9 October 2013Matthew 9:27-38
“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’” (vv. 35-38)
These three verses (above) form a hinge in the Gospel of Matthew. They sum up a section about the ministry of Jesus which began at Matthew 4:23 and they form a bridge into the ministry of Jesus' disciples who are about to be sent out as shepherds and harvesters themselves.
This bridge underlines the fact that if the disciples are to exercise authentic ministry they need to keep paying attention to the vocation of Jesus. This vocation is reinforced here as being the proclamation in word and deed of the good news of God's kingdom. In these few verses, it is the healing aspect of that kingdom that is emphasised through the healing of the two blind men and the man without speech.
Some difficult questions are raised by these healing stories for those of us who are disciples and are therefore called to participate in Christ's healing ministry: does physical healing really happen through prayer and the laying on of hands? Why are some healed and others not? How can we avoid the damage caused by the assumption that some people are not physically healed because they lack faith? Are people with disabilities necessarily less than whole? Is the ministry of healing a specialist gift?
Contemporary research into the nature of human health reinforces the link the between the spiritual, the psychological and the physical. This does not mean it is appropriate to assume that there is a simple causal connection between sin and suffering, or faith and healing. Jesus himself makes this plain by his different approaches in this chapter - in one case, sins are to the fore (verse 2); in three cases the faith of the seeker is key (verses 22, 29); in two cases no questions are even asked (verses 25, 33).
As disciples called to follow Jesus, like him we all need to listen carefully to and connect with people in their uniqueness, allowing ourselves to be channels of God's amazing grace in whatever way is needed at the time. If we have faith, we should not be surprised if sometimes physical healing is part of what results.
- What thoughts or questions do you have about prayer and the laying on of hands?
- How might Methodist churches be more bold in offering God's healing?
- What guidelines might need to be in place to make that experience safe for those who are vulnerable?