The gospel of Matthew chapter nine gives us a snapshot of the ministry of Jesus – enabling a paralytic to walk; leading a sinner to repentance; healing a woman of a blood disease; raising a little girl from the dead; restoring the sight of two blind men; expelling a demon from a mute…
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of that on my C.V!
Matthew summarised it this way: “Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people” (Matt. 9:35).
But conscious of the enormous need, and mindful of the limitation of being in one place at one time, Jesus urged his disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore, pray the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” Jesus’ goal was to recruit followers who, in turn, would replicate his model of ministry all over the world.
Matthew says that when Jesus saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them. What does the phrase mean, “When he saw the multitudes”? Is it referring to a sweeping glance over the masses from a lofty vantage point in Galilee, or does it indicate a deeper, more perceptive kind of observation?
Jesus understood the law of cause and effect better than anyone else, and when he looked into the spirit realm over people’s lives he was able to discern the source of their problems – the spiritual, psychological or emotional cause that produced the physical effect (sickness or disease).
Western-style medicine is only now beginning to discover what ancient Eastern philosophies have known all along: that the biochemistry of the body is a product of awareness, or to put it another way, that the condition of the body is a reflection or printout of the condition of the soul. Writing to his dear friend Gaius, the apostle John enthused, “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).
Beliefs, thoughts and emotions create chemical reactions, which in turn, generate life in the cells of the body. Wherever a thought goes, a chemical goes with it. This works both positively and negatively. Happy and excited thoughts produce endorphins – polypeptides that bind the neuroreceptors in the brain and act on the central and peripheral nervous system to alleviate pain and create a sense of well-being. In fact, endorphin is a combination of two words, endogenous and morphine, indicating “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.” In other words, you have the ability to manufacture your own pain-killing drugs!
On the other hand, fearful, angry and anxious thoughts produce adrenaline – a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal medulla in response to stress and increases heart rate, pulse rate, and blood pressure, and raises the blood levels of glucose and lipids. Whilst this state of heightened arousal (fight or flight) is expedient in times of danger or opportunity, it is utterly unsustainable over the long term. Prolonged catabolic metabolism accelerates ageing and increases the risk of disease and death.
It is worth noting that endorphins and adrenaline are produced as much by the anticipation of an event as they are by the experience of the event itself. Consider, for example, the feelings of a young girl anticipating her first date, or a young man anticipating his first football match, or a business owner anticipating his or her first annual net profit. The fact is - your brain and nervous system cannot differentiate between that which is real and that which is imagined.
Have you ever dreamed of being pursued by an unknown assailant down a dark alley, only to find that it’s a dead end? In the dream, you only have two choices: to scale the five metre fence at the end of the alley, or escape through the kitchen of the local Chinese restaurant! Then you suddenly woke up, startled, and realized that it was only a dream. However, your heart was pounding, your pulse was racing, and your body was sweating and trembling – you were exhibiting all the signs of having competed in the race of your life, even though you were still in bed!
Jesus the Perceiver
Jesus, the Great Perceiver, looked past the superfluous symptoms of sickness and disease and saw the real need: “They were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). The Greek word ‘ekluo’, translated weary, means to unloose, as a bow string, and so, to enfeeble, to make faint-hearted. The word indicates harassment to the point of capitulation – of being worn down until one is worn out.
Likewise, the word ‘rhipto’, translated scattered, has the connotation of violent suppression – of being hurled to the ground and prostrated in helplessness. Clearly, the people were beaten up – spiritually, psychologically and emotionally - whether by the powers of darkness, the occupying Roman Legion, the corrupt Jewish administration, the iniquitous taxation system, or the ever-present threat of civil war. And the stress of life in this dusty outpost of the Roman Empire was manifesting itself in various forms of sickness and disease.
To be a good physician, one needs to be a good perceiver. In his ground-breaking book, Love Medicine and Miracles, renowned American surgeon Dr. Bernie Siegel stated:
“The all too common failure to interact fruitfully with patients comes from the way a physician is taught to be a mere mechanic. In medical school we learn all about the disease, but we learn nothing about what disease means to the person who has it… Dr Arthur Kleinman points out a difference between disease, defined as the physical or psychiatric symptoms or damage visible to a doctor, and illness, the patient’s subjective experience of the same sickness. The two are often remarkably different, especially when a person without scientific knowledge is treated by a Western physician… We must, like Plato’s free physicians, ask patients what they think caused the problem, what threats and losses (or gains) it represents to them, and how they believe it should be treated.”
