On Friday Anthony Bourdain took his own life. He is one of roughly 125 who did the same that day. One of 45,000 each year.
On Thursday, a friend shared with me how a sermon he heard Sunday impacted him. The text was Mark 3, the story of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. The thing the priest said that stood out to my friend is that Jesus was angry at the Pharisees because they were silent in the presence of need.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus,[a] to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mark 3).
That story echoed in my heart on Friday as I watched past episodes of Bourdain’s No Reservations or scrolled through Facebook reading friend’s reactions to the news of his suicide. It is fitting to see so many people speak up in the wake of tragedies such as these to remind people teetering on the brink to say something, to reach out, to make a phone call, to talk to a trusted friend or counselor. All well and good.
But the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man with a withered hand reminds me that there are people among us who cannot reach out.
Due to social stigma many who suffer with mental illness and/or addiction remain hidden from our sight, afraid to speak up fearing that the shame that will come with voicing their need will outweigh the pain they presently suffer through alone. Their withered hand is unable to extend beyond themselves to ask for help.
What I find so poignant about the above story is how Jesus has eyes to see the man with the withered hand. His first instinct is to look for those who cannot speak up or reach out for themselves. Jesus does not wait for a person in need to cry out for his help but is actively seeking them out so that he might push back their darkness. Afterall, it is the sick and the oppressed – the addicted and depressed – for whom he came to save (Luke 5:31).
What I find so damning about the above story, however, is how Jesus directed his anger towards the religious who no doubt had this withered hand man in their midst week after week after week yet were silent. How many times have I been in the midst of someone who is in need and I, too, have been silent? How many of the 125 today who will be convinced that death is better than life are desperate that someone might notice their withered hand and say to them, “Come here”?
I am not suggesting that I or any of us can save everyone. We are not God. But it would be a grave mistake on our part, I think, if we did not at least acknowledge that when it comes to mental illness and addiction and other diseases which bear stigmas of shame we, the church, the body of Christ, are silent. We cannot say of ourselves that when we enter the synagogues of our day we have eyes that are trained to seek out the withered hands among us. We cannot say we are well equipped, should we see them, to speak words of life into their broken ones.
And though we are not God, I believe the Master wishes to teach us something if we will stop to listen.
The good news is we can get better if we will admit we need to do so. What would it look like if every person battling alone with their own version of a withered hand heard a loving, compassionate, and resounding invitation from the body of Christ to “Come here”?