There are many times I enjoy a choice… lectionary selection is not one of them. And yet, under the generous heading of ‘Healing Stories,’ the Narrative Lectionary and the good folks at Working Preacher give us two: John 4:46-54 (NRSV, CEB) and John 5:1-18 (NRSV, CEB).

The passage from John 4 has parallels to a story told in Matthew 8:5-10 and Luke 7:1-10. In those cases the official involved is named specifically as a centurion. In this case the community of John sets the scene by naming other details such as Cana (where he had changed the water into wine) as the place and using language that makes clear that Capernaum is someplace other.

There are a few other things of note as well:

  • This is the first time Jesus saves a life;
  • In verse 48 the ‘you’ is second person plural – unless y’all see signs and wonders you will not believe
  • The official holds firm much like the mother of Jesus does in chapter 2
  • The official – removed from the Jewish tradition – has faith in Jesus without seeing the signs
  • Cana has now seen a miracle that reveals Jesus’ glory and a miracle that reveals his ability to give life. It is a shift from ‘look at what Jesus does’ to ‘look at who Jesus is”

If I were to choose this text alone for Sunday I might go with focusing on the persistence of the royal official. He doesn’t have all of the theology down nor does he understand the signs/wonders and guess what – he doesn’t care. He asks – even demands – from Jesus what he wants.

How often do we undermine our prayers with clarifiers: “Lord, if it be thy will…” Certainly in life and ministry there is room for that. But what about boldly asking for the healing that we want? I can’t find it, but I remember an interview Oprah did with Maya Angelou years ago where she talked about her son being very sick in the hospital. She said that she walked up and down those hallways demanding his healing… and she got it. Soon after that the pastor at the church where I was the youth director at the time had the congregation stand up and pray for an infant in our congregation who was very sick and his prayer demanded healing (and we’re Presbyterian!) and that boy was healed. What does it mean to boldly pray like that?

Some notes from the second passage:

  • Jesus asks the man, “Do you want to be made well?” And the response is all about how the man can’t get to the place of healing and Jesus heals him anyway.
  • Do you want to be made well? This is a great question to pose to the congregation. I’m quite sure we all have those folks who like their wound – whatever form it may take – and get energy from it rather than actually wanting to be healed.
  • Many of us have moved on from the theology of v. 14 (“See, you have been made well! Do not sin any more, so that nothing worse happens to you.” Do we ignore it? Brush over it? Name it and its inherent dangers? Preach it?
  • V. 17 is throwing some gas onto the already burning Pharisee fire. Healing people on the Sabbath will make the religious authorities mad; declaring to be the son of God will get you killed.
  • It’s easy to turn on the rule abiders, but if it were not for being strict about what it means to follow their God the Jews would no longer exist. It is basically unheard of for a nation of people to continue to exist once they no longer have land that is their own. Through the dietary restrictions, the keeping of the Sabbath and other law-abiding the Jews managed to maintain themselves as a people against overwhelming odds.

I’m using both texts on Sunday (I told you I couldn’t make a decision) and I think I’m going to head in the direction of the boundaries and barriers we put up in order to make ourselves feel safer. It’s a very human and tribal thing to do, but God calls us to something different, and in order to respond we have to purposefully move to break down those barriers.

The presence of Jesus, the ability to heal in a town far removed from the request, the echoes of the first miracle at Cana, the status of the community of John as exiles from the ‘authentic’ religious community all point towards the proclamation of freedom as Gospel.

Jesus had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with life and being. Jesus calls us into a life of wholeness… how will we respond?

We’d love to hear where you’re heading with the text(s). Please be sure to comment no matter where you are in your week.

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14 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Abundant Healing Edition

  1. I’m doing both stories…and I’m not sure where the focus is going to be yet. It’s also Scout Sunday, so the boy scouts (and possibly a couple of girl scouts) will be leading worship, so the weaving of the theme is more complicated because the liturgy is more scouty while the sermon will be more healing-y.
    I think there’s something to be said for asking churches, especially angsty ones: do you want to be made well? And then pointing out that Jesus doing his thing is not actually contingent on our answer…but we still may need to pick up the mat and walk.
    I also think there’s something to be said for pointing out how easy it is to condemn the Pharisees when really many of our churches are Pharisees. We do things the way we do them, period. It’s another “we’ve never done it that way before” kind of thing.

