United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the international community to make 2021 “a year of healing” in his video message for the New Year. Excerpts of his speech are worth pondering over:
“Together, let us make peace among ourselves and with nature, tackle the climate crisis, stop the spread of Covid-19, and make 2021 a year of healing. Healing from the impact of a deadly virus. Healing broken economies and societies. Healing divisions. Healing the planet. He also added that “that must be our New Year’s Resolution for 2021”.
Noting that 2020 had been “a year of trials, tragedies and tears”, Guterres said Covid-19 upended our lives and plunged the world into suffering and grief. So many loved ones have been lost – and the pandemic rages on, creating new waves of sickness and death. Poverty, inequality and hunger are rising. Jobs are disappearing and debts are mounting. Children are struggling. Violence in the home is increasing, and insecurity is everywhere”.
On a positive note, the UN chief said, “a New Year lies ahead. And with it, we see rays of hope”. “People extending a helping hand to neighbors and strangers; frontline workers giving their all; scientists developing vaccines in record time; and countries making new commitments to prevent climate catastrophe. “If we work together in unity and solidarity, these rays of hope can reach around the world”.
This urgent appeal from the UN Secretary General should make us realize the importance and urgency of “ Healing”, which is the need of the hour. All of us need healing in one-way or the other. The Bible contains many stories of healing through which we get a right picture of what true healing really is.
Healing – A Biblical Perspective
We live in a time when we have the most sophisticated instruments of health care of any country than at any other time in the history of the world. Our technology for providing health care has never been more advanced. What do we who are surrounded by medical technology do with the gospel story of Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother in law (Mark 1:29-39), one among many stories of healing recorded in the Bible? Are we to believe that the healing Jesus offers is for the physical body only? I can’t believe that is all there is to healing. I don’t believe it because I have stood, as many of you have, around the hospital bed when sincere, faith-filled prayers for healing have been raised on behalf of the sick person and no one has been raised up out of bed. I have stood in the bedroom or, more often, the family living room where hospice angels who so lovingly care for the dying have created a mini-hospital. I have never experienced a healing where someone was restored to life immediately as if their disease where an interruption and now life could go on as before. I have laid hands upon the sick and prayed prayers for healing but no one has yet to cast their wheelchair aside to dance a jig again.
So Jesus’ healing must mean more than physical restoration because I have actually experienced people being healed; even though their physical condition did not change, at a more profound level they were restored to peace, wholeness of heart, and a readiness to face death with faith and acceptance.
I learned recently that anthropologists distinguish between disease, which is a biomedical condition affecting the organism — and illness which is a condition that disvalues a person causing disruptions in social relationships and loss of meaning. Illness is different than disease that is biomedical; illness is a social problem that in the New Testament is closely related to sin. Sin and illness go together and both may be healed by a restoration of the social relationships that have been ruptured.
Look again at the story of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. Jesus restores her to her proper position in domestic society. The sign of her healing is not simply that her fever vanishes but that she is once again serving those in her home. We must not forget that the healing occurs on the Sabbath when no work is permitted — including the work of healing — a great irony since the original purpose of Sabbath-keeping is that renewal, restoration and healing of relationships in God would occur as we take our place in the rhythm of God’s Sabbath rest.
Jesus disobeys this social-religious norm to heal this woman and by so doing demonstrates his willingness to transform all norms that have become barriers to the fullness of God’s purpose being realized in human lives. By disobeying this norm he restores the norm of Sabbath rest to its original purpose to bring life and renewal by dependence upon God’s mercy.
He reaches out his hand to touch the woman’s feverish hand, surely shocking those present who knew that no woman was permitted to touch a Rabbi. Again, Jesus sets aside the established norm to bring into being that which God intends for every creature, life abundant and whole. He heals this woman by restoring her to life in community.
Illness is the condition where you are by yourself alone, collapsed in upon yourself and isolated from others. Illness is the condition where your world is yourself only and you are the main preoccupation. Jesus heals this illness by restoring a fullness of life that breaks the bounds of self pre-occupation and opens up a world of love, forgiveness and deep relationships of compassion, mercy and peace. You can see the implications of such healing for the person living with AIDS who may not in our lifetime have his disease cured but may certainly be welcomed into the community and healed of his social illness. And what about those with mental disabilities, or physical ailments, or chronic disease? They too can find life and wholeness in the community that embraces them in Christ, even if their physical conditions do not change.
This is the true healing that Jesus offers then and now — that you and I and all persons would find a place to serve freely and with gratitude; restored to community and focused upon a larger world than self alone. As one friend put it, we are saved to serve. We are made whole in Christ, in order to be agents of healing in the name of Christ — proclaiming good news by the way we live with others and for others.
Rev. Dr. M. Mani Chacko
Bible Society of India