Healing

Disregarding the Rules

Mark 1:29-39 (NRSV)

As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. And Simon and his companions hunted for him. When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.” He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.


This story begins on Saturday, the Jewish sabbath.* This much is made clear in the preceding story in Mark. If we are to understand anything, we must first understand what the sabbath day means.

The fourth of the Ten Commandments given to Moses in the desert on Mt. Sinai says this:

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” The reason for this commandment then is given in detail: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:8-11.)

By Jesus’ day, this commandment had been defined even more narrowly, to the point where nothing that looked like real action was permitted. My favorite example is a rule promulgated by the Pharisees. It said you had to be careful on the sabbath not to drag your chair on a dirt floor. The tiny furrow looked too much like plowing to these very restrictive Jewish leaders.

In this story, everyone is, from a strict Jewish perspective, breaking the sabbath rules. Healing is not allowed, but Jesus heals Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. She then gets up and begins to “serve” him. Implicit here is that she does what women of her day normally do six days of the week, acting as a host, cooking and performing other kinds of work. She does it all without a hint of reprimand from the teacher who is present.

People who don’t follow Christ often criticize Christianity as being rule-bound, but in many ways we worship a rule breaker. At the same time, Jesus, being God in flesh, is holy; that is, his thoughts and actions in these stories are perfectly aligned with the Father’s will.

So, why does Jesus break rules that seem rooted in God-given law? There can be only one explanation. Human understanding of what God intended through the law has become corrupted, and must be corrected.

Look back to the words in Exodus about the sabbath. It is a blessed day; it is a holy time. When does a blessing ever weigh us down? A sabbath day is not a burden, it is an opportunity to rest in the presence of God, to commune with him without the distractions of day-to-day survival.

In other words, the sabbath is a time to experience the God who is love, the one who lovingly created and who paused to gaze lovingly upon what he had made. And never forget, that aspect of God that took on flesh, the logos, the Word, was fully involved in the creative act.

As Jesus gazed upon that woman bedridden with illness, he saw a part of his creation that was broken. He saw someone incapable of enjoying the true meaning of the sabbath. So he lovingly fixed her.

Her response, by the way, was very appropriate, despite what the Pharisees and others might say. The word we translate as “serve” is a Greek word associated with the work of disciples, the people who pledge their lives to follow Jesus.

She may have been going through the same motions that had always defined her work, but she now performed her tasks with a new purpose. Clearly, the man who had healed her was tied to God somehow and was going to change everything, and she would serve him not as an affront to sabbath, but in the true spirit of sabbath.

As the story continues, Jesus goes on healing on sabbath days and regular days. He drives out demons. But most importantly, he preaches his message: The kingdom of God has arrived.

The kingdom continues to dawn in our lives now, and once it is here in full, we will see the kingdom of God is an eternal sabbath, a continuing, joyous rest in the love of God. How much you allow the kingdom to shine into your lives is up to you.


*I do not have time today to explore how Christians came to see Sunday as the Sabbath, or for that matter, how American Christians have come to treat the concept of Sabbath so poorly. If you are looking for a focus for your small group or Sunday school, those are certainly topics worthy of study.

 

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Arrogance and Accommodation

2 Kings 5:1-19 (NRSV)

Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused. Then Naaman said, “If not, please let two mule-loads of earth be given to your servant; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god except the Lord. But may the Lord pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the Lord pardon your servant on this one count.” He said to him, “Go in peace.”


God wants you to know something. God has long wanted all of humanity to know something.

Naaman was one of those people who struggle to hear God’s basic message to humanity. He was a powerful man, and with that power came a degree of arrogance. He was a violent man, one likely to look down his nose at the people he had raided and captured.

He also, however, was a man of suffering, bearing a disease that would have made him an outcast except for his brilliance on the battlefield. It ultimately was through the suffering and shame that God was able to reach Naaman. It is clear from the story the warrior craved healing, the kind of healing that would restore him fully to his community.

