JESUS THE HEALING TEACHER
and his disciples saw a blind person on the street. The disciples
asked Jesus, "Who committed the sin that this one should be born
blind?" They assumed that all suffering and sickness were the
result of sin. They were wrong. Jesus replied, "Neither
this one nor his parents sinned." Nobody was to blame.
Jesus had no interest in trying to decide whose fault it was.
Jesus said, "This gives us an opportunity to demonstrate God's love and
power." Then Jesus gave sight to the blind person. Read
carefully through John chapter 9 and notice the many parallels to AIDS
issues in the story.
was surrounded by sickness, suffering, pain and death. The
average life expectancy was 25. No effective medical treatment
existed for most illnesses. Most diseases were fatal.
Treatments often were worse than the sickness. The woman in Luke
8:43-48 who touched Jesus for help had "suffered at the hand of many
JESUS HAD COMPASSION
was motivated by compassion. The Greek word for compassion is
built on the word for the viscera and was used to express feeling the
pain and suffering of someone else "in the pit of your stomach."
It was the strongest word in Greek for human feeling. It
expressed Jesus' real identification with the wounded and suffering
people around him. Jesus had compassion for lepers, whose painful
and disfiguring disease kept them away from all other people.
Lepers were thought to be punished for sin and were called "unclean"
and not allowed in the synagogue or Temple. AIDS is much like
biblical leprosy in the way people have reacted to it. Jesus
loved, touched, identified with, and healed lepers.
help can be elusive for those who already feel alienated and isolated
from the church. Religious bigots and ignorant Bible abusers
frequently have distorted the "good news" of the gospel of Jesus Christ
into an insensitive and destructive tirade of condemnation, rejection
and guilt aimed at the very people who most need love, tenderness,
acceptance and understanding.
is a medical, political, legal, economic, social, spiritual and
religious issue. Most of all, AIDS is a human issue.
Mental, emotional and physical pain engulf victims of AIDS.
Despair and fatalism often blur the vision and dull the senses of
people with AIDS and those who are close to them. The compassion
of Jesus, who identified with and felt the pain of others, is perhaps
the most needed spiritual ingredient in our war against AIDS.
For a powerful look at how gay and lesbian people have responded to AIDS, see The "Names Project" AIDS MEMORIAL QUILT.
JESUS HEALED THE WHOLE PERSON
holistic healing ministry of Jesus is described in Matthew 9:35:
"Jesus was going about all the cities and villages teaching in their
synagogues and proclaiming the reign of God and healing every kind of
disease and every kind of sickness. Seeing the crowds, Jesus felt
compassion for them, because they were distressed and downcast like
sheep without a shepherd."
healed the whole person. Holistic medicine began with Jesus, who
combined compassion with teaching, healing, and helping people to live
at peace with God, others and themselves. Jesus gave wholeness
and health to all of life in body, spirit, mind, and relationships with
others. Jesus never condemned or blamed people for their pain or
sickness. Jesus' angry judgment was aimed only at those who were
insensitive to human suffering and who condemned the people who most
needed love and encouragement. To Jesus, human pain and suffering
were always seen as opportunities to do the work of God and to
demonstrate the love and power of God.
The following material was added April 16, 2001:
past Easter weekend gave us a multitude of images of Jesus in
television specials that were dramatic, political, complex and
contradictory. Everything from the Pope's Easter message to a new
London production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" along with hours of
scholarly debates and documentaries poured off the airwaves.
When you think of Jesus, what do you see? How does
Jesus look in your mind's eye?
Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the religion of the
empire in AD 325, his mother traveled to Palestine to search for the
holy sites associated with the life of Jesus. Local people were
quite happy to satisfy the curiosity of the mother of the emperor by
identifying just about every place mentioned in the Gospels, whether
they were accurate or not.
the time the mother of Constantine went to look for the places where
the events in the life of Jesus took place, Jerusalem had been
completely destroyed three times and new streets and buildings built
over the rubble. The ground level of Jerusalem today is anywhere
from about 30 to 150 feet above the ground level in the time of
Jesus. Time magazine last week ran a cover story about the
contrast between what Jesus saw and what exists today in Jerusalem.
someone were to ask Jesus to show where the sacred places were, he
would point to people, not to buildings or ancient ruins. To
Jesus, people always came first. People were more important than
religion or ritual or laws or buildings. Jesus called people to
follow him, not institutions or organizations. Jesus frequently
stopped everything else to talk and listen to a single individual.
Sunday, PBS showed a film on "The Face: Jesus in Art" which explored
the history of the various ways that Jesus has been pictured by artists
in many different traditions. Artists imagined and painted the
face of Jesus in an endless variety of designs and expressions.
