Using the text of Matthew 10:1, Paul Tillich preached a sermon, recorded in his work entitled ‘The New Being’ (1955). “And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.” He uses a simple subject: ‘On Healing’.
He opens by recounting a recent three month trip to Germany where he saw a ‘sick people’. A people whose faces, as a whole and as individuals, were shaped by ‘burdens too heavy to be carried’, ‘sorrows too deep to be forgotten’. Living with anxieties, confusions, self-contradictions, guilt-feelings. Hiding under denials, accusations of others, hostility, self-pity and self-hate. Returning home to American to his post, at the time, as Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Union Theological Seminary in Harlem, he questioned the ‘appearance of a healthy people’— “we hear that of all illnesses, mental illness is by far the most wide spread in this country. What does this mean?” “…There may be something in the structure of our institutions which produces illness in more and more people.”
He suggests a look at ‘ruthless competition’ which deprives of security— not only in the unsuccessful! On to the harshness of an insecure life and the choosing of mental illness as a place of flight. Fleeing into situations where ‘real life’ cannot touch. “Don’t underestimate this temptation… …It is human heritage and it is increased immensely by our present world.”
I have on numerous occasions gone to the Men’s Shelter in Nashville to drive some of these men to job sites, several of whom I have come to know by name and life story. Such a large and ever growing population. These men are fathers, sons, brothers, husbands who even these relationships are not enough to bring them back from their situations of life abandonment— ‘real life can’t touch them here!’
‘Real life?’ Easy for us to say. Real life for many of them is the unjust legal and penal systems; and institutions that will not allow for them a ‘real life.’ Burdens too heavy to be carried, sorrows too deep to be forgotten. Living with anxieties, confusions, self-contradictions, guilt-feelings. Hiding under denials, accusations of others, hostility, self-pity and self-hate. Not to mention the smell… the smell… the smell of homelessness which those of us with so-called ‘real life’ find most offensive.
Tillich’s ‘Kingdom Point’ in this message includes this faith statement: “Faith does not mean the belief in assertions for which there is no evidence. It never meant that in genuine religion and it never should be abused in this sense. But faith means being grasped by a power that is greater than we are, a power that shakes us and turns us, and transforms us and heals us.” Those feeling threats of existence, Jesus gave them back to themselves— as new creatures.
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