    Originally I had thought I might go down a path that starts with noticing that neither story contains a profession of belief, only proclamations of good news. But I don’t know if that’s what we need to hear this week or not…

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    1. I like the idea of taking it to the church level – do we want to be made well? Scout Sunday here too.

      On Mon, Feb 3, 2014 at 4:51 PM, RevGalBlogPals wrote:

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  2. I am jumping ahead one week and preaching I AM the Bread of Life since we are celebrating communion this coming Sunday. I’ll pick up the healing stories the following Sunday.

    Been perusing through Gunilla Norris’ “Becoming Bread” and Joyce Rupp “Fresh Bread” for some creative inspiration.

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    1. There is a LOT of bread coming up so thanks for the book references!

      On Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 8:43 AM, RevGalBlogPals wrote:

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  3. I’m interested in carry the Water theme through from the previous weeks. Or I might include verse 5:4 about the stirring of the water as in we think we know what it takes to be healed and yet we are wrong. I like your point Teri, that Jesus just does his thing no matter if the man answered or not.

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  4. These healing stories always highlight those in our congregations who have not been healed. We have several on our prayer list who are dealing with chronic conditions that have no cure, or are several years into cancer treatment. How do these texts sound in their ears? They ask with faith, they want to be healed….the whole congregation has asked with faith….and yet…

    I know there’s different kinds of healing. It’s a fact of the human condition that we all die. It’s a fact of the brokenness in the world that some of us suffer. Is healing the ability to embrace abundant life in the midst of death and brokenness? And will that speak to L whose cancer has spread and just transferred to hospice care…or B who suffers from fibromyalgia…or M who has been battling lung cancer for three years….?

    That’s what I’m pondering so far. Thanks Teri and Sandra – “do we want to be made well”, and “we think we know what it takes to be healed” have caught my imagination.

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    1. I struggle a great deal with healing passages, too, because I wonder how they are heard. I know how I hear them, and I don’t face much personal struggle with healing. I feel so so so removed from physical healing stories because I know they don’t “come true” every time. I do not like to preach them because I have a hard time getting passed all that myself. I’m OK with healing not happening every time. In fact, I’m much more comfortable with healing NOT coming from God than healing coming from God, because if it comes from God than why doesn’t it come all the time? So, I tend to live a little world where I don’t count on or expect physical (health) healing from God, and then these stories come up where I’m supposed to proclaim that it has. I have to try not to say anything that makes me feel like a fraud. I also, don’t feel right explaining it all away when others are perfectly happy praying and waiting and believing.

      Ugh. Not a fan of healing stories. I think I over think them.

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  5. Ramona just wrote pretty much what I wanted to comment. I have a friend– a non-church friend who nevertheless showed up at my church on Sunday. She has been diagnosed with a cancer so devastating that they don’t even do 5-year-projections, because no one lives that long. I ran into her last night at the grocery store. She wants to live. She loves life, she is an artist. I– we– are challenged to preach the truth of healing with confidence, and at times, the words are like sand in my mouth.

    I will use both stories as well, because– the more images we give people of healing the more possibly they can see themselves in the story.

    I do want to say this: In both stories, everyone is talking across each other. And the Jesus who accuses a man of wanting his son healed just so that Jesus can show the big flashy stufff– that is not a Jesus I love so much. (Though thanks, Kathryn, for pointing out the ‘y’all’ in that verse.)

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    1. I think the context of the community of John is really helpful when it comes to that challenge by Jesus. They were all about not having to be physically present in the same space as God in order to receive God’s blessings.

      On Wed, Feb 5, 2014 at 10:39 AM, RevGalBlogPals wrote:

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  6. I’m thinking a lot about the boundaries and barriers that make us feel safe. And how they are sometimes good. And sometimes (gift of the Law) God given. But then we get stuck on the boundaries themselves. Maybe it’s not the boundaries that keep us safe but the Love that sets the boundaries?? Maybe I’ve been reading too much about parenting toddlers. You might be a clergy mom if…

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