Jesus' Teachings on Our Relationship to Our Bodies

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, October 23, 2021
Mark 10:46-52

    As we continue to think about the different relationships God blesses us with, today our focus turns to our relationship to our bodies and with our health. In our gospel from Mark, we hear another healing story where Jesus gives sight to the blind beggar, Bartimaeus.  In contemporary times, we talk a lot about the “mind-body” connection.  Think about how your emotions affect how you feel physically, for example.  Where do you carry your stress when you are worried and anxious?  In your lower or upper back, tense shoulders, maybe a pit in your stomach?  What does your body do when you’re angry?  Clenched fists, “hot around the collar” or “red in the face”?  We might literally feel a sinking feeling in our stomachs when we get some bad or disappointing news.  I know this has happened to some of you – it’s happened to me, when I am overworked and overtired for too long, I get physically sick. It’s sometimes the only way God can seem to get through to me that I need to STOP and rest, because I am too sick to do anything else but rest.  Now, how about a more pleasant emotion:  how does your body feel when you’re on a beach, on vacation – phone’s turned off, automatic responder on the email is on, (and for those of you with little kids like me, grandma’s got the kids)?  Less tension, a smile on your face hopefully, the warmth of the sun giving you positive vibes…it’d be great to feel more like that more often, wouldn’t it! 
    As Christians, we believe taking care of our physical health is important because God created us and our bodies.  Paul in 1 Corinthians calls our bodies temples of the Lord.  In fact, when we use the word “stewardship,” we usually think about money, but stewardship includes taking care of our health and well-being because we belong to Christ, all of us, our bodies and our souls.  Caring for our health includes paying attention to our physical, mental, AND spiritual health and recognizing that these are interconnected!  In fact, the word “psyche” in Greek, the root of words like psychiatry and psychology, is the word used in the New Testament not for mind but for soul.  God cares about the health and well-being of our souls AND bodies.  As we’ll see in the gospel for today, they are connected!  
A recent trend in public schools and workplaces that has ramped up during the pandemic is fostering mental wellness with “mindfulness” activities, doing yoga, meditation, breathing exercises and so on.  Anything that helps people achieve greater health is good, but it does bother me that these “mindfulness” activities are usually taught divorced from the original religious practice, like yoga in Hinduism, meditation in Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism.  These practices originally were supposed to not just bring greater mental and physical well-being to people, they were meant to nurture people’s souls; to intentionally attend to people’s spiritual health and connect them more closely to God.  In fact, I pray best when I am on the move: going for a bike ride, walking, or running – exercise signals to me it’s prayer time, and that movement helps me focus on a conversation with God.  Our mental, physical, and spiritual health is interconnected.
    Our bodies can tell us we are tired, we are overworked, and stressed out; they may even remind us of our age and how we can’t do everything physically that we used to be able to do, but our spiritual health doesn’t have to decline when our physical health does.  In fact, our prayer lives can become more vital when our bodies don’t work as well as they used to!  Here’s some good news: as we turn to our gospel for today, Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, is held up as a model of faith, even BEFORE Jesus restores his sight.  On the other hand, the expected “righteous” people, who are perhaps younger, smarter, more physically fit, and so on, namely the disciples and the Pharisees, keep revealing to Jesus that they are spiritually undernourished, struggling in faith, to put it nicely.  Bartimaeus may be blind, but he is able spiritually to see who Jesus is when others don’t.  “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” he shouts.  He doesn’t care – others try to shut him up but he is not ashamed to cry out to Jesus for mercy.  You see, Bartimaeus hasn’t just lost his eyesight.  Due to Levitical laws, he is ritually unclean and separated, therefore, from temple rituals because of his condition.  Forced to beg, his community has tossed him aside.  He knows he is in need of God’s mercy.  And he understands that Jesus’ salvation will mean more than simply getting his sight back again.  He’ll be restored back to the community, afforded an opportunity to work to earn a living again, and most importantly, be a part of the kingdom of God which is eternal.  Remember the rich man, who was unable to follow Jesus because he had too many possessions?  Well, Bartimaeus, in contrast, throws off his cloak, jumps up, and despite not being able to see where he is going comes to Jesus when he calls.  His cloak was most likely the only possession he has, but he’s willing to take that risk to bind his life-- heart, soul, and mind--to Jesus, trusting in him for health and salvation.
    When we think about our relationship to our health, everything may not be alright.  We may be suffering from chronic physical pain and ailments that we take daily medication for.  We may be living with mental illness, slipping memory, or recovering from an addiction.  Our weight and blood pressure levels may be higher than we’d like.  Our hearing and eyesight may not be what it used to be.  Our faith, though, can still be as strong as ever.  And these physical and mental failings are our body’s way of reminding us of our spiritual situation – we are not perfect.  We are not 100% well.  We are sinners.  We ALL need God’s help and mercy.  Like Bartimaeus, physical healing from God is just one dimension of the healing we need.  The more honest we are about our needs, the more we cry out to Jesus regardless of the people who try to shut us up or be quiet about our faith, the more we are able to grow spiritually in understanding just how deep and wide God’s mercy, grace, and healing for our lives truly is.
    I had a parishioner who became incredibly active in our church after she suffered a heart attack that nearly killed her.  She had grown up as a child in the church but like so many people drifted a way as a teenager.  Her near-death experience was a wake-up call.  Her body told her what her spirit, her soul needed.  She lived her life after the hospital in total gratitude to God who had saved her and who promised to save her still, even after death.  She still wasn’t perfect, but she was faithful.  And God certainly blessed our church and blessed me personally through her faithfulness.
As we think about the intertwining of our physical, mental, and spiritual health today, we also hear in our scriptures today about God’s heart and mind.  God’s deepest desire for us is for mercy and salvation in a healing, holistic sense of the word.  And God takes action on this desire in sending Jesus the Word incarnate who comes to us in the flesh, who walks around with us in a body, and then who offers up his body for the sake of the world through his death and resurrection to save us, body and soul.  With confidence in this faith, let’s walk around being Christ to one another and proclaiming just like Bartimaeus still today that our faith can make us well – our faith can make us whole.  Not perfect, but precious in God’s sight.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.