A Third Kind of Jesus

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – The 8th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, July 19, 2015

“Everyone who touched him was healed.” (Mark 6:56)

Rembrandt-leperWhen reading Mark 6:56’s closing sentence—Everyone who touched him was healed—my belief in Jesus is strengthened.

And so is my disbelief.

The Gospels’ healing passages are arguably the most difficult (for me) to preach, teach, or, well . . . believe.

I’ve read enough about the history of Jesus’ first century world to know he was not the only one identified as a miracle worker or healer of illnesses. There were others, from reputable to repugnant. I’m also confident that Jesus’ era had people who—like today—suffered with cancers, heart diseases and other serious ailments. But we can’t tell from any of the Biblical accounts what kinds of illnesses were healed when a crowd gathered around Jesus. No high-tech tests could be implemented to separate the “fake” illnesses from the “real” ones, or a potentially fatal head trauma from a trivial head cold.

Frankly, whether in the Bible or not, I’m suspicious when “everyone” is used to describe the results.

Everyone was healed? Hmmm?

As a kid, one of my feeble arguments for getting new shoes or a new toy (as seen on a television commercial) was whining to my parents that “everyone” had that shoe or toy. Everyone! Mom, astute and clever, would rattle off the names of a few of my friends, looked me straight in the eye, and asked, “Do they all have it?” Well, darn her! Darn Mom and Dad raising me to value telling the truth over lying! Okay, fine, maybe not everyone . . . but lots of people.

Well, at least one or two people.

Everyone was healed?

magic-matt-busking-in-torontoIt’s only a few verses before the “everyone was healed” that Jesus could barely cure a hangnail if his life depended on it. Mark 6:5 explained Jesus was “unable to do any miracles, except that he placed his hands on a few sick people and healed them.” Wait! In the early part of chapter six, Jesus was in Nazareth, his hometown, in the place where everyone (there’s that word again) knew his name. He was just Mary and Joseph’s snotty kid in Nazareth. So, when Jesus was from out-of-town, part of a traveling road show, he could wow the crowds. But get him back among those who knew him, and he’s as helpful for a person with Parkinson’s disease as a Las Vegas street magician performing card tricks.

Not long ago I listened to a National Public Radio report about the near extinction of the rhinoceros. There are those in the twenty-first century who think powder made from the rhino’s horn is “curative.” It will transform your below-average penis into a sex machine. It will soothe a sore throat or clear clogged arteries. Lies. Travesties. Millions of dollars exchange hands. Glorious creatures are maimed and murdered to satisfy human stupidity.

I distrust modern and ancient healing stories. One person’s healing is another person’s hoax.

I cringe when someone thanks Jesus or God or both for healing whatever ails them while children continue to die from cancers and viruses and more. Someone is healed and it’s a miracle? A thousand are not healed and it’s . . . what? The lack of a miracle? The lack of faith? The lack of belief in a specific flavor of Christianity?

Do I follow the hometown Jesus who struck out at the plate?

Do I follow the road show Jesus who always hit a home run?

On my first Sunday at one of the churches I served, a couple of church leaders told me to visit Bob as soon as possible.

I needed to meet him, to pray with and for him. Bob, a beloved member of that small congregation, had been diagnosed with a form of brain cancer. He’d already had several surgeries. Bob’s wife was caring, supportive, and anxious. His children, while young, knew Dad was dealing with serious problems. Everyone (there’s that word again) in the church prayed for Bob. They wanted him healed and whole.

Bob was one of my first visits in my first week.

He was bald, from prior surgeries and treatments. A thirty-something man, he moved like an eighty-year old. He spoke softly. His handshake was weak. We talked. We shared. He expressed faith in a loving God.

“What would you want me to pray for?” I asked.

“Healing,” he quickly answered. “But I also want to make sure to find the best doctors available.”

I prayed for Bob to be healed. I prayed, trusting in the ways of Jesus, for Bob’s faith to guide his and his doctor’s decisions. Bob was a realistic guy. As our relationship grew over the next visits, he admitted to knowing a percentage of people with his cancer would die. I don’t recall the statistics, but it didn’t seem to bother Bob if his projected survival rate was 5% or 95%. He understood some died and some didn’t and it wasn’t because God blessed one and cursed another. Yes, Bob wanted to be among those dying later rather than sooner, but even more he preferred to live knowing how precious today was. He shared those sentiments in our first encounter, and continued to express them. He appreciated every prayer. He continuously sought the best medical advice and options. The last time I had contact with Bob was an unexpected note from him (“How are you doing, Larry?!”) tucked under my car’s windshield wipers in Yosemite. That was long after I’d left Bob’s congregation. So I know he lived for years following his initial diagnosis. In my now decades long ministry, Bob was one of the first people to help me believe in a third kind of Jesus.

Do I follow the hometown Jesus who struck out at the plate?

Do I follow the road show Jesus who always hit a home run?

compassionI follow the Jesus with compassion for . . . everyone. For the sick that were healed; for the healed who continued to be sick. For those who believed and yet were not healed; for those who didn’t believe and yet were healed. I rarely pray, silently or aloud, for someone to be healed of a specific illness (like stage four pancreatic cancer) or for a specific event (getting a new job with a higher salary and better benefits). But I do pray for someone to seek God’s guidance. And to trust that in our mortal, limited lives, some are healed, some are not, and yet all are loved.

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  1. I continue to pray for healing. I believe God hears every prayer. I believe God is sovereign. I believe He loves me like no one else can or does. God looks at my heart, my faith in what I’m praying for and my attitude. I will continue to pray for healing – to pray for miracles – to trust and have faith in God’s plan.

  2. Yes, that is well said. The magic Jesus is not the one to whom I ascribe, believing that he worked within the confines of the physical world in which he found himself.

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