His arrogance almost undid his healing. How could the Prophet Elisha’s miraculous cure be so easy? Shouldn’t he at least come out of his house, wave his hands and do his prophet dance? How could a river like the Jordan, one in what he considered a backwater place, be superior in any way to the great rivers of his homeland?

Thank God for the sound, sober thinkers around Naaman, people able to inject a little rational thought past his emotional arrogance. This is easy, so easy, they told him. Just do it. And he did, and after the seventh immersion he found himself restored.

And by restored, I mean more than just his skin. Certainly, he had fine skin, the soft, unscarred skin of a boy, the kind of skin that would make him a wonder among his people. But other changes happened, too.

He had brought gold and silver, worth more than $2.5 million in today’s money, as well as fine clothing. Naaman, used to power and wealth counting for everything, had naturally assumed healing from his terrible disease would have to cost a fortune. He offered it to the prophet as a gift of gratitude. Imagine his surprise when the prophet refused!

But again, God wanted Naaman to know something, something beyond the powerful truth that God has the power to heal anyone.

And Naaman finally understood. Instead of offering gifts, he had one last request. Could he take some of this dirt from Yahweh’s homeland to use as the base for an altar of worship? In Naaman’s limited understanding of the world, he saw Elisha’s God as a god of a place, even though the warrior was beginning to hold the conflicting thought that Yahweh must be the only true God. Surely dirt from that place would be needed to build a proper altar.

Elisha didn’t try to engage in any deep theological conversations. Naaman had understood what was important. Naaman had learned that God’s grace flows freely; Naaman understood that the primary response God seeks is worship, a humble acceptance of God. In his time and with his background, this Aramean’s understanding was a remarkable breakthrough. It was enough.

Elisha even accommodated Naaman’s request that he be able to continue to treat his pagan king’s practices with respect.

This story is a loud whisper of what was to come. God’s grace freely given would overcome everything, even the treasured laws of the Jews.

The day would come when restoration for all would be possible, regardless of our particular sins, regardless of how far away from God we may find ourselves. In an act even stranger than a healing dip in the Jordan, our faith in Jesus Christ’s work on the cross immerses us in the blood of one slain like a lamb, and we know we will be made whole and new for all of eternity.

In the meantime, there is worship, glorious worship, heart-filling worship, with no mule-loads of dirt required. After all, we know Christ as King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the ruler of all of creation.


The featured image is “Elisha Declining Naaman’s Presents,” Abraham van Dijck, circa 1655.

Visiting Graves

John 11:32-44

I am a big Star Trek fan. As a pastor and preacher, I am aware others may not share my love of these shows, so I put severe limits on how often I reference Star Trek in conversation, and certainly, in my sermons. I don’t want people’s first thought about their pastor to be, “What a geek!”

That said, I decided to use one of my Star Trek reference rations today. I recently was watching an episode from 1994, the last season of “The Next Generation” Star Trek series, the one with the bald-headed captain with the English accent. A scene brought to mind what we are doing as we gather here on this All Saints’ Sunday.

We are, of course, considering what it means to remember those who have passed on. And frankly, I was disappointed as I watched this episode with pastor’s eyes for the first time. If this episode were to truly represent the future, the future would be a bleaker time than what we experience now.

Oddly enough, this is one of the few episodes with at least an oblique reference to Christianity. It opens with a graveside service for the grandmother of the ship’s doctor. As the service concludes, the character filling the role a minister would normally play says, “And so, we now commit her body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope that her memory will be kept alive within us all.”

Pretty words, largely because they are rooted in a prayer that goes back centuries from our own time. But ultimately, they are hollow words. The prayer has been changed in one key way. That alteration represents a devastating shift in thinking and a loss of hope. (Odd for a show that is beloved because it so often projects hope.)

