Tag Archives: Healing

Tears, Grace and an Alabaster Jar


A story based on Luke 7:36-50

Everyone knew Mary.  Not to talk to of course; no one did that except the children who taunted her at every opportunity—and her customers I suppose, but they only came out at night.

No one knew where she had come from; probably chased out of her previous village.  She had a one-roomed house on the edge of town where she had lived for the past few years.  Few people knew her name.  Whenever the women discussed her around the well she was ‘that woman’.

“Why she had to come here; it’s a disgrace.”
“Why the men at the synagogue don’t do something about it.”
“Probably because they’re men.”
“Yes, my husband thinks it’s a joke”
“I told my husband that if I catch him so much as glancing in her direction….”

A woman of ill repute she certainly was.  Of course there had to be men of ill repute too, but one never spoke about them.

The only person who ever engaged in conversation with Mary was Hannah.  Poor old Hannah.  She’d been ill for twelve years.  Bleeding, you know.  No one ever talked about it of course, or talked to her much.  Her illness made her unclean so she couldn’t go to synagogue, which pretty well cut her out of polite society.  No one would visit her or invite her over.  She and Mary would go to the well around mid-afternoon when no one else was there.  Mary would draw the water for Hannah of course—Hannah wasn’t allowed; couldn’t have someone unclean polluting the village water supply.

They made a sad pair: two outcasts reaching out to each other, passing the time of day.

Then Jesus came to the village—along with crowds of people.  Where they all came from I don’t know.  It turned out that Jesus was on his way to Jairus’s house.  Jairus’s daughter was very ill; some say she died and that Jesus resurrected her, but I don’t know about that.

Hannah and Mary were at the well when they heard Jesus was coming.  Hannah made up her mind.  “I’m going to speak to Jesus,” she said to Mary.

“He won’t talk to you in your state,” Mary said.

“I’ve heard differently,” Hannah replied.  “I’ve heard that he cares about outcasts like us.”

“This I’ve got to see,” said Mary.

When they saw the crowds, Mary thought Hannah would give up.  She wasn’t very strong at the best of times, but she was determined.

“Maybe I won’t be able to talk to him,” she said.  “But if I can just touch his cloak, I’m sure that will be enough.   There is something very special about him.  They say God is really blessing him.”

“Well,” said Mary.  “Any decent man who’ll give you and me the time of day has to be pretty special.”

They made their way through the crowd, ignoring the jibes and the sideways glances.  Mary was surprised.  Usually people would crowd her out if she tried this on her own but they didn’t like to touch Hannah, so they tended to made way for her, and Mary slipped along in her wake as it were.  At one point some kid shoved Mary and she stumbled—his friends laughed, but the two women pushed on.

When they were right behind Jesus Hannah hesitated, then she reached out and touched the edge of his robe.   Hannah pulled back quickly as if she had been burned.  Mary saw that something significant had happened but, before she could say anything, Jesus turned round.  “Who touched me?” he asked.

Of course everyone thought that was a pretty silly question, given the crowd, but Hannah and Mary knew exactly what he meant.

Then Jesus looked at Mary; she caught her breath; the world seemed to stand still as he held her in his gaze.  Then he turned to Hannah.

She heard Hannah telling Jesus what she had done and heard Jesus saying that it was OK.  “Your faith has made you well,” he said.  “Go in peace.”  Hannah was overwhelmed; she turned and stumbled through the crowd.

Then Jesus looked back at Mary and smiled.  Mary didn’t know when someone had last smiled at her.  Leered, yes, smirked; but a genuine, warm, caring smile?  She was transported back to when she was a little girl, and her father came home from the fields.  He would smile lovingly at her when she ran out to greet him, just as Jesus was smiling now. Tears filled her eyes.  He seemed about to speak.  But just then some men came from Jarius’s house and the crowd closed in around Jesus to hear what was going on.  Mary was jostled back to the present and fought her way out of the crowd, tears streaming down her cheeks.

