Luke 10: 1-9
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the labourer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
In just under two weeks’ time strange outbreaks of fluff will begin to make their way on to the upper lips of men all over the world as moustaches are grown and the annual Movember campaign begins.
Beginning in Australia twenty years ago, Movember is based on a simple but slightly shocking truth that men are more likely to talk to one another about growing moustaches than they are their health. So, by encouraging the growing of moustaches through November the organiser seek to “change the face of men’s health” by raising awareness of chiefly prostate cancer and mental health.
The truth is that men are less likely to seek help if they feel unwell or if they are depressed or feeling low. The reasons for this are many and complicated. One of them certainly is the need for some men not to project an image of weakness or need. President Trump’s recent diagnosis and hospitalisation with Covid-19 is a textbook example of how some men believe that showing that they are ill and that they need to stop is some sort of sign of weakness.
But this is not an exclusively gender issue. In many ways our need to feel like we don’t need help or that we can do it alone is baked into our modern condition. I remember supporting a young woman once who was coming to terms with a deep trauma in her own life. Through our conversations there was an epiphany when she said, “but I should be able to deal with this by myself” to which I answered “no, we never have to deal with these things alone”.
Today is St Luke’s Day when we remember and give thanks to God for Luke the Evangelist and physician. So, it is fitting that the image of healing we are given to reflect on today comes from the themes of interdependence and healing that we find deep within Luke’s Gospel.
At first glance this would seem a strange reading to choose for a Sunday focused on the theme of healing. After all it is not obviously a story of healing. But on deeper reflection we can see that this is not so much a story about healing and rather a story which tells us about the conditions that lead us to the deep and transformative healing that God wishes for all of creation.
The problem with reading biblical stories of healing in a flat way is that the act of healing can come to seem like a sort of contractual arrangement. Person A approaches Jesus with ailment X, they talk and then Jesus heals them. This understanding of healing is one we are all used to: I have ailment Y, I go to the Chemists, or Doctors, I receive treatment, and I am healed.
The image of healing we receive in the gospels is so much deeper than this. Rather than being contractual it is based on the deep patterns of mutuality and interdependence that we find in our Gospel reading today and which campaigns like Movember remind us are so missing in modern society.
This story comes at a turning point in Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus turns and sets his face towards Jerusalem, he appoints seventy to go ahead of him. It is a vision of Christian mission filled with patterns of mutuality and interdependence.
First, we find that is not something that they do alone – or could ever do alone – but something they do in pairs. They travel light – carrying no bag or purse or additional clothing – and so their journey relies on the kindness and generosity of strangers. As they come to towns, they seek to bring the healing power of God’s peace. But this is not a gift which they bestow on others. Rather it is something which comes when others share that peace with them.
if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.
By this action and mission of mutuality and interdependence these seventy forerunners proclaim and reveal that the kingdom of God has come near and brings with it the deep healing that Isaiah speaks of:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
This is the pattern which underpins the healing we encounter in Jesus’ ministry. Healing does not come with the fulfilment of a contractual obligation. Healing comes through the relationship that is created between Jesus and the brokenness of the world that he came to save. It is only through recognising our complete interdependence with God and one another that the true healing of the kingdom can come.
Although we live in a world where healing is seen as a contractual activity – I am sick, someone will heal me – over the last few months we have come to recognise implicitly that the deep healing we will all need from this crisis will only come as we recognise more truly our deep interdependence with one another.
Through the early weeks and months of lock-down one of the great shocks for some was how dependent we were on people and contexts we never even see. Our food chains were put under pressure as vital stocks ran out, but a work force invisible to us delivered and stacked shelves and kept the food coming. The work of cleaners and carers – hidden in plain sight – was suddenly thrust onto the new Covid frontline. And in our seemingly fractured communities many discovered for the first time the kindness of strangers and neighbours they never knew they had.
Through those months where practical and political mistakes were made a healing remained and flourished because we recognised that this was something we did together and something we could only emerge from together.
Through the relative calm of the summer, and developing crisis of the autumn, the healing power of this interdependence and mutuality is beginning to fray. Problems come from what other people have done – the young, those in pubs, those in other parts of the country. As we look to a winter which suddenly seems more fragile and precarious than we might have hoped and imagined, we need not to lose sight of the deep mutuality and interdependence that lies at the heart of the promised healing of the kingdom. One thing we can all do is to continue to seek and speak for these relationships of mutual dependence that have held us through this crisis.
What Luke shows us is that the way to that healing is not something we can ever seek alone. Nor is it something that someone else does to or for us. Healing at the deepest level is something that we must do together – to care for each other, make sacrifices for one another, seek the deep healing we can only find in one another. So as we emerge from this crisis we might find through our deep commitments to one another the kingdom of God has truly come near.
Questions for personal reflection
• What ways do you need healing?
• What relationships of healing do you draw on?
• How could we become a community that seeks to heal the broken relationships of our community and world?