by Carol Howard Merritt
Gospel Reading: Mark 10:46-52
For Sunday, October 28, 2012: Year B—Ordinary 30
My father and I entered a huge concrete block building, crowded with people. My dad didn’t use a cane but he needed to, so he held the back of my neck. I was about nine-years-old and just the right size to be a human crutch. I walked slowly, with the weight of him leaning on me.
My father had a neurological condition that grew worse over time. He had no control over his lower body and moved his feet by swinging his arms and chest. Eventually he acquiesced to a cane, a walker, and a wheelchair. He fought each digression with a hearty denial. But his body never cooperated with his strong will.
The service began with praise music with a man named Jimmy playing the piano and belting out choruses into a microphone, while everyone else clapped, swayed, closed their eyes and lifted up their hands.
Watching my father debilitate, observing that great patriarchal force diminish and become incapacitated, was difficult to say the least. Dad didn’t have much use for doctors or physical therapists. Every time he went, he ended up with a different diagnosis: everything from polio to Multiple Sclerosis to a vitamin B deficiency. Though he didn’t seek medical help often, the hope for a cure drove him. He was always looking for a miracle.
That was why we were there, at the healing service. Jimmy began to sense people in the crowd, “There is a woman. She has just been diagnosed with cancer and God wants to touch her.” I spotted her from across the auditorium. Her face changed. She was shocked and tears puffed up her eyes. She made her way down the aisle and people surround her, pleading with God to take her cancer away. The sick woman became overwhelmed and faints. She was “slain in the Spirit.”
A couple of ushers have modesty cloths ready. They move in quickly to put one over her knees in case her dress rode up. Jimmy pronounced, “Sister, your cancer is gone. God has healed you. It is gone!” The crowd erupted in applause and shouting.
Someone had one leg longer than the other, another person had asthma, and another had allergies. One by one they came up for prayer. Then, the first woman woke up and told everyone how she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She did not want to come to the service, but she came anyways, and she was healed. The people yelled out with a chorus: “Hallelujah!” and “Thank you, Jesus!”
The service continued for hours, but Jimmy never said anything about my dad. I stood there, a fervent, religious little girl, and I prayed, as hard as I could, that God would heal my dad—that his feet would become straight and his back would no longer be twisted. I believed with my whole being that it would happen. After seeing miracles all around, I knew if I had enough faith, God would heal my dad.
But the songs and prayers ended, and we walked out, with my father’s hand bearing down on the back of my neck and his same halting steps. My heart was crushed.
I wonder if God can’t hear me. I think maybe I am doing something wrong, and I imagine my prayers bouncing off the ceiling and never reaching the ears of the divine. I can’t understand why God passes out the miracles to everyone but my dad.
The Hardest Question
I suppose that’s why I hate reading in this Jesus’ words, “Go; your faith has made you well.” The magic formula doesn’t always work. So what are we supposed to do with this text?
Carol Howard Merritt grew up along the beaches of Florida. After being raised as a conservative Baptist and attending a fundamentalist Bible college, she went to Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and decided to become a minister. Carol has been a pastor for 13 years, serving growing Presbyterian Churches in the swamps of Cajun Louisiana, a bayside village in Rhode Island, and in an urban neighborhood in D.C. She is the award-winning author of Tribal Church (Alban 2007) and Reframing Hope (Alban 2010). She has contributed to numerous books, websites, magazines, and journals. Her blog, TribalChurch.org, is hosted by the Christian Century. She blogs regularly at Huffington Post and Dukes Divinity’s Faith and Leadership site. Carol is a sought-after speaker. She hosts Unco (short for Unconference), open-space gatherings where participants dream about and plan for the future of the church. And she co-hosts God Complex Radio, a podcast with Derrick Weston. Carol lives in Chattanooga, TN with her daughter and husband, Brian Merritt, who is starting a new church. You can follow her on Twitter (@CarolHoward) or Facebook.