As we see in our Bible text today, Jesus confronted a similar loss of hope. From this text we get our shortest Bible verse, “Jesus wept.” I provided it in the King James Version so this one verse would come out the way people raised on childhood Bible drills in Sunday school would remember.

Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead. He made that clear before he ever headed for Bethany. And yet, before performing this great miracle, he cried in solidarity with the grieving people around him.

Jesus understood the deep pain we experience when we feel we have lost all hope. He shared that pain with his friends, even knowing the great healing he was about to perform. I take great comfort in knowing God doesn’t watch our pain from a distance and impassively; instead, as Jesus, God understands his creation’s suffering intimately. And when Jesus called, “Lazarus, come forth,” he replaced pain with hope.

Now, as spectacular as the event was, Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead was a short-term fix, a microcosm of what was and is to come. We have no reason to believe Lazarus did not eventually experience death again, although I think probably at a ripe old age. Jesus’ greatest work remained.

Death met its resounding defeat in Christ’s resurrection from the grave—at that point, death lost any real grip on us. We are promised that through our belief in Jesus Christ, we will experience resurrection and eternal joy, too, even if our physical death comes before Christ’s return.

That truth should color our view of life, even when we do inherently sad activities like visit our loved ones’ graves. Some might find it strange, but I actually enjoy walking through cemeteries. The headstones (sometimes, you have to study them together as a family) often tell little stories. It is possible to imagine the broad outline of people’s lives—their loves, their relationships, their pain.

And so often, in the midst of one of those stories, you see evidence of Christ at work. Bible verses on tombstones tell us a lot. I particularly enjoy little inscriptions referencing the resurrection. They can be as short as “Rest in Peace,” an acknowledgement a person is in a physical and spiritual state that will result in renewed, eternal activity one day.

That’s why I didn’t like that alteration of the prayer in Star Trek. Just one clause was changed, but it is critical. How long can we truly live on in the memory of others? A couple of generations, maybe three at most?

The proper prayer, the prayer you can still hear at many funeral services today, goes this way: “And so, we now commit this body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

As Christians, that is the prayer of hope we bring to the world.

Don’t Be Shushed

Mark 10:46-52

We’ve all had that experience of someone trying to shush us. A “shush” is more severe than a polite request to hush; behind a shush there is a tone of command, perhaps even an implied threat.

“Shush,” my mother would say when she could see I was about to backtalk her in a big way. The back of her hand would move quickly toward my mouth, close enough for me to feel the breeze but never quite touching me. I was blessed with a mother who never would have hit me in such a way, but in the moment of doubt I experienced, I shushed.

The crowd in our story was doing something similar to blind Bartimaeus, but he was in no way backtalking anyone. Shush, they were saying. There is something important going on here. We’re moving on to big things. Don’t make us come over there and shush you, Bartimaeus.

You have to understand what was happening—revolution was in the air. Jesus was at his peak of popularity. The crowd, ultimately fickle but now cheering him on, followed him, ready to begin the 17-mile hike from Jericho to Jerusalem, where they were sure everything would change. This great prophet would be king, the Romans would be cast out, and the Jews would once again be a great people.

Jesus had been talking of great mysteries, using kingdom language as he spoke. A couple of the disciples were so impressed, they had begun to lobby for cabinet positions in Jesus’ court; who among them would be the greatest?

Jesus had tried to correct this view, in particular among his disciples. He had told them plainly he was going to Jerusalem to die—in hearing that, how did they fail to grasp victory would not be easy? He had told them repeatedly all of this was about the least. In this victory, there would be no sheep left behind.

But there the crowd was, shushing Bartimaeus. All the poor beggar asked was to receive what many in the crowd had sought and received, mercy in one form or another. In his case, he wanted to see again.

To their credit, when the people saw Jesus was interested in Bartimaeus, they stopped shushing him and started encouraging him. That’s the correct behavior for a kingdom march. You look around you. You see who needs to come along, and you pay particular attention to those who want in, regardless of their status.

