The ministry of seeing

“What is the mission to which the church of Jesus Christ in the world is called to, if it’s not a ministry of seeing, and of healing?”

This was one of the questions posed in a recent sermon by Fuller Seminary’s president Mark Labberton to those assembled to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the seminary’s School of Psychology.

Mark’s text was the story of a desperate woman whom no one could help, and who had come to Jesus as a last resort:

A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent her entire livelihood on doctors, but no one could heal her.  She came up behind him and touched the hem of his clothes, and at once her bleeding stopped.  “Who touched me?” Jesus asked.  When everyone denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are surrounding you and pressing in on you!”  But Jesus said, “Someone touched me. I know that power has gone out from me.”  When the woman saw that she couldn’t escape notice, she came trembling and fell before Jesus. In front of everyone, she explained why she had touched him and how she had been immediately healed.  “Daughter, your faith has healed you,” Jesus said. “Go in peace.”  (Luke 8:43-48, CEB)

Here was a woman who was untouchable and unclean through no fault of her own, at wit’s end from consulting doctors who offered no real help for her condition (a situation with which many today could identify).  Her last remaining option: seek out Jesus, the one rumored to be a miraculous healer.

She had hoped to sneak through the crowd, be healed by stealth, and slip away.

It was not to be so.

Even in the midst of a dense crowd of bodies, even though the woman had done nothing more than furtively touch the fringe of his cloak, Jesus knew that healing power had gone out from him.  He called her out publicly, with the crowd watching.  Having experienced his power firsthand, she stepped forward in fear and trembling and fell at his feet.

But he didn’t reprimand her: he blessed her with a word of peace, commending her for the faith that even something as small as a moment’s touch might be the answer to her prayers.

There is a ministry of healing: immediately, Luke tells us, a twelve-year medical problem was solved.  But the woman’s suffering was more than physical; there seems little question that she would also have struggled with spiritual doubt and social isolation.

The climax of Luke’s little story is not the physical healing, but Jesus’ word of peace.  Thus, as Mark Labberton suggests, there must also be a ministry of seeing.  He allows himself to be touched by the untouchable; but more, in the midst of a crowd, he singles out and sees the one who has become invisible, the person behind the diagnosis.

Go in peace.  It’s not an abstract greeting in way that “God be with you” is reduced to a breezy “Goodbye.”  Jesus has already extended God’s peace — shalom — to her, through a ministry not merely of healing but of seeing.

And we, in turn, are called by Jesus to be peacemakers (Matt 5:9), to demonstrate our identity as God’s children by engaging in the ministry of bringing peace to others.  May we learn to see as Jesus sees.