“There is a Balm: Jesus’ Welcome for Those Living with Mental Illness.”
There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole
There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin sick soul.
Carol used to be a middle school math teacher, a mother with two children.
Something had gone wrong after her divorce, though; I never heard the story.
I just knew that by the time I met Carol, she lived in a care facility in Waterbury
estranged from her children and under psychiatric care.
Carol was a devout Christian.
It had been a long time since she had been active at the church where I served
but she kept the flame alive on her own.
She read her portals of prayer daily, and attended a bible study.
She wrote poetry about her love for Jesus and read the Hallmark sounding stanzas to me.
She played hymns on her little electric keyboard, and everyone one of them ended the same,
with rolled arpeggios in three octaves finishing every piece.
Whenever I would come to share communion, Carol would always invite her roommate to join us,
and she introduced me to all the people in her wing.
Carol was one face of mental illness.
There are many others, some with delibitating symptoms, while others you would never know are ill.
Carol was a beautiful soul, and in treatment was a pretty happy person who brought others a lot of joy.
But when she was off her medicine, she heard voices.
She thought people were sending radars into her room that would give her cancer,
or that her water was being poisoned.
Those times were heartbreaking, because Carol got swallowed up by her illness.
There is a balm to heal the sin sick soul.
I think about the people who heard Jesus in his hometown synagogue, as told in our Gospel lesson today.
They had heard about his healings in other towns; now they heard his preaching and were impressed.
I think they must have been thinking about how Jesus could help them, his own people.
And of course this is what Jesus presumes, because he calls them out on it
before they even have a chance to ask:
“Doctor, cure yourself! Do in this town what you did in Capernaum!”
Jesus proceeds to remind them of stories from scripture that they would rather forget:
about how the great prophet Elijah healed foreigners and pagans before his own people.
It’s as if Jesus is saying, ‘the healing I bring isn’t for you.’
But actually, Jesus is responding to their unspoken desire to get first dibs on God’s healing.
Jesus’ healing is for everyone, especially those most often left out.
As he preached just moments before, Jesus came to ‘bring Good News to the poor,
recovery of sight to the blind, and release to the captives.’
Jesus was the answer Jeremiah’s lament, “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?”
Jesus indeed is the physician, and his healing and wholeness is for the whole world.
Why then do illnesses persist? Why do some people get better, while others do not?
We often think of health in binary terms; you are healthy, or you are sick, like an on/off switch.
But the truth is that health is more like a continuum than an on/off switch;
we are all in various places along the continuum in physical, mental, emotion, relational and spiritual health.
No one has it all at the 100% mark; all of us stand in the need of healing.
And so when we talk of mental illness,
and we believe as Christians that Jesus is the balm to make the wounded whole,
we recognize that Jesus’ healing is much wider than simply clinical cure.
Jesus brought a range of healing for people including forgiveness, restoring them to community,
physical healing, and setting people free from emotional and mental pain.
As Jesus’ followers, we can share his healing power in meeting people where they are
in listening to their experiences and learning about their situations and what helps
Oftentimes people experiencing any form of illness are isolated
and so perhaps the thing we can do most for them is to be in relationship to them
to reach out to them and to ask what they need.
Jesus appeared as a human being, and as such He did not touch or speak to all people
He did however give a model for living with and loving people.
Jesus was often simply present to people
he saw for who they were, loved them as they were.
This is our mission too; to love like Jesus loved, all the people of the world.