From The Word
by Stephen Charles Mott
Biblical Healing as Empowering the Needy
Healing in the Bible has a connection to social justice that gives a social
dimension to the mission to which Jesus gave to the disciples, and to us. We are
sent to "heal the sick and declare that the Reign of God has come
near" (Luke 10:9).
In 12:18, 20, Matthew interprets Jesus' healing (vv. 9-14) as fulfilling the
prophecy that the Servant of the Lord would victoriously execute justice Healing
is closely associated with acts of justice in the Bible. Giving sight to the
blind appears beside setting free from oppression in Luke 4:18 (cf. Psalm
146:7-9 et al.).
In Ezekiel 34 the political and religious leaders ("shepherds") are
accused by the prophet. "You have not strengthened the weak, you have not
healed the sick . . ., you have not sought the lost, but with force and
harshness you have ruled over them" (v. 4 NRSV). The word sick
here is the most basic Hebrew word for sickness. It means to be in a state of
weakness, to suffer slackness and exhaustion. One's vital power somehow has been
snipped. The sick experienced that physically, but also psychologically and
socially in the aversion and social isolation they received and the subsequent
Sickness in this way is closely associated with poverty. The basic words for
the poor in Hebrew express weakness and lowliness. Leviticus 25:35, the key
passage on power in the Scriptures, describes a member of the community who
becomes poor and, literally, his or her "hand trembles with you." Hand
here and often is a metaphor for power. The poor are lacking in power to
maintain themselves in community. The obligation placed on the community
literally in the Hebrew is, "You shall make him strong." That is the
task of justice. It is not to ameliorate or maintain a marginal existence, but
to restore that person so that they can "live beside you in the land."
In Ezekiel 34:4 this obligation is placed on the rulers. It is the
responsibility of political institutions and other leading public institutions.
The duty denied is that of Leviticus 25:35 with the same verb. "You have
not strengthened the weak." The word for the weak, however, is the word for
the sick, which appears again in the next clause, "You have not healed the
sick." In Isaiah 3:7 (NRSV) a person who refuses to be a ruler
states, "I will not be a healer." Healing is a metaphor for a broad
range of activities of empowering people to overcome the affliction that they
receive from their environment.
The prophesy in Ezekiel 34 goes on to show that when institutions fail, God
takes over the responsibility. It is restored in the new way of life breaking
into history with God's Reign. ". . . I will bind up the injured, and I
will strengthen the weak [the same phrase as in v. 4] . . . . I will feed them
with justice." This restoration will be carried out by the promised son of
David. (v. 23). This passage is at the root of Jesus' repeated teachings about
recovering the lost (sheep).
As Jesus' messianic agents, we are given the task of healing. Jesus' rule is
not yet fully here. It is nevertheless the standard by which we challenge every
institution to carry out its responsibilities of empowering the weak. The call
for some may be simply to be instruments of physical healing. As in the Bible,
it also may be much broader. Like William Booth, our healing may be with those
whose "circumstances are sick, out of order, in danger of carrying [them]
to utter destitution" (In Darkest England and the Way Out, 221).
The capture of the Gospel of Christ occurs when the Bible is interpreted and
used according to only one perspective of application. Generally, such a
perspective in itself has valid support within the Scriptures. The problem
arises when it is imposed upon other dimensions present in the text. The Gospel
may be captured by economic liberation when the dimension of personal
reconciliation is lost. It may be captured by evangelism when the biblical
demand of social justice is passed over.
The false response to this problem is to avoid grounding mission closely in
the Scriptures. One then assumes that the particular form of mission is the task
of church and proceeds to carry it out. The Bible then is not misused, but it
also is hardly used. Its authority and motivating power are not tapped. Often a
passion for mission cannot be passed on, particularly to the next generation of
Christians, unless it is adequately established. There are, however, effective
ways to prevent the capture of the Gospel.
Awareness is the first response to the problem. None of us reads the
Scriptures in a vacuum. We bring to them preconceptions that influence what
we receive from it. Such assumptions generally are reinforced by the particular
band of Christians to whom we belong. We need to identify and control these
penchants within us. We study the Bible prayerfully, seeking the guidance of the
We carry out this self-examination because of our commitment to the primacy
of Scripture. We want to know what the Bible says and how our lives should be
conformed to it because it is the word of God. We continually test our
understandings and expectancies by the text itself. A continual dialogue takes
place between critical examination of Scripture and understandings carried out
in action. Because Scripture is primary, we seek to confirm our interpretations
through the careful use of reason, by reference to how other Christians have
interpreted the Bible, and by our own experience of God's spirit in our lives.