We’re on our own kingdom march, aren’t we? Some of us look to Jesus and say, “There’s our Lord, there’s our king.” And we follow him.

We know that Jesus ultimately ended up crucified and buried. We also know he rose from that death, and out of that resurrection victory everything did change, in ways far greater than that crowd heading from Jericho to Jerusalem could have imagined.

We march together now toward a time of perfect peace and healing. We march toward the end of the reign of evil and death, replaced by the eternal rule of the one who is right and just.

And thanks in part to Bartimaeus’ story, we know the march is for everyone who wants to join. No one is to be shushed.

Some of you may not be sure you’re wanted along on the march. You’ve lived on the margins for awhile. You don’t quite fit in; you cannot figure out how anyone would ever think of you as “Christian.” Maybe your past sins seem too big. Maybe you think you lack status, job, money, or clothes necessary to fit in.

Don’t be shushed. Christ’s mercy is for you, too.

Some of you are clearly with the crowd, ready to march on. Those of you at my current appointment, Luminary UMC, are the best I have ever seen at welcoming and accepting people of all kinds. I have quickly come to love this church for its openness. But I say all that to lead up to this: Even we can do better.

I’ve been amused the last few months as I’ve watched a couple of people enter our building wearing “do-rags,” those bandannas folded and tied to cover the head. (One was actually an acquaintance of mine.) For some reason, some of you shrink back when a stranger walks in wearing one. I even heard a couple of people whisper hoarsely, “Who’s that?”

Let’s not be shushing people with our words or body language. Each one may be a modern-day Bartimaeus in a bandanna, seeking God’s mercy.

When our march ends, we’re all going to be surprised at the people Jesus reached. And remember, there probably will be people who will be surprised to see you and me there.

Woman with glasses, piercings, headscarf, and cellphone (Spain, 2013)

The James Series: Be Healed

James 5:13-20

All these lessons from James in the past weeks about how to live—even how to think—come together in a special way at the end of his letter. It is easy to stereotype a giver of solemn advice like James as dour, but we see here he is a man full of hope, one who trusts fully in the healing power of a committed relationship with God.

Are any among you suffering? Well of course some of you are. In any group, there are always some who suffer, for so many different reasons.

James begins with simple advice: Pray. Keep doing what you have been doing as a follower of Christ. Stay immersed in the connection you already have.

There is a flip side to suffering, though, and James never wants us to forget this. There are good times, too, those times when all is well, when joy prevails, when all seems right with the world. We find such times in moments involving babies and brides and other big, happy events; we find them in the simplest of moments, too, for example, sipping a cup of coffee in the quiet of the early morning on a back porch.

And in the cheerful times, his advice is pretty much the same: Pray. He specifically says “sing songs of praise,” but such a sound is nothing but a prayer from the joyful, lifted up in the manner easiest for cheery souls.

With this encouragement to constant prayer in mind, James asks, “Are any among you sick?” Suffering and sickness go hand in hand, don’t they? And he’s not specific about what he means by “sick.” In modern times, we know we can suffer from all sorts of sickness.

There is physical illness, of course. We can be mentally or emotionally ill, too; as spiritual people, we also know we can be spiritually ill. Our relationships can be quite sick, too. And of course, these can all overlap or intertwine—for example, mental or spiritual problems can lead to physical problems or relational problems.

I don’t know if James had all of these illnesses exactly in mind, but I know Christian communities have seen healing in all of these areas, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t pursue such healing, too.

Our starting point is always spiritual healing. It is always available, always guaranteed as we open ourselves to God through faith in Christ’s work. When we seek miracles—direct intervention by God in situations that seem otherwise hopeless—we have to first let God heal our relationships with him through our belief in Christ’s work on the cross.

Spiritual healing also is the greatest healing. It is permanent. It grants us eternity. All other forms of healing simply are signs that God is breaking into this sinful world and making his presence known.

