famous around the region.

There’s one in every crowd. Every pastor arriving at a new congregation has to face the church bully. But you can find them in classrooms and offices, on the work-floor, at the PTA, and at the family reunion.

And as long as they get to be in charge things can simmer along in quiet unpleasantness. The clergy, the bosses, the teachers are free to drone on and on. Nothing exceptional happens. No mission happens. But try to start something exceptional, something remarkable, something worthwhile and all hell breaks loose. They’ll call you all kinds of names. They’ll make it personal.

Jesus has none of it. “Shut up and get out,” is the only appropriate response to a bully. They don’t go quietly. And, as Mark’s gospel continues we’ll see that they don’t stop making a commotion even after they’ve left. But the only way to make remarkable things happen is to keep them on the outside and shut them down.

And, yes, it takes real cojones to do it.

A Paradox of Opportunity

Friendship Parados MathMark 1:16-20

(See also Matthew 4:18-25)

As Jesus went along the Galilean seashore, he saw brothers Simon and Andrew, fishermen, casting nets in the sea. He said to them, “Follow me and I’ll show you how to capture people’s hearts. Without hesitating, they followed him. A little further on he saw James and John Zebedee in their boat fixing nets. As soon as he saw them, he called them, too. And they left their father and their hired help and followed him.

Both in the calling and the following, there is no hesitation. No second guessing. No “let me think about it for a while and get back to you.” The response to the opportunity is immediate. The moment Jesus sees the people he needs, he calls them. The moment they see the leader they have been looking for, they follow.

According to the Friendship Paradox, “most people have fewer friends than their friends have, on average.” Strange, but mathematically true. It happens, though, because generally speaking, you’re more likely to find and interact regularly with people who are, on average, more socially active. The people who have the most friends are the people who are most outgoing and receptive to new friendships. On the other hand, they, by being more active, are more likely to find less active people – like you and me.

The connection to this story about Jesus calling the first disciples is this: opportunity works the same way. And opportunities expand with the number of people you know.

Finding the right people for your movement doesn’t happen every day, of course. But it certainly won’t happen if you’re not open to the possibilities. You’ve got to be looking. Even when there are other routine things to be done (mending nets). And, if you’re not ready, the people who are looking for the opportunity to be a part of your movement will probably find something else.

But the opposite is also true. The more you look, the more you find.

Strange, but mathematically true.

The Only Way to Get Started Is to Start

thinking about itMark 1:12-15

But as soon as this had happened, the vision cast Jesus into a desert of uncertainty, where for 40 days he wrestled with the Resistance, where he came face to face with fear, and still the divine vision endured. Then, when John was arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee, where he started working toward the goal. “It starts now,” he said. “The goal is close. Turn your life around! It’s going to be awesome.”

Steven Pressfield (The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle. Rugged Land, 2010) calls it Resistance. It’s the the self-doubt and self-sabotage that manifests itself within you the moment you are certain you know what you are really, truly called to do.

Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.

Jesus knew the Resistance. We all know the Resistance. But the Resistance depends entirely on the fact that there is something you know, deep down, you are supposed to do. It is, in fact, an indication that what you experienced at the moment of your baptism really was true.

It took John’s arrest for Jesus to realize that the only way to get out of the desert, to get past the uncertainty and the fear about being God’s child with God’s message, was to start living it. The only way to stop being a “writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint,” is to start writing or painting. The only way to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate, to change the planet – is to start. So Jesus started. And he changed the planet.

So. What are you waiting for?