Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Matthew 8:1-17) transports me to the the outskirts of Stoneville, NC, during the early 90s, when Kim and I were co-pastors of Providence Baptist Church there in the mill town community. Stoneville is on my mind this week as I received news yesterday of the passing of a dear friend and one of the true saints in the church, Jessie Cox. She was 96, and to the end maintained the same clear mind and encouraging spirit that she demonstrated when I first met her. Her welcome gift when we moved into the parsonage was a beautiful quilt, and it hangs on the wall of our home now. One of Jessie’s ministries was intercessory prayer, and another was visiting the sick and “shut-ins” of the community. Every Wednesday, she would bring her 1975 Chevy Nova muscle car over to the church parsonage, where either Kim or I would drive her throughout the community to make our weekly round of home visits. Those times spent with Jessie are some of the sweetest memories of my life. One of our favorite people to visit was a woman named Rivers Hand. Rivers, who suffered stoically from many ailments, was the community’s folk healer, an expert in herbs and other alternative remedies. She was also a classic story-teller with a great sense of humor, so she always had Jessie and me in stitches with stories of various and sundry miracle cures. She talked warts off of children as well as fire out of people who had been burned, and she mixed many a potion that included some measure of whiskey. It’s nice to imagine that she is one of the folks now introducing Jessie Cox to life in heaven, the land of final healing.
Today’s passage takes us on a round of visiting the sick throughout another community, accompanied by another suffering servant with healing hands. What strikes me in reflecting on the three healing stories here is not so much the miracle of these three individual bodies being healed by Jesus’ touch. Faith healing was not unusual in Jesus’ time. What set Jesus apart, though, was the way his healing touch reached more than individual bodies. What distinguished him from all the other faith healers dotting the countryside was the way he offered healing to the body politic – to the system of mismanaged care that used disease and illness as a way to sustain social control and isolate undesirables. Take the first episode: There were clear protocols and regulations about who could provide lepers with a clean bill of health. Jesus was not licensed or certified by the temple health department, so when he instructed the healed man to go and give a witness to the priest, he was encouraging an in-your-face act of subversion and a questioning of authority. In the second healing episode, the actual healing of the servant is overshadowed by Jesus’ celebration of this despised foreigner’s faith and his inclusion in the family of God. The third episode, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law, ends with her rising and waiting on them as the NIV puts it. That is an unfortunate translation, because the actual word used is the word deacon. This woman rose and became a deacon to Jesus and his companions. She rose in status as she rose from her sickbed.
So along with touching individual bodies, Jesus was putting his hands on all sorts of broken body politic systems. He was talking the fire out of the holiness codes that marginalized lepers. He was talking off the warts of ethnic purity codes that marginalized foreigners. And he was concocting a strong tonic to treat the gender codes that marginalized women. Our world is not so different from Jesus’ world; we are still plagued by broken bodies and broken systems, with health maintenance organizations that lead to deferred maintenance for many folks’ health. And just like in Jesus’ time, those larger bodies, drunk and hungover with the wine of worldly power, don’t really want to be healed and resist any healing touch. See if you can name their theme song – if there’s a cure for this, I don’t want it, I don’t want it, if there’s a remedy, I’ll run from it, run from it (apologies to the diva of Motown). May we pray as fervently as Jessie Cox for Jesus’ healing touch and may we sing along to a different theme song. . . If we are the Body, why aren’t His hands healing?
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Healing.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.