Those other forms of healing are wonderful to receive, however. And as a church, we do see such healing occur. Bodies are restored, minds find peace and calm, and emotions become manageable. Even relationships are healed when people at odds for one reason or another mutually submit to God’s presence.

———–

It is hard to capture in words what happened during our service of healing Sunday. Oddly enough, the crowd was smaller than average, but we spent an unusual amount of time at the prayer rail, asking for God’s intervention in all the kinds of brokenness mentioned above. May God continue to work in all of these situations daily, and may we all have the strength to tell others of the healing we see.

The Abundant Life

Matthew 14:13-21 (NRSV)

One of Jesus’ great, oft-cited miracles is the feeding of 5,000 men, plus however many women and children were present. There’s an additional miracle going on here we sometimes miss, however. Jesus’ gracious, divine Spirit overcomes what should be a crushing human burden.

Note how the story begins: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” This is a sign to readers that we need to back up a little in Matthew. Something important has just happened, something tragic, something painful.

That event was the senseless death of John the Baptist, a holy man slaughtered in the context of a courtly scene nearly pornographic in its intensity. King Herod, a puppet of the Roman Empire, had taken his brother’s wife for his own. John the Baptist had publicly condemned the marriage, leading to the prophet’s imprisonment.

On the occasion of Herod’s birthday, the wife’s daughter danced in a way pleasing to Herod, so pleasing that he promised to give her anything she wanted. After consulting with her mother, the daughter asked for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Cornered by his own offer, Herod reluctantly ordered the executioners to do their work, and the gruesome reward quickly arrived.

The nastiness of the world stains this scene mightily, even if some of the ugliness must be inferred. In addition to the callous murder of a prophet, there is layer upon layer of incestuous behavior, both in Herod taking his brother’s wife and Herod’s lust for her daughter, presumably his niece. There also is the wife, who apparently was quite happy trading up to a marriage that would put her in Herod’s court—she is, after all, the one who initiated the beheading, clearly unhappy with John the Baptist’s public critique.

An Intrusion?

Sin came crashing down, killing Jesus’ cousin, the one who had recognized the presence of the Christ while still in the womb, the one ordained by God to declare the messiah’s arrival. Jesus needed time to grieve. He also had to come to terms with another sign his own suffering and death were not far off.

Naturally, Jesus wanted some privacy. The human part of him needed to pray and grieve, perhaps even to cry. But when he arrived at the shore of the deserted place where he headed by boat, it was no longer deserted. The people had run on foot from the towns to be in his presence, in particular, to bring their sick.

How would we react to our much-needed respite being interrupted? Except for a few true saints among us, not the way Jesus reacted. At our best, maybe we would be polite; maybe we would send a spokesman to ask the people to go away, with a promise to appear at such-and-such town on a specific day and time.

It’s a normal reaction when we’re under the stress loss and anxiety can bring. We physically hurt, pain knotting in our heads, our chests or our stomachs. We tend to overreact to what others say or do, and that can make us fearful of being with people. We feel like we cannot be much good to anyone else.

But Jesus looked around—I imagine him taking a very deep breath—and, filled with compassion, began to heal, a process that at times seemed to drain him. Ultimately, he began to feed all those people, despite what seemed like a dire shortage of food.

In feeding these people, Jesus was sending one of those messages designed to turn the world upside down. Sin cannot win. Brokenness and scarcity will not triumph. The eternal, all-powerful God, the one who made all things, offers abundance in all things, even when his heart is broken by his own creation.

Bearers of Grace

Anxiety and fear do not represent the normal order of the universe as God made it to be. We are human, but as Christians we are to be like Jesus as much as humanly possible, allowing the Holy Spirit to strengthen us at times we think we can go no further, particularly if we’re called to show God’s grace in a particular moment. We cannot forget that while Jesus provided the miracles, he also told the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

I’ve known a few people who seemed to be really good at taking that deep breath and doling out grace. One of my favorites was a man named Bob Loy. Bob had every reason to feel crushed by the world.

