I (Veronica) have been reading through the book of Luke lately, in-particular two somewhat odd stories in Chapter 9 – the transfiguration and Jesus’ healing of a demon possessed boy. Even though I have been a Christian for a long time, these passages still challenge and confound me. Yet as I sat with them afresh this morning, I started to understand them in light of my life experience. This is the beauty of scripture – it is always alive and teaching.
Luke 9: 28-36 (the transfiguration) comes after Jesus’ ministry is in full swing. He has equipped and sent out the twelve disciples in active ministry, fed thousands with a single lunch, and is starting to see his disciples (namely Peter) grasp the significance of what he’s been talking about. Jesus then takes Peter, John, and James to the top of a mountain to pray and as he is praying he becomes bright and shiny like lightning (I know, I said it was weird!). Moses and Elijah also show up (long since deceased) and talk with Jesus. Peter, previously sleepy, is now very awake and offers to build shelters for the three of them. I think in the presence of such glory, Peter knew he ought to do something…but had no idea what.
The very next story reveals what has been happening on the ground while Jesus and his three disciples were on the mountaintop. A desperate father with a demon-possessed only son has begged the other disciples for healing. The disciples tried, unsuccessfully, to help. When Jesus comes down the father asks him directly, and before healing the boy Jesus says this strange phrase out loud to no one in particular, “You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?” (vs. 41)
Wha? Talk about a buzz kill. What is going on here? Why is Jesus so harsh? Healing isn’t exactly easy!
When my family made the decision to move into southwest Atlanta to do community redevelopment, we did so because we felt moved by God. Eric and I were deeply impacted by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapter at Emory and through Bible study and small group friendships glimpsed a new and glorious vision of Jesus. We could now see that Jesus was a Savior who cared for those in need, and went the distance to help them. We saw a God who stopped at nothing to bring people, all people, into his family. In response to God’s love and justice, we wanted to do something!
That something became a missional move to Atlanta’s southwest side of town, a ZIP code with a 13-year life expectancy gap compared to the nice Buckhead apartment in which we were living post-college. In the 9 years of living on the Southwest side which followed, we had a lot of interactions with people and families who needed healing – physical healing, relational healing, financial healing, healing of all kinds. But by and large, we were unable to do much to push back the social determinants of health that were bearing down on our neighbors. I could picture one of our former neighbors, were Jesus to visit our community, walking up and saying – “They’ve lived here for 9 years and I am still sick! Can YOU do something please?”
In this light, I can better understand Jesus’ response. In his urgency and desire to set people free from burdens, he is disappointed that even his followers who have made life decisions to follow him and be molded by his teaching are unable to get the job done. He’s sad that the neighborhood is sick, and relying on his people as his hands and feet is a slow and unsteady process. We were doing our best, but we left a lot undone.
But the good news for my heart as I prayed for my neighbors this morning is this: the story ends with Jesus healing anyway. Despite the bumbling imperfection of the disciples, and of my own story, Jesus heals. Despite the unbelief and perverseness of the times we live in, the days are not beyond Jesus’ reach. This is good news.
When I sign one of the copies of our book I like to write what I believe sums up the lesson I’ve learned over the last decade: God is always healing. The arc of his ministry on earth, and the story of scripture, bend toward new life. And while every individual story doesn’t have a happy ending, I take comfort in knowing God’s global intention is on the side of restoration.
And how did the people in the story respond when Jesus heals the boy? They were all “amazed at the greatness of God” (vs. 43). The scene closes with Jesus being glorified. We don’t really hear how the disciples reacted to the scolding; we just finish with Jesus healing and all the people giving God glory.
And in this I find the other big lesson of my faith journey: God takes broken situations and remakes them for the benefit of His Kingdom.
My story isn’t over yet, and as long as I have breath in my lungs (God willing) I will keep trying knowing that even when I fail, or the outcomes are disappointing, the ultimate healer is still in the business of making all things new.