Mary couldn’t sleep that night.  That smile; those eyes.  She felt as if Jesus knew everything about her: her childhood, her lousy choices, her miserable existence.  He could see it all but instead of turning away in disgust, as most good people would do, he welcomed her with a smile.  His eyes seemed to say, “It’s OK.”

She had to see him again, but where?  How?

She saw Hannah the next day.  Hannah was so excited.  She had been to the priest; in seven days she’d be clean.  She had also heard news that Simon had invited Jesus to supper that night.

Simon was a Pharisee, an important man in the village, always pointing out where others were breaking the law.  He always made a point of crossing the road or turning his back whenever Mary was around.  If anyone was to throw Mary out of town, it would be Simon.

Simon’s dinner parties were well known.  Naturally, only the most important people in the village were invited to sit around the table—usually when some dignitary was passing through.  Of course, according to our custom, anyone and everyone could wander in and listen quietly to the conversation.  Only invited guests could speak and interact, but it was always worthwhile listening to the discussions around Simon’s table.

“I’m going,” Mary said to Hannah.

Hannah was horrified.  “You can’t go there.  They’ll, they’ll….  I don’t know what they’ll do.  It’ll be the last straw.  Simon will have an excuse to throw you out of the village.”

“I don’t care,” said Mary.  “I have to see him again.”

There was no persuading her otherwise.  Mary spent the afternoon trying to work out what she was going to say or do.  She wanted to take a gift but she had nothing of value.  Her most precious possession was an alabaster jar of perfume; it was all she had that had belonged to her mother.  She decided to take it with her.  Whatever happened she mustn’t cry.  Tears had hardly left her eyes since Jesus had first looked at her on the road.  Was that only yesterday?  It seemed like a lifetime ago.  But if an opportunity arose to talk with Jesus that night there would be no time for tears.

Mary arrived just as Jesus and the other guests were being welcomed and shown their places.  No one noticed her at first, and when the stares and the whispers started Mary was already ensconced in a corner of the room.  Mary had eyes only for Jesus, and she noticed that Simon was not as welcoming of Jesus as he was of other guests.  He didn’t kiss him on the cheek or even offer him water to wash his feet.  Simon wanted to meet this Jesus but, it seemed, he didn’t want Jesus or anyone else to think they were equals. 

When the food was being served Jesus turned, saw Mary, and smiled at her.  Mary was overwhelmed; all her resolve went out the window.  All the pain and rejection of a lifetime, all the sin and failure, poured out in tears that rolled down her cheeks.  She fell at Jesus feet, weeping silently, her tears forming rivulets in the dust on his feet.  Soon the dust was washed away; she loosened her hair and used it to wipe his feet dry.  There were gasps from around the room as her hair cascaded down, and more as people saw what she was doing.   But she was beyond caring, or even noticing.  She remembered her mother’s perfume and she poured it out over Jesus’ feet. 

Simon was horrified.  The other guests were silent, waiting to see what Simon would do.   Everyone knew Mary’s reputation, except Jesus, it seemed.  How could Jesus not know?  If his prophetic powers couldn’t help him then surely basic social skills, and the reaction of the crowd, would tell him that something was badly wrong.  Simon was about to speak but Jesus broke into his thoughts.

“Simon,” he said. “Imagine two men owed vastly different amounts to a moneylender.  Neither could pay him back, so the moneylender cancelled the debts of both.”

There were chuckles from the guests around the table, and from others around the room; no one could imagine a generous moneylender.

“Now Simon,” Jesus said.  “Who would love the moneylender more?”

Well, no one loved a moneylender, but a moneylender who forgave debt?   The answer was obvious.

“The one who owed him more, I suppose.” Simon answered warily, irritated that Jesus was taking this disgraceful situation so lightly.

“You are right,” Jesus said.  Then he looked at Mary.  “Do you see this woman here?”

Well of course he did.  Simon wished he couldn’t, of course, and he certainly didn’t want any more attention drawn to her.

