David Hodges: To Move, To Touch, To Heal


Providing healing and hope to children and families. This is something that I think and speak a lot about in the work I do through the ministry of Saint Francis Community Services. Healing and hope are the cornerstones of the mission of Saint Francis and one of the ways we offer healing and hope is through work that takes place in our psychiatric residential treatment facility. This facility focuses on the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of children who have experienced severe trauma. Children who are admitted to the facility bring with them everything that is adversely impacting their lives. The demons that some of them have known, and continue to know, are very real.

Last Fall, a 17-year-old boy, whom I will call Daniel, was referred to our staff at the facility. When the process of evaluating Daniel for admission began, the Saint Francis team discovered that Daniel had significant intellectual disabilities and was unable to speak. At 17, Daniel was functioning at the level of a six-month old child. Because of the kind of neglect, he experienced growing up, Daniel had never been to a doctor, and had never received any dental care. It was also reported that Daniel only slept a few hours each week, which contributed to him being easily over stimulated and stressed. He required assistance with everything, including bathing and brushing his teeth. He also needed help eating, because Daniel still did not know how to use utensils.

Daniel had been in the custody of his grandmother, but because of her mental health issues, she had not provided adequate care for him. She had been able to evade authorities and the school system by literally hiding Daniel away, locking him in basements and closets. When his case was presented to Saint Francis, there was concern about whether the team was equipped to provide the kind of care that someone as traumatized as Daniel would need. But the executive director of the facility said that after reading just the first three paragraphs of the report he knew immediately that they needed to admit Daniel.

From the Jordan River to the wilderness, to the sea of Galilee where he calls his first disciples, to the synagogue in Capernaum, to Peter and Andrew's home, to a deserted place where he goes to pray, and then on to towns throughout Galilee, Jesus is on the move. But in the opening chapter of Mark's Gospel, where we read about all of this moving around, the story of Jesus and the development of his ministry, can feel somewhat disjointed and unplanned. It is only when you step back and look at the movement of Jesus that you begin to see that each move he makes is part of a larger pattern.

In the fundraising business, there is a process called "moves management." It is a tool that fundraisers use to build relationship with someone who is, or may become, a donor. The relationship is moved along with a number of "touches" that are designed to be carried out over a period of time. The moves take the potential donor from awareness to interest, to involvement, and finally, to investment. Managing the way people move makes the process more predictable and more productive. Moves management is highly individualized and it focuses on the person, not on the amount of money that person may give. It is based on three principles: know your audience, speak their language, and take care of them.

As Jesus moves, it is clear that he isn't just moving for no reason. He is interacting with, touching, and healing people. In doing so, Jesus got to know his audience, their needs and concerns. He spoke their language, and could address them in ways that mattered. And, most of all, Jesus cared for the people he met.

Up to this point in Mark's account of the story, Jesus has already interacted with Peter, Andrew, James and John. He has responded to a man who is possessed by a demon, and now he is with Peter's mother-in-law, lifting her up and restoring her health. Then, as the moving around continues, we are told that many people are brought to Jesus, with a variety of illnesses and demons and that he responds by touching and healing all of them.

The next morning, Jesus makes another move that takes him away from the crowds and the intensity of the work he has been doing. Jesus goes to a quiet place where he spends time in prayer. That is where Peter and the others find him, and together they begin to move again, because as Jesus tells them, he is supposed to proclaim the message. And that is exactly what Jesus does, as he continues to move, to touch, and to heal.

It has been pointed out that for Jesus, proclaiming the message was about more than words and included the ways he brought healing to people.[i] And as Jesus moved around, healing, exorcising demons, and bring hope, he made that message - those words - real. He didn't just tell people what the kingdom of God would look like, he showed them. Jesus reached out to and touched people who - because of disease, their behavior, or their demons - were suffering. He reached out to and touched those who had been made ritually unclean and banned from their religious and social communities. All of the moves that Jesus made had a purpose, and in those moves there is a pattern that has something to say to us about who Jesus is. It also has something to say to each of us about the work and ministry of Christ into which we are called.

As the Saint Francis staff talked about whether they should admit Daniel, the executive director decided to trust his instincts that were telling him that his team could help. He reminded them that their work is centered on unconditional love and their job is to be an instrument of healing. The decision was made for Daniel to be admitted and the process of healing began.

As soon as Daniel arrived, he began to receive one-on-one care. He was sent to a doctor and a dentist for the first time in his life. The staff began teaching him how to eat properly, how to care for himself, and how to sleep through the night. With every move they made with Daniel, his behavioral reactions began to decrease tremendously. The executive director, who had followed his instincts and pushed for Daniel to be admitted, sent me a note about him in which he said, the most important thing you can do to a human being is keep them safe.

In the beginning of Mark's Gospel, Jesus travels throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message and casting out demons, and at the end of Mark's Gospel we hear more of the same. Remember what the angel says to the women who go into the tomb after the crucifixion and discover that the body of Jesus isn't there? The angel tells them that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Then he tells the women to go and to let the disciples know that [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.[ii]

As we move around, going from place to place and person to person, we do not always know what is going on in the lives of those we come into contact with. But what we can know is that Jesus is out there, having gone ahead of us to Galilee - to Salina, Kansas - to Birmingham, Alabama - to Los Angeles - to New York City. Jesus is waiting, inviting, wanting, and assuring Daniel and you and me, and all of us, that the crucified and risen Jesus is moving among us, touching us, and bringing healing and hope. At the same time, just as those first women were called to tell the good news of the resurrected Jesus, you and I are also called to continue that ministry and to be instruments of what Frederick Buechner describes as a power that calls us both to heal with and to be healed by.[iii]

When things are shattered and broken by sudden violence and death; when lives and families fall apart because of poverty, addition and trauma; when children have to be removed from their homes; when our religious and political structures seem polarized beyond repair; we, the people who follow Jesus, have something holy, unique, and much needed that we can offer. As Bishop Michael Curry writes, being a Christian is not essentially about joining a church or being a nice person, but about following in the footsteps of Jesus, taking his teachings seriously, letting his Spirit take the lead in our lives...[iv]

To all of us who need and are looking for healing and hope, the message of Jesus is the message that we can proclaim. The opportunity for us is to resist the urge to stay where we are comfortable, and begin to move. The challenge laid before us is to actively seek out people and situations where we can respond, where we can touch, and where we can be what Teresa of Avila refers to as the eyes, the feet, the hands, the body of Jesus.

The world desperately needs the healing and hope of the one who has already gone ahead of us. Called to live in the example of Jesus, we are asked to look with compassion and to move, to touch, and to heal as Jesus did. There are many Daniels out there, many who are in need of healing and hope. How will the ministry of Jesus move you?



[i] Commentary, Mark 1:29-39, Matt Skinner, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015

[ii] Mark 16:5-7

[iii] Secrets in the Dark: A Life in Sermons

[iv] Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus