After 18 years!
For millions of Christians around the world, this is Lent, a season when we prepare ourselves for Easter by making sacrifices of self-discipline. The idea is to imitate the mysterious 40-day fast Jesus made in the desert before beginning his public ministry.
This Lent, instead of giving something up I am taking something on: Daily reading of my Bible.
What delights me about this book is you may have read or heard the same passage many times when — poof! — you see something from a new angle. That’s what happened to me reading Luke 13:10–17.
The epiphany was so personal it sent a chill down my spine and a tear down my cheek.
A woman bent over
In my Bible, the passage is titled: “Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath.”
I have always perceived it as an illustration of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees objecting to Jesus’ activities on the Sabbath. This time, I read from the perspective of the “crippled” woman:
“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for 18 years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.” (Luke 13:10–13)
I wondered. What was this woman’s disease?
I took a deep dive on the Web, eventually landing at BiblicalStudies.org.ukanda fascinating article byDr. John Wilkinson, a Scottish missionary and a physician who studies the healings of Jesus from both a theological and physiological perspective.
He concludes “the most probable diagnosis is that of spondylitis anky/opoietica. If this diagnosis is correct, it is the only case of a rheumatic disease which is identifiable in the Bible.”
My jaw dropped when I read “rheumatic disease.”
I saw for the first time that the story of the crippled woman is my story.
In my 20s, I limped through graduate school with spondylitis, the same rheumatic disease as this unnamed woman in the Bible. At age 30, a rheumatologist gave a more specific diagnosis of rheumatoid spondylitis caused by psoriatic arthritis that had also spread to my hip, gnarled fingers and aching left foot.
I went on “big-gun” Rx, despite the side effects and long-term risks. I had no choice, really, with a wife and three children to support. Thankfully, the meds prevented permanent joint damage. But I still lived with chronic pain, mouth sores, nausea and worst of all, crushing fatigue that limited my activity and frustrated me to no end.
A majority of American adults (66%) believe people can be physically healed by God, according to a national survey.
Count me among them. I sought healing prayer — again and again — for more than 15 years. You could say I was a glutton for such prayer. But I wasn’t healed
Then, I made an unexpected turn, for the worse.
A nephrologist (kidney specialist) at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., told me one of my medications, now off the market, had damaged my kidneys to the point where they were functioning at just 48% capacity. If they dipped below 15% I would need dialysis or a kidney transplant to stay alive.
“It’s likely to get worse, not better,” she said matter-of-factly.
I asked if she had ever seen it get better. Her answer: No.
Panic and more prayer
What did I do? What could I do besides panic?
I sought even more healing prayer after Sunday services at the Anglican church I attended, and also on special healing nights of prayer where I was anointed with oil with the laying on of hands, as described several places in the Bible.
I tried to surrender my anxiety to God, but the worries continued.
Six months later, I returned. The nephrologist held my latest lab results in her hands with a look of concern on her face. I braced for the words “dialysis” and “transplant.”
“This is hard to believe,” she said. “Your kidneys have improved to the point where they are almost in the normal range.”
A weight lifted. The sun shined. Angels sang. I could almost hear them.
Luke, a physician himself, says the bent-over woman “praised God” after her healing but doesn’t say how. I praised God by skipping down K Street, past Washington lobbyists, lawyers and pedestrians, my arms raised, a big smile on my face, proclaiming, “Thank you, Jesus. You healed me!”
Wait. There’s more.
To avoid future damage to my kidneys, I had to get off ALL anti-inflammatory medications. This worried me. Without NSAIDs, how would I would I control the stiffness and pain?
To my amazement, my joints didn’t feel worse. My kidneys got even better. My internist wrote “astounding” in the margin next to the number measuring creatinine, an indicator of kidney disease. My sed rate, an indicator of rheumatoid inflammation, went down to zero.
Today I take no Rx for pain. Inflammation? Almost entirely gone. I’m golfing again.
Here’s the point:
Like the woman bent over for 18 years with a rheumatic disease, Jesus healed the same condition in me more than 18 years after I was first diagnosed.
Can it happen to you?
Yes. But I have a few thoughts on that:
- God mysteriously heals how and when he wants to. Why did Jesus call the woman to walk toward him when he usually went to those he healed? Why did he proclaim her healed and then lay hands on her instead of the other way around, as usual? Why did my kidneys have to go bad, then get healed, before the inflammation in my body went away? Why are some people, more fervent and holy than me, never healed? I don’t know. There is no consistent pattern.
- Keep coming to church, seeking healing prayer. You never know what will happen. After 18 years of suffering, the hunched-over woman in the Bible could have easily stayed home. But she was there the day Jesus arrived and called her forward.
- Keep hope alive in your darkness and pain. Be patient in your affliction. Like me and the crippled woman of the Bible, healing can come unexpectedly after 18 years or more. Who knows? Maybe today is your day for healing.