Jesus went on, “When I arrived you didn’t give me any water to wash my feet, or olive oil to anoint my head, and you didn’t greet me with a kiss; but this woman has washed my feet and dried them with her hair; she has not stopped kissing my feet and she has anointed them with perfume.  The great love she has shown, proves that her many sins have been forgiven.  On the other hand, those who have been forgiven little, show little love.”

Mary hardly heard any of this exchange.  All she knew was that here was a man who accepted her as she was.  For the first time in her adult life she was being treated with respect and love.

Then Jesus turned to her and she heard him say, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Of course, that caused another scandal around the room, but Jesus ignored it and said to Mary what he said to Hannah the day before, “Your faith has saved you.  Go in peace.”

“Peace?” Mary thought to herself.  She hadn’t known any peace since she was a little child, but there was peace here.  In spite of all the rejection, irritation and hostility around the room, she could sense a peace she had never experienced before.  Mary knew where she fitted in the story Jesus had told Simon.  She was the one who owed the most; probably more than anyone in the room.  But, perhaps unlike anyone else there, Mary didn’t take her position for granted, not even her place on the floor at Jesus feet.  She knew she was there by grace alone.  Jesus had reached out to her.  He had accepted her gift, the little she had to offer, and had welcomed her into his space.

Mary didn’t know what the future would hold, but she knew there and then, on the floor of Simon’s house, that whatever happened she would follow Jesus. 

She glanced up and saw Simon’s face; a shiver of foreboding travelled down her spine.  She didn’t know whether the hatred she read into his features was directed at her or at Jesus, but she had made up her mind.  She would follow Jesus whatever the cost, wherever it led.

The above story (based on Luke 7:36-50) was inspired by a friend who suggested that this woman must have seen or met Jesus before. Somehow that story just had to be told.  First told at Prestbury Methodist Church, 29 January 2012. Tomorrow I’ll post the prayer that goes with it.

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Personal Shopper: Outcomes-Based Prayer


Have you ever thought about how cool it would be to have a Personal Shopper?  You send off your shopping list and it all just happens.  Of course in this digital age it would all be on your cell phone.  You update the list from last week, press the button, and wait.  Soon, very soon, your Personal Shopper arrives with a Colgate smile and your goodies, just as you ordered.

Well I’m all in favour, but I have to let you into a secret, although I’m pretty sure you’ve already worked it out: God is not our Personal Shopper, and prayer is not a shopping list.  Prayer is about engaging with God on the issues we are concerned about.  Of course as we grow in prayer, we begin to engage with God on the issues he is concerned about, but we start with those things that we can become passionate about; we engage with God and we offer ourselves as part of the solution.

The problem in this day and age is that the world focuses almost exclusively on outcomes.  Outcomes-Based Education is a little discredited as a policy, but the principle is still very much intact.  No one wants to know how many books you’ve read.  All they want to know is, Did you pass the exam?  How hard you worked is not important; did you graduate?  And, in the world of work, no one is interested in the time and effort you put in.  Did you make the sale?  You might be working harder and longer hours than anyone else in the office, but who cares?  Did you get the report in on time?  That’s what matters.

So our shopping-list prayers are well suited to the modern world.  “Here’s a list, God.  Please give us the results we want.”

But God says, “No!  That’s not how I made you; that’s not how I wired the universe.  The journey is much more important than the destination; the relationship is much more precious than results.”

Prayer is not about results, it’s about relationships.  Results, such as healing, may emerge from our prayers, and sometimes the relationship emerges from the healing.  That’s what happened to Bartimaeus.  He received his sight and he had a choice.  Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.”  He was free to go, but he chose to follow Jesus; he chose the relationship.  But ten lepers were healed by Jesus; nine of them took their healing and ran.  Only one returned to say thank you; only one allowed his healing to grow into a relationship.  For the others the relationship was lost.

When our prayers are shopping lists, and we only look for results, we lose the greatest gift of all, a relationship with the one who made us, with the one who loves us.

These thoughts emerged when I was writing the story of Bartimaeus.  If you haven’t come across it yet, you can read it here.