We confirm the Bible with our minds and our actions. We do not use the Bible to
confirm our prior understandings.
Nurturing a spring of faith lying deeper in our lives than its emergence in
mission also prevents the capture of the Bible by only one perspective. Our
whole lives are presented to God so that they may flourish in devotion to God,
as we find forgiveness of sin. We have a personal love of Jesus Christ so rich
that we are anxious for those who do not have a saving relationship to Christ.
We have a passion to see God's justice in every social institution so that we
oppose everything that is contrary to God's will and that denies men and women
God's intention for them. This mature breadth in our lives encourages us to
respond to Scripture comprehensively.
Leaders in the church will encourage this scope in those engaged in the
various forms of mission. Meetings of a church and society work area and the
various contacts which the leader has with its members will be some of the
places where discipleship into the full range of Christian growth occurs.
Biblical study and worship which are connected to social justice activities will
not present only social readings of Scripture and social prayers but will bring
whole persons into the manifold dimensions of Christian life and adoration. The
Bible will then speak in freedom.
From The Word
by Stephen Charles Mott
From Fallen Angels to Social Structures?
In the influential language of the King James Version, Colossians 2: 10, 15,
like other Pauline passages, speaks of the "principalities and
powers": Christ is "the head of all principality and power." In
his cross he "spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them
openly, triumphing over them in it." The concept of "principalities and powers," or in more
current English, "rulers and authorities," is important for
understanding the social challenge of the New Testament.
As Professor Andrew Lincoln, a New Testament scholar, has noted recently,
"there is no dispute that in the first century CE the cosmic powers were
viewed as real angelic or spiritual intermediaries inhabiting the heavenly
realm" (in The Bible in Human Society, ed. M. D. Carroll et al.
). Professor Lincoln, however, raises a question also asked by others. How
do we get from angelic beings to social structure?
In his clearly thought-out essay, Professor Lincoln shows how we can
forcefully show by analogy that in our contemporary understanding of the
world cosmic powers include unjust social, political, and economic structures.
"It will include ideologies that hold people in bondage, frequently without
their being conscious of it, such as the ideology of redemptive violence that
believes peace and security can only be obtained through the violent use of
power, materialism, consumerism, sexism, patriarchalism, rationalism,
nationalism, and the postmodernism that denies any reality to truth and justice
and asserts that the only realities are preference and desire. It will include
nuclear and chemical armament, rampant epidemic disease, ecological disaster and
other consequences of human finitude and sin that have become destructive
threatening forces" (pp. 351-52).
Professor Lincoln questions, however, if it has been shown that the biblical
angelic powers, which he agrees were fallen, were at that time understood
as ideologies and social structures. Even though we should appropriate them that
way now, we cannot claim direct biblical authority for that application
Professor Lincoln, however, does not probe the question of why angels were
called "rulers and authorities." We understand their ruling function
from Jewish writings contemporary to the New Testament. God's care of everything
in creation from the stars to the elements, from individuals to nations (cf. the
"rulers" in Daniel 10:20-21) was directed through angelic agents. 2
Enoch 19:4-5 (first century A.D.) speaks of "angels who are appointed over
seasons and years, the angels who are over rivers and seas, and who are over the
fruits of the earth, and the angels who are over every grass, giving food to
all, to every living thing, and the angels who write all the souls of men, and
all their deeds and all their lives before the Lord's face." In the Book of
Jubilees 4:15 (second century B.C.) the watchers, who are linked with angels,
instruct humankind in justice and righteousness. Similarly, Hellenistic thought
was influenced by Plato's discussion of "rulers" who are lesser gods
that maintain the virtue of the universe through their justice and self-control
(Laws X, 903b, 906). The angelic rulers admittedly are not identical with
social structures, but they do influence structural conduct and within them
oppose God's purposes for human well-being.
The cultural and institutional aspects of the angelic rule are also seen in
their control of the world (cosmos, Eph. 6:11-12; cf. 2:2). The cosmos
is the ordering of life. In the New Testament this includes economic
relationships, status distinctions, the system of learning, political rule, and
a system of values.
The social and institutional domain of the rulers and authorities is present
in the New Testament and its environment, showing the biblical perception of
evil that penetrates institutional and cultural life. Obedient opposition to
such forces of evil must go beyond individual acts of sin.