He had lived for decades with about 30 percent lung capacity after an accident that nearly killed him. By the time I knew him, he was elderly. His wife became very ill; while staying with her at the hospital, Bob slipped and fell, breaking his leg near the hip and putting himself in the hospital.

While Bob was laid up, unable to move, his wife died. He couldn’t even go to the funeral. His sister also died about the same time. Again, he couldn’t go to the funeral. This was a man who had every reason to give up.

But not Bob. Through his pain, he kept looking around what had become a very tiny world for him, a hospital room. He was certain every day somebody near him needed God’s grace, and he was going to be God’s vessel for that grace. I know for a fact that he brought at least one nurse to a belief in Jesus Christ while flat on his back in that hospital bed.

He also showed me a lot of grace. I was a new pastor, and he constantly was encouraging me, even as pneumonia took over those weak lungs and he had to keep pulling off his oxygen mask to speak.

A Near-Death Experience

Bob had a secret that explained his attitude, a secret he shared with me after we had known each other awhile. When he had that accident decades earlier, the one that scarred his lungs so badly, he had a vision of an entryway to heaven.

His had been the classic case of dying on the table and being brought back. He said his experience was indescribably beautiful, a vision of a stream, a vast plain, and the most glorious mountain he had ever seen. He knew God was there, and if he crossed the stream, he could not go back. He also knew he had a choice. A young man at the time, he chose to return to his family, he told me.

But he did not forget the vision. He had seen what eternal victory in Christ looks like, if only briefly, and from then on that vision shaped his life. I knew Bob only late in his life; when it came time to preside at his funeral, I heard story after story of the lives he had changed through the years with his joyous version of the story of Christ, a story he both told and lived out every day.

I don’t think Christians have to have a near-death experience to understand what Bob understood. We have embraced the story of a Savior who shows us repeatedly that when it comes to the things that matter—love, hope, joy—there is eternal abundance. We simply need to learn to dwell in that abundance.

Now I See

Light from within.

Light from within.

I love this man born blind, the man whose story is found in the ninth chapter of John. One miracle moved him from broken street beggar to bold preacher of the truth.

I would like to know his name, but I suppose God has kept that from us for a reason. In some ways, he is Everyman, even though few of us have been born physically blind.

As remarkable as the restoration of his sight seems, the immediate transformation of the healed man’s spirit impresses me more. I don’t expect that life as a beggar had generated a lot of self-confidence.

As the story proceeds, however, we see how he repeatedly proved himself bold because of the miracle he had experienced. He testified to his healing. He even taunted Jewish religious leaders, who feared Jesus’ growing popularity and criticized the miracle.

Having lived in darkness for so long, this new disciple of Christ wanted to stay in the light, avoiding the shadows where the more politically cunning tried to stand.

Do those of you who are Christians remember that moment when you first saw the light, when you fully understood the pivotal role Jesus plays as savior of all creation? Did you experience a sudden boldness? Did that assertiveness replace a muttering shyness about all things religious?

Such a dramatic change in attitude is common for new Christians. Finding a way to hold on to that boldness is not so common, however. Some we would count among the churchgoers have an unfortunate habit of wanting to stand in the shadows like the Pharisees, thinking just a little light will be enough.

John Wesley called such people “Almost Christians,” having a religious look and sound to them but accomplishing little for the kingdom—Christian on the outside, but still deeply dark within. The distinguishing factor between these people and “Altogether Christians,” he said, was a visible love for God and neighbors.

The man healed from blindness immediately began to live as an Altogether Christian. He was bold in declaring Jesus’ presence in this world, worshiping Jesus to show love. He also showed love to his neighbors by being unashamed of Jesus in the face of criticism or worse.

How can we not boldly declare life-giving truth to people we love? We are filled by Christ’s light, even transformed into light, and we are empowered to carry light into the darkness where so many suffer.