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Blind Faith: Bartimaeus’s Story


I want to tell you a story about someone who refused to just send off a shopping-list prayer and ‘hope for the best’.  His prayer was a determined effort to make a difference; in his case a difference to his own life.  And he discovered that, if prayer and healing don’t come out of a relationship with God, they just might lead to one.  (Mark 10:46-52)

BEGINNINGS
Bartimaeus was blind.  He went blind when he was five years old.  But Bartimaeus wasn’t the sort of person to sit back and wait for stuff to happen.  He had a cousin, Samuel, who was paralyzed as a young boy when he fell out of a tree.  Sam had given up on life.  His parents took him to the pool of Bethesda a few years after it happened.  They had tried everything else.  Bethesda is where an angel was said to trouble the water—the first person in the water when the bubbles came was healed, they said.  The problem is that there were just too many people there.  The family worked hard.  For a few years someone would stay with Sam all week and try to get him in the water, but even getting near was a mission.  Eventually Sam gave up and told them not to worry.  He began to make friends and enjoy the company, so his family would take him there at the beginning of the week and fetch him before the Sabbath.  No one expected him ever to walk again, least of all Sam.

BETHESDA
When Bartimaeus was about ten, his family took him along to the Bethesda pool.  Sam had already been there nearly 20 years, but Bart couldn’t stand it.  He couldn’t see the people but he felt the atmosphere.  “Everyone’s sick here,” he said.  “I don’t want to sit around with sick people all day.”

“But you’re also sick,” his Dad said.
“No I’m not!  I just can’t see.”
“Yes,” said his Mom.  “But here you can get better and then you’ll be able to see again.”
“But Sam isn’t better,” Bart said, “And he’s been here forever.”  Well no one could deny that, so Bart stayed at home.

GROWING UP
Bart made friends pretty easily and he played with the boys in the village.  But once he was old enough to start working, no one would have him.  His old friends were trying to find work themselves and saw Bart as a liability.  Bart’s family didn’t have much, and when his father died, his brother had to look after their Mom.  He would have helped Bart too, but there wasn’t very much to go around, so Bart decided to look after himself.  His Mom worried about him.  She said he should go back to the pool of Bethesda.  “At least you can get a bit of food there and, who knows, maybe you’ll be lucky and get healed.”

“I’ll be alright, Mom,” he said.  “A couple of friends of mine have got a plan.  We’ll be fine.”

He didn’t tell his mom that his friends were also blind and that the “plan” was to beg.  And for the next 15 years or so, that’s what he did.

“And what’s wrong with that?” he said to his brother a few years later.  “You’re stuck here trying to make ends meet, and me?  I’ve seen the whole country.”
“Anyway, I’m owed something,” he went on.  “There are plenty of fat cats who’ve got more than enough and to spare.  It’s their duty to give to the poor; especially if the poor happen to be blind as well.”

A lot of that was bravado, of course.  What he said was true enough, but Bart wanted to see; he wanted to see more than anything else.  But he wasn’t going to sit around a pool moping about what he didn’t have.  He was going to make the best of what he did have. 

JERICHO
“Jericho!” he once said to his brother.  “Jericho.  That’s where the money is.  Everyone comes to Jerusalem for the big festivals, and they are usually very generous to people like me.  It’s part guilty conscience; they want to make up for all the bad stuff they’ve done before they go to the Temple; and it’s part showing off how good they are.   Whatever!  It works for me.  But in Jerusalem there’re just too many people and you don’t get enough exposure.  But Jericho?  It’s perfect.  Before Jericho everybody’s busy focusing on the journey.  Beggars are just a nuisance.   But once they’ve reached Jericho and had a rest there, the focus is on Jerusalem.  It’s the last stretch, and they start to think about what they are going to do, and that’s where I come in.  I’m part of their preparation.  I’m the opportunity to start putting things right and fixing the wrongs of the world.”

“And after the festival?  When everyone’s going home?  What then?” his brother asked him.

