“Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of disease and sickness among the people. So a report about him spread throughout Syria. People a brought to him all who suffered with various illnesses and afflictions, those who had seizures, paralytics, and those possessed by demons, and he healed them.” (Matthew 4:23-24 NET)
Why did Jesus heal people? His mission was to die on the cross, rejected by men, wasn’t it? It was spiritual salvation, from hell and fear and all that mayhem, right?
According to Matthew (and Mark), Jesus did multiple things when he entered a town:
- Taught in the synagogues
- Preached the gospel of the kingdom
- Healed all kinds of diseases and sickness, including demon possession
Jesus taught and acted, engaging the spiritual and physical, in each town. He proclaimed that God had come to them — indeed, He was standing in their midst — and that He has the power to save in every way. So He saved them, spiritually and physically. I’m reminded of the story told in Mark 2, when a paralyzed man’s dedicated friends lowered him through a roof into the room where Jesus was teaching. Jesus saw the friends and the poor invalid and said something strange, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Huh? The man is paralyzed, physically, and Jesus is forgiving his spiritual ills?
In some theologies I hear today, that would have been enough. The spiritual is what matters, right? No more dialog needed. See your infirmity as a gift from God, you know, to keep you humble and such. But Jesus doesn’t stop with spiritual words. He doesn’t then say to the man’s friends, “All done! Lift him up, boys!” No, Jesus has a point to make. He directs his dialog to the Pharisees and skeptics but turns to the crippled man and says, “So that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins, I tell you, stand up, take your stretcher, and go home.” And the paralyzed man did. The physical and spiritual were dealt with in the same period of time.
Granted, Jesus used this man as an example of His power to forgive sins, but the fact that He healed him speaks volumes to me. A complete job of ministry deals with both the spiritual and the physical. It is not enough to say, “Go, be at peace” when the homeless man is still on the street or the hungry man aches in pain.
Another example from the life of Jesus: “After they had crossed over (the Sea of Galilee), they came to land at Gennesaret and anchored there. As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized Jesus. They ran through that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever he was rumored to be. And wherever he would go — into villages, towns, or countryside – they would place the sick in the marketplaces, and would ask him if they could just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed. (Mark 6:53-56)” People came to Jesus to be healed — made whole, physically — and He healed them. When they saw Him, they came running with the sick and wounded. His reputation wasn’t just as a bible scholar or great theologian — it was as the Great Healer. Jesus was the solution to the physical problem of brokenness.
Is His Body, The Church, people’s answer to brokenness as well? Are we healing first, asking questions later? Aka, are we seeking to meet people’s physical needs or are we only interested in preaching to them with our words?
My friend Peter has an amazing ministry in Northern Europe. He walks the streets of his city interacting with homeless persons, inviting them to dinners and bringing them gifts. He’s praying with them and trying his best to tell others about their plight and implore Christians to help. Most churches, he says, could care less about the homeless. Their doors are locked during the day and homeless are reviled when they enter for church services because they smell and look bad, or are many times either drunk or high. They are broken people. And they are made to feel broken every day. Peter, who was once homeless himself, cries when he talks about his friends. He’s desperate for love and compassion to be shown to them by the Church so that they will see the love of Jesus for them. This Christmas season, he led a drive to provide boots for the homeless and organized several holiday-themed meals for them.
What my friend sees is the reality that the spiritual and the physical are intertwined in God’s cosmos. You cannot ignore one and meet the other. People are made up of at least two (some say, three) parts: the flesh and the spirit. Or the body and the soul. Whatever you prefer. I’m sure Peter is tired of Christians thinking everything is a spiritual solution when it is both spiritual AND physical. God cares about the everyday. Jesus sought to meet physical needs as He preached about the kingdom of God in which needs are no more. If someone is thirsty, don’t chide them for not bringing enough water on their journey. Give them something to drink! If a homeless man needs boots for his feet when it is 33 degrees outside, give him boots! There is so much the Church can do to address the physical brokenness of this world. And we can do it — as we should — in the name of the King, Jesus the Great Healer.
You may be able to tell that I am fired up about this topic! The energy comes both from my recent experiences in Scotland as well as my growing unrest with “systematic theology-driven” churches. I was raised in one, so I know how they operate. Theology is important but it must be complete — spiritual AND physical. I love how St. James (half- or step-brother of Jesus) addresses this issue in his letter: “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it? So also faith, if it does not have works, is (useless) being by itself.” There are two sides to this everyday coin: the spiritual and the physical. The heavenly and the everyday. God cares about both and He wants us to care, too. Neigh, even more, He wants us to meet the need if we are able.