That makes very interesting reading when one considers the different ways in which Jesus interacted with the sick people he encountered. Examining the gospels, Jesus didn’t appear to have a standard approach or ministry template when dealing with the sick. He treated each case differently. He dealt with each person individually and uniquely, considering their attitudes, beliefs and experiences.
As the Great Physician, Jesus was concerned with the condition of people’s souls, not just their bodies. He said, “Come to me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He also declared that he had been sent to heal the broken-hearted and to liberate those who were oppressed (Luke 4:18).
And on the cross he took that mandate to the limit when he “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isa. 53:4-5). The Hebrew word ‘choliy’, translated grief, is a broad-based term that encompasses the whole gamut of human suffering from spiritual oppression, to mental anguish, to physical sickness. Similarly, the Hebrew word ‘makob’, translated sorrow, denotes mental, emotional and physical affliction.
In his redemptive work on the cross Christ dealt with the root and the fruit, the cause and the curse, the triggers and the symptoms. The chastisement for our peace was upon him, and because of his wounds we are healed (Isa. 53:5). Jesus paid the price so that we might have peace (shalom) - wholeness in spirit, mind and body; the total integration of our being, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and physically.
Wanted: Shepherds that heal
The plight of the Jewish people in Christ’s time was exacerbated by the behaviour of the priests and religious leaders. Instead of doing the job they were called to do – feeding people with knowledge and understanding – they burdened them with legalism and tradition (Matt. 23:4). The endless catalogue of rules and regulations suffocated virtually any trace of faith and spiritual life in the oppressed population.
And Satan, the predator, took full advantage of their ignorance (1 Pet. 5:8). Because of their lack of knowledge they were taken into spiritual captivity (Isa. 5:13). All across the land people were sick and tired – psychologically, emotionally, and physically. And what were the priests doing about it? Apparently nothing!
On one occasion when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he called out to a woman who was crippled and said, “You are loosed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands on her and immediately she was made straight and glorified God. However, the ruler of the synagogue protested indignantly because Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath. With that, Jesus just about exploded and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:10-17)
What astounded Jesus the most was not the suffering of the woman, but rather, the fact that for eighteen years she had faithfully attended the synagogue during which time the religious leaders had done nothing to release her from the spiritual and physical oppression she was experiencing.
Apparently they were preaching everything else but the truth that that sets people free! And when Jesus came on the scene, preaching the good news of God’s kingdom and producing life-changing results, people exclaimed in astonishment, “We never saw anything like this!” (Mark 2:12).
In every generation God raises up shepherds after his own heart to feed his people with knowledge and understanding (Jer. 3:15). Interestingly, the Hebrew word ‘raah’, translated feed, means to shepherd, tend, pasture, and cause to graze, and connotes nourishment, contentment and good health!
A case in point is the shepherd of Psalm 23 who causes his flock to lie down in green pastures, and leads them beside restful waters, and restores their souls; consequently they don’t lack any good thing.
The minister’s role in the mental health of the congregation cannot be over-estimated. By consistently reminding people of who they are in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) and who Christ is in them (Acts 1:8), a minister nourishes the church in spirit, mind and body (1 Tim. 4:6). And herein lies the goal: that the God of peace may sanctify us completely; and that our whole spirit, soul and body may be preserved blameless at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 5:23).
According to Jeremiah, the net result of shepherds feeding the flock with knowledge and understanding is that they will be ‘multiplied’ and ‘increased’ in the land (Jer. 3:16). Healthy people inevitably grow vertically (in their relationship with God) and multiply horizontally (in their relationship with one another).
Ministers, I urge you to remind the people in your care of God’s word:
Be of good courage
Do not be dismayed
I will help you
I will strengthen you
I will uphold you
I will never leave you or forsake you
Whatever the problem, the solution is always inspired leadership.