“Well, some people still have money left they are willing to part with, especially if they’ve had a good time.  ‘A good festival, was it?’ I ask with a bit of pain in my voice.  Then they feel sorry for you, and a bit guilty that they can travel to the festival and you can’t.  But you don’t get as much as when people are going to the festival.”

SAM
Then came the day his cousin Sam was healed.  The one at the pool of Bethesda.  Thirty eight years he’d been at that pool—every single week.  He’d given up being healed long before.  Every now and again someone would offer to help him into the water but he’d wave them away.  “Oh, don’t worry about me,” he’d say.  “Help old Joseph over there rather.  He’s far worse off than I am.”  His family wondered if he’d know what to do if he got his legs back.

Then one day he walked into the village.  Yes, walked!

Thirty eight years.  He was 12 when his family first took him; now he was an old man of 50.  After everyone got over the shock of seeing Sam on his feet, he told them what happened.  Jesus, the preacher from Nazareth everyone was talking about, had walked in among the sick around the pool.  He hadn’t made a fuss.  No one seemed to recognise him. 

“I didn’t know who he was,” Sam said, “but he stopped and crouched down next to me.  He looked at me—probably a few seconds, but it seemed like eternity.  Then he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’  I mean, what a stupid question; but somehow it wasn’t.  He seemed to be looking deep inside me and asking about things far more profound than my wasted limbs.  I wanted to say, ‘Of course I do!’ but I wasn’t so sure anymore; so I told him how the water thing worked and how difficult it was to get in.  Then he said, ‘Get up, pick up your mat, and walk.’ ”

“What?” everyone blurted out at once.  “Just like that?  After 38 years, just ‘get up and walk’?”

CHOICE
“It’s crazy, I know,” Sam said.  “But for the first time in 38 years I stopped and looked at myself.  I’ve always waited for other people to help me and I’d given up on any sort of useful life.  I guess I’d become comfortable with the impossibilities.  Now suddenly I was confronted with a possibility; and here was a man saying to me, ‘It’s up to you.’  It’s the first time anyone has said that to me.  Nothing has been up to me; everything depended on other people.  And in those few seconds I saw everyone who had ever helped me and worked so hard for me.  People whose help I’d taken for granted, and probably abused.  You folk!  And I thought, ‘Yes!  I do want to get well.’  And as I began to move, I felt such unbelievable pain in my legs as they started to come to life again.  It lasted about a minute but by then I was on my feet.  I was gobsmacked, and by the time I had enough sense to thank the man he was gone.  Of course I got into trouble because I was carrying my mat on the Sabbath.  I tried to tell them that I wasn’t really working; it was just part of the healing process.  They didn’t believe me; wanted to know who had done it.  Well, it was only later that I saw Jesus in the Temple and realised it who he was.”

BART
When Bart heard about Sam’s healing, he was determined he would see again.  “Jesus is going to heal me,” he kept saying.  Sam tried to play it down a bit.  “There were hundreds of people at the pool.  Jesus only seems to have healed me that day.  I don’t know why.  How do you know he’s going to heal you too?”

“He’s healed blind people too.  I’ve heard,” Bart said.  “If I just get close enough to him; if I can just look him in the eye.  Well, ok, if he just looks me in the eye, I know I’ll see again.  Then I’ll be free.  Then I can do what I want, go where I like.  I won’t ever have to follow anyone around again.  I’ll find my own way.”  There was no persuading him otherwise.

“Next month is Passover,” Bart said.  “Jesus is sure to go to Jerusalem and he’s bound to pass through Jericho; and I’m going to be there.”

JESUS
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.  When Bart heard that Jesus was in the crowd passing his spot, he shouted as loud as he could.  “Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me.”

People on the fringes of the crowd were trying to hear what Jesus was saying as he walked along, so they tried to shut Bart up.  But he was having none of it.  He was determined to see again. 

“Jesus! Son of David, take pity on me,” he shouted even more loudly.

Jesus stopped and told his friends to call Bart.  Bart jumped up, dropped his coat with his day’s takings in it and ran, stumbling to Jesus.

And you know, Jesus asked Bart virtually the same question he’d asked Sam: “What do you want me to do for you?”

Well there was no hesitation from Bart.  He’d been waiting for this all his life.

“Teacher, I want to see again,” he told Jesus.

“Go,” Jesus told him.  “Your faith has made you well.”  Just like that.   No drums, no fanfare.  And Bart could see.

He was ecstatic.  He wanted to run the 30 miles back home to tell everyone.  He was free.  For the first time in his life, he was free.  He stood blinking in the light for a bit; then he looked long and hard at Jesus, who had already started on his journey to Jerusalem, and Bart made up his mind.  He followed Jesus on the way. 

A story told at Prestbury Methodist Church on 11 September 2011
For Sam’s story, see John 5:1-15

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Cross-Culture: Bartimaeus’ Demand


Eustache Le Sueur, Christ Healing the Blind Ma...
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We are running a preaching and Bible Study series on Cross Culture.  No, it’s not what you think, although that’s also needed, isn’t it?  This is on the Culture of the Cross.  We are looking at four aspects: the cross, as it brings about forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and transformation.  We have looked at each of these four from God’s perspective as it were; although that’s a bit of an arrogant statement isn’t it?  Put simplistically, how does the Cross become the instrument of God’s forgiveness, healing, reconciliation and transformation?

We are now looking at these same subjects from our perspective—how does the cross bring forgiveness, healing, etc., into our lives.  Finally we will look at them with the community at large in mind.

The story I wrote on the Prodigal’s older brother kicked off the series looking at forgiveness.  Next week I will be preaching on the cross bringing healing.  I have chosen to use the story of blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10: 46-52) as our focus.

There are three things that appeal to me in this story in the context of the cross and personal healing.  First there is the element of prayer, what we might call ‘real’ prayer.  Bartimaeus’s “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me” is reminiscent of Jacob’s “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Genesis 32:26); there is the same urgency, the same determination to be healed, the same confidence that this is what God wants to do, and the same commitment to help make it happen.  It’s a prayer that truly partners with God for healing.  Prayer for healing is one of the opportunities God gives us to partner with him in re-creation.  We can sit back and see what happens or we can grab the opportunity with both hands and express our commitment as Jacob did and as Bartimaeus did.

Second is the question Jesus asks (all of us), “What do you want me to do for you.”  It’s a question the cross poses.  Healing, like salvation, is not cheap; it comes at a price.  What do we expect or hope for?  Are our sights set too low?  Are our expectations so broad as to be out of focus?

Thirdly, Bartimaeus was set free by Jesus (verse 52a). But he used his freedom to follow Jesus on the way (verse 52b).  That is always the choice that the cross gives us—take up your cross daily (or don’t).

Have you anything to add?  Any thoughts for me to use or to avoid?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Engaging with others: A prayer for hope and healing


Lord, the news is bad, it’s hard to bear.
I want to withdraw into the darkness, to be alone.
To hide from the world, with its people, its noise, and its pain.

But I cannot escape.
I’m surrounded by people, hundreds and thousands of people,
A swirling mass of humanity brushing against me.
But each one isolated from the other,
Each one busy,
                      rushing,
                               preparing for whatever comes next.
Individually wrapped in our own cocoons, we are ignorant of each other’s pain;

Lord, I want to be alone;
To hide away from it all, to escape into the comfort of darkness.
I want to focus on my own pain, to seek your presence and know your love;
To feel your arms surrounding and supporting me;
To know you and only you as I face this challenge.

But you do not hide away in dark places;
You dwell in the hearts of your people.
You are here, in the midst of this multitude;
In this swirling mass, Lord, you embrace each cocoon.

As we dare to emerge from the safety of our loneliness,
As we dare to engage with each other,
We discover you again, in the pain that others endure,
In the mercy they have received, and in the grace they have to share.
It is here, in the grace and love and beauty of others,
That we find healing and hope and joy again.

Lord bring us out of the darkness, break open our cocoons,
So that as we find each other we may truly find you.

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