The race, culture, religious environment, and personality of the artist
noticeably influenced how the face of Jesus was represented. The
sum total of the pictures of Jesus is the face of everyone. It is
the remarkable face of all humanity.
often has pictured Jesus as a strange unusual person dressed in glory
robes and with a halo around his head. We see very few people
that look like that in our everyday life! Yet Jesus made it clear
that when we see anyone in need or suffering or marginalized by
society, we have seen him. Perhaps the face of Jesus is more like
the faces you see at work and in your home and even in your own mirror
than the faces in stained glass or church paintings.
THE HUMANITY OF JESUS
Jesus only in terms of the supernatural and spiritual denies the
reality and relevance of the humanity of Jesus. We cannot
identify with a magical supernatural or spiritual vision of Jesus that
keeps Jesus at a remote distance in hazy uncertainty. The
humanity of Jesus makes Jesus relevant to our daily lives and to our
present culture and way of thinking.
of the features of contemporary church life work against seeing Jesus
in ordinary people and in everyday life. We are expected to go to
a special building to experience Jesus. There we sit in rows
looking at the backs of other people's heads and not at their
faces. We are distracted from any meaningful contact with each
other by the stern architecture and medieval rituals which lead us to
recite ancient formulas and propositions without understanding,
interest or relevance to anything in our lives.
bizarre 1960 movie scene at the beginning of "La Dolce Vita" by
Federico Fellini has stuck in my mind for years. Two women are
sunbathing on a rooftop in Rome when a helicopter comes into view
carrying a statue of Jesus hanging by a cable. One of the women
exclaims, "Look, there goes Jesus!" It was a very brief moment in
the film, but it somehow set the surrealist mood of the entire
production. Is Jesus just a remote figure soaring far overhead
beyond our reach? Is that all we can say when we look at the
churches: "Look, there goes Jesus!"
HOW YOU SEE JESUS
in February, I asked you to write to me and tell me who Jesus is to
you. Your responses were wonderful, and I am grateful to every
person who wrote to describe your vision of Jesus. Many of your
letters were very thoughtful and some were quite inspiring. But
nobody said that Jesus was the next-door neighbor. We can imagine
Jesus as our lord and savior and as our friend and protector but always
someone very special and very different from ourselves. We have a
lot more trouble imagining Jesus as the person we live with or the
person in the store or in the other car or homeless and slumped in a
doorway late at night.
real humanity of Jesus with which we can identify and live our lives
was lost long ago in glorious religious clouds, spectacular artwork,
speculations about heaven and the end of the world, and
"churchianity". Artists have precluded our freedom to imagine
Jesus for ourselves by giving us an endless array of suffering,
teaching, heavenly figures with halos and unreal physical appearance
with which we can never fully identify. All of this confuses what
it means to "follow" Jesus.
person of Jesus is the focus of art and architecture, and the real life
and teachings of Jesus often are ignored. The high drama of the
"way of the cross" and the "Fourteen Stations of the Cross" that is
pictured in churches and along the streets of Jerusalem on the "Via
Dolorosa" every Friday afternoon is a creation of the church that
ignores the facts in the Gospels and the history of the city and that
distorts what Jesus said about himself and his purpose for his
recent Time magazine article observed: "The path of the Via Dolorosa
through the Old City of Jerusalem is almost certainly inaccurate.
It follows a 14th century grid of the city rather than a 1st century
plan, and probably reflects the desire of 14th century merchants along
the way to get pilgrims' business." How much does the church
today reflect the desire to get pilgrims' business?
The aura of magic and superstition that surrounds popular images of Jesus is
medieval and distracting from what Jesus really intended.
of this has made me more determined than ever to take a fresh look at
Jesus as a guide to spiritual health and realistic faith for everybody
who has been misled and abused by traditional religion. This is
not just an issue for GLBT people, but they frequently have been
impacted more by abusive religion than most others. Everybody in
contemporary culture, however, has been affected by sick oppressive
religion in one form or another.
CHALLENGING THE POWERS
power of established religion to control the lives of millions of
people is awesome and seemingly invincible. But is it?
Jesus challenged the powers and was crushed. Yet Jesus set the
stage for all subsequent challenges to sick oppressive religion.
What can we learn from Jesus to show us how to create a better world of
freedom and genuine humanity? That's the big question for me.
mission is a ministry of truth and information that is honest,
objective and realistic. We are not at war against humans.
All of us are in the human condition together. Too many religious
people deny their humanity and honestly believe that they have been
called to play god. "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood,
but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of
this darkness, against spiritual forces of evil." (Ephesians 6:12)
was totally committed to truth and love. Truth and love are the
powers that make us truly human and truly the children of God.
Deceit and violence have no legitimate place among the followers of
Jesus. The truth sets you free to love. Truth and love will
But not yet.
The Day after Easter, 2001
the new London production of "Jesus Christ Superstar" if you can.
Both "Superstar" and "The Face: Jesus in Art" are available online from