One common misconception about Jesus is that his earthly ministry was defined primarily by his teaching and preaching. But read the gospels carefully and you will find that the majority of his time and energy were committed to healing and caring for the sick. There are 37 miracles of Jesus recorded in the gospels, 31 of which are healing miracles, and two of which are mass healings. Jesus healed lepers, demoniacs, paralytics, the blind, the deaf, the hemorrhaging, and the dead.
Jesus was a healer. He came to be known as “The Great Physician” because he cared as much about the health of the human body as he did about the condition of the human soul. He would have rejected the dualism of so many Christians today who believe that the soul is more important than the body. Jesus was “the Word made flesh,” the physical embodiment of God. The mystery of the incarnation meant that the divine body and soul were inseparable, and this is how Jesus understood the human body and soul. He saw in the faces of the sick not simply an illness to be cured, but a person to be restored to life and to his or her community. Over and over again, he followed a healing with the command, “Go back…” to your people, to your village, to the temple, to your home – because he knew that when one person was made well, the entire community was made well.
What do you call a community that is “well?” Jesus called it “the Kingdom of God.” He did not understand this kingdom to mean some heavenly place where we experience eternal life in the spirit. He meant something like a neighborhood in which all the neighbors are fully alive, because those who live there are fiercely committed to the wellness of all their neighbors.
“But who is my neighbor?” asked the inquiring man. Jesus told him a story about a man who, on this perilous journey we call life, fell among terrible forces that overtook him. In the story, Jesus called them bandits; but he could have called them cancer, or depression, or dementia, or diabetes. Whatever you call it, the man was left for dead, neglected by the neighbors who should have cared but did not. But a complete stranger chose to care. He bound the dying man’s wounds, and essentially carried him to an ER, and offered to pay the bill until the man was fully alive again.
“Who is the neighbor in the story?” asked Jesus
“The one who showed compassion,” replied the man.
“Go and do likewise,” said Jesus.
The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and the Kingdom of God is the neighborhood that makes the fullness of life possible for all who live there.
From “A House Divided: Engaging the Issues through the Politics of Compassion” by Mark Feldmeir