Anthony de Mello (1931-1987) was an Indian Jesuit priest, psychotherapist, and spiritual writer. His classic book is Awareness, specifically about spiritual awareness. He was also known for his story telling. For example, ‘A businessman goes into a bar, sits down and sees this fellow with a banana in his ear! A banana in his ear, would you believe! And he thinks to himself, ‘I wonder if I should mention that to him. No, it’s none of my business.’ But the thought nags at him. So after having a drink or two, he says to the fellow, ‘Excuse me … eh, you’ve got a banana in your ear.’ The fellow says, ‘What?’ The businessman repeats, ‘You’ve got a banana in your ear!’ Again the fellow says, ‘What was that?’ ‘You’ve got a banana in your ear!’ the businessman shouts. ‘Talk louder,’ the fellow says, ‘I’ve got a banana in my ear!’ The point de Mello is making is that people don’t really want to grow up, don’t really want to change, don’t really want to be cured! ‘Even the best psychologist will tell you,’ de Mello writes, ‘what people want is relief … a cure is painful.’
The Gospels are full of examples and incidences of the healing and deliverance ministry of Jesus, ‘He healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons’ (Mark 1:34). People sought Jesus out, knowing that if he would just touch them, they would be healed. A man with leprosy begged Jesus to make him clean; ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cured’ (Mark 1:40-42). A woman, who had been bleeding from her uterus for twelve years, desperately reached out for Jesus in a crowded square, thinking to herself, ‘If only I could touch his cloak, I will be healed’ (Matthew 9:21). She touched him and was instantly healed (Luke 8:48). Two blind men kept following Jesus crying out, ‘Have mercy on us, Son of David.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this.’ ‘Yes,’ they said. Then he touched their eyes, and their sight was restored’ (Matthew 9:27-29). These are examples of people who had come to the end of themselves, they had run out of options, they had nowhere else to turn. By seeking for God’s help, by reaching out to Jesus, they at last found the help, solace, cleansing, forgiveness, and healing that they knew they so desperately needed.
But here is another example from the Gospels that gives us another angle on Jesus’ healing ministry. Jesus and his disciples were in Jerusalem walking near the Sheep Gate by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-15) where hundreds of people gathered every day for the supposed curative powers of the water. A man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. The man did not seek out Jesus but Jesus, amongst all the people there, sought him out. ‘Do you want to be well?’ he asked him. Why ask that? Surely the answer would be obvious. Perhaps the man was reluctant? He would lose his lucrative begging income? Perhaps he had lost the belief that he could be healed? Or lost the will, the determination to find a way to be cured. But Jesus made him well anyway (v. 15).
So here is the question, the challenge, the application of this part of the story. Do we really want to be made whole? To be cured, to change, to grow in Christ, to be healed (even if that means not necessarily being totally pain or trouble free) to the extent that we are able to live fully for God? According to John Swinton, ‘healing is more than ridding a person of difficulties. It stretches beyond the boundaries of disease and cure and into the realms of transcendence, purpose, hope and meaning that form the very fabric of human experience.’
Do we really want God to heal us and make us whole? If we do, he can! The man by the pool had a choice. He could stay confined in his alcove by the pool in familiar surroundings, with his poorly friends around him, or he could step out and grasp a whole new life in God, full of purpose, hope and meaning – even after thirty-eight years! – by putting himself fully into the hands of God, allowing Jesus to touch him with his healing power.
So here’s the question: Are we willing for God to touch us and make us whole? Are you willing to take the banana (or whatever its equivalent is) out of your ear?
~ Julia Binney