Reaching Out for Healing from Within

To be as inclusive as possible, Knox has both in-person and Podcast Services. For those who can’t access these we are also posting my sermons on our Knox Talks blog. I would like to thank Shelley Rose for transcribing my sermon notes into text.

Reaching Out for Healing from Within


Jeremiah 31:7-9

Mark 10:46-52

Our society teaches us that human life is about rugged individualism. Not everybody believes it, of course, but it is amazing how much it has penetrated basic thinking.

Spirituality and religion have been deeply affected so that the idea of a person going on a personal spiritual journey that pulls them away from the tradition they grew up in is not surprising to anyone.

But it would have been unusual to the culture of Jesus. Of course, they were well aware of diverse spiritual options; although the language of “false idols” would be applied to anything from another culture and huge debates would be applied to people who disagreed within the same tradition.

In other words, diversity existed and it was a source of great division.

Part of the reason for that is the understanding that “salvation” wasn’t individual.

Our Jeremiah lesson shows us a wonderful image of God’s salvation with the people being gathered up from around the world and brought back into their community; brought back home with the most vulnerable being supported and cared for; scattered refugees being rescued and allowed to have a safe and secure place to be gathered together in their community again.

The basic idea was that God was dealing with the community. Certainly, individuals had particular roles to play, responsibilities assigned by God. For example: the most vulnerable were to be supported by people with more resources as had been outlined in the law of Moses. But the relationship was between God and the community, not God and the individual.

That’s the thinking that Jesus lived with. It was being challenged by some kinds of teachings that Jesus made a point of disputing.

There are several stories of blind people being healed by Jesus. In one (not the one we read today, but from John’s gospel) the question arose about whether the man’s blindness was a result of his own sin, or his parents’ sin. Jesus’ response was to deny that this disability was the result of any individual’s fault, but was rather an opportunity to reveal God’s healing power and love. He pushed the individualism of faith aside, to make God the focus.

There are some who argue that John’s story comes from a very Christian concern. One thing that had started to happen in the first century CE was this idea of individual relationship to God apart from the community which would eventually result in hermits, Anchorites and all kinds of expressions of spiritual isolationism; spiritual separation from the community.

In today’s Mark lesson, we have a fascinating mix of the community and the individual.

Blind Bartimaeus was a part of the Jewish community at Jericho but he wasn’t being treated particularly well. What he was experiencing didn’t reflect the kind of support we read about in Jeremiah.

When he tries to get help, people tell him to shut up. So, he tries harder, shouts louder and Jesus responds, at which point people become encouraging and urge him forward.

He leaps up and sheds his cloak which makes him vulnerable: he probably sleeps in that cloak; it’s what protects him from the cold nights and bad weather. Will he be able to find it again if he leaves it by the side of the road and Jesus doesn’t heal him?

Look what happens when he meets Jesus: unlike some healings, Jesus doesn’t touch him, in fact Jesus suggests that he hasn’t healed Bartimaeus at all. “Go,” Jesus says, “your faith has made you well” with the implication that the healing came from within.

This kind of thing has created some serious issues in Christianity, particularly in those circles that look for faith healing and miracles. Once again, it becomes a question of individualism: specifically, if you aren’t healed, your individual faith isn’t strong enough, or good enough.

I don’t believe that Jesus was teaching that kind of thing. The spiritual significance of the blind gaining sight means that whenever we find a story like that in the gospels we should look beyond the level of physical healing to the level of a person gaining spiritual insight.

And what did Bartimaeus do with his new-found sight? Jesus told him to go but instead he came along: he joined this new community forming around Jesus. He didn’t get all self-centred about it and run off to do all the things he’d dreamed of. He re-directed his life to be part of something bigger, part of this new community of faith.

It is interesting to me that in this story, despite the fact that it was his own faith that made him well, that didn’t happen until he reached out beyond himself. And then we see the next step: that this man, who had learned the hard way to stick up for himself, who is proof that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”, who had to be an individualist to survive in an uncaring community, embraced what Jesus was doing – creating a caring community, one that lived out the principles shown to us in readings like the one from Jeremiah.

Despite all those early hermits and others who sought enlightenment or spiritual perfection in wilderness places, the main source of early Christian healing and justice came from the gathering together of all kinds of people into communities that could share their individual resources, their personal skills and talents to create better, healthier, more whole lives for all those people who had been forced to the margins.

This is something we need to re-discover today. Such an emphasis has been placed on individual achievement and personal worth that we easily lose sight of the community that embraces and supports us.

There’s nothing new about religion dividing people. That has a lot to do with how we deal with differences; it represents us setting our gang against their gang. We shouldn’t be doing that and we need to develop wisdom that shows us a way based in love and understanding.

What is new, I believe, is the way we have developed both religion and spirituality into forces that can isolate people, perhaps to manipulate them or perhaps as an expression of the way our society encourages us to be self-centred, even about the most meaningful aspects of our lives.

I believe that what Jesus showed us with Bartimaeus is that no matter how much potential we have within us, we can’t use it on our own; we have to reach out beyond ourselves to unlock it.

And more than that, we can also see that the appropriate response to finding that truth within, that healing, that hope, that seed that God has planted within us is to become more connected; to continue to reach out beyond ourselves and share the new things we’ve learned to offer to others, the spiritual insights we’ve gained, the clearer vision we’ve achieved.

If Bartimaeus had gone his own way, he might have had a simpler life. The next stop on Jesus’ itinerary was Jerusalem where he would be crucified. If Bartimaeus had focused on his own needs, he might have gotten a job and had a simple life. By joining the followers of Jesus, he became part of something huge, challenging, and world-changing.

That is our calling too: to take our individual spirituality and make it part of something bigger; to be part of a community of faith like that image we have in Jeremiah, a group that can do so much, for so many when we share God’s gifts together.


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