Wounded Healer, Wounded Leader
Jesus: the Wounded Healer There are many slogans about Jesus – “Jesus is the Answer,” “Christ Above All,” “Jesus Never Fails,” among others. All of them depict a mighty, undefeatable and perfect savior. Not unlike Superman. So is this superman-like Jesus the same with the ‘wounded healer’ we are talking about? Perhaps, when we see Jesus as superman-like, we have a limited understanding of diakonia. Jesus just becomes a superstar who needs to be applauded and praised, and our service becomes fanatic as we swoon and shout Jesus’ name. This fixation on Jesus can cause us to turn our backs on so many people who need Jesus the most. But perhaps, when we see Jesus as a ‘wounded healer,’ we see a human being who was committed to be a healer despite his own wounds. Jesus, the wounded healer provides us an example of true diakonia or ministry which is life giving, even up to the point of death. Because we follow not just a wounded healer, we follow a crucified savior.
The Vulnerability of Jesus
In our witness of Jesus as Christian women, we often emphasize the honor given him as the Son of God. But if we look at the circumstances of his birth, ministry, and resurrection we will find a vulnerable human being who was neither honored nor respected by kings and empires. Jesus’ life began like every human being – in the womb of his mother Mary. He was born into a colonized race, unto a people who were under foreign domination. Furthermore, the King of his own people, Herod, wanted only to ensure his dynasty, so that when he learned that a new king was born he ordered the massacre of male infants.(Matthew 2: 1-18) Jesus, the son of God, was defenseless in the face of such violence and terror.
We can rejoice in the victory of the one child, Jesus, but we must also lament and express outrage over the death of the massacred innocent children. We can celebrate with Mary but we must also sympathize and fight for justice with the grieving mothers. Today, we must ask ourselves, what are we doing as individuals and churches for the children in our communities and societies? Is there any effort to help children who sniff rugby in the main thoroughfares? Have we done enough so that all children have a proper education? What are our churches doing for mothers who can no longer feed their children? Jesus’ vulnerability teaches to stand and fight for all who are defenseless.
Jesus’ ministry, likewise, was carried out in an atmosphere of brutality and sadism. John the Baptist, the prophet who baptized Jesus, was beheaded. (Mark 6:14-29). Even Jesus was aware of the consequences of his teachings and actions for those who were hungry and oppressed. He knew that those who were threatened by his acts of justice and mercy, the powerful both in the temple and in the empire, would ensure his silence. In Jesus’ prayer at Gethsemane, he begged God two times to take away the suffering that was to be inflicted upon him.(Matthew 26:36-43) Jesus was punished thru the state-sponsored death penalty which was crucifixion. It was a cruel form of death which did not allow the dead to be buried. The bodies of the crucified were often feasted upon by animals and, according to scholars, the under Caesar crucified as many as 500 captives in one day.
Jesus’ wounds and people’s wounds, then and now, have a direct relationship with the principles and programs of government institutions. Jesus did not only speak against the empire, he was a VICTIM of the empire. Jesus ministry of preaching, healing and liberation in the face of brutality and domination is a concrete model for diakonia in the face of globalization and the continuing era of empire. Have you ever asked yourselves, why did Jesus preach about the ‘?’ Why did he use ‘kingdom’ and not just ‘family’ or ‘household’? According to Chris Ferguson of Peace for Life, the core of the gospel is resisting the empire, specifically the Roman Empire, for the redemption of humanity. Jesus’ message of the ‘kingdom of God’ was a direct challenge to the government at that time. And unless we realize that Jesus’ preaching was a direct critique of the powers that be, the good news of the gospel is lost.
In Jesus’ time, the empire was Rome. Today, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) has named the United States of America as the one empire that dominates over nations politically, economically and culturally. What are our churches’ position on the War Agenda of the U.S. which has already devastated nations and peoples? What is our response to this one nation that has refused to sign international policies like the Tokyo Protocol (for the protection of the environment), Children’s Rights, Violence Against Women and Children, and the like? Is our ‘diakonia’ relevant to those who are victimized by militarization, economic domination, political subjugation, and genocide.
The image of Jesus the wounded healer provides the perspective of the colonized, marginalized people who needed liberation, redemption and dignity from the domination of empires and kings. Jesus embodies the commitment, passion and spirit required to truly minister and serve the people.
Yet, while we recognize the subjugation of Jesus, the maleness and Jewishness of Jesus cannot be denied. In the patriarchal culture to which Jesus was a part of, there is a different level of violence and pain that women suffer just because they are women. When we speak of diakonia as women, we need to look at the experience of women. Let me share with you my reflection on Esther – a wounded healer and a wounded leader.
Esther: Wounded Healer and Wounded Leader
Esther was an orphan. As a female who had no right to inherit her father’s properties, she had no choice but to live with Mordecai, her cousin. She was at the mercy of Mordecai. And perhaps, Mordecai inherited the properties that should have been Esther’s. Esther was a victim of sexual slavery. When a king orders the taking of virgins from their homes into a harem, do the young women volunteer or are they dragged from their families and loved ones? What kind of treatment and training do they endure so that they will please the king? If you have watched Jewel in the Palace and Wang Jini, you will know how women’s bodies and spirits are broken to please men and kings? Women are stripped of their humanity and self-identity so that what is left is a ghost. Later, the women take turns spending the night with King Ahasuerus. How did the king approach them? Were the young virgins willing and able or did he rape them? After Esther was chosen queen, I wonder if she felt happy or sad. The tragedy of Esther is the tragedy of many women.
But an even deeper wound was inflicted upon her when she is asked to denounce her identity as a Jew.(Esther 2:10) She had no people. And her people did not know her. She only had Mordecai. And she obeyed him as she did when she was just a child. (Esther 2:20) Mordecai dictated her every move and word, the eunuchs directed her day to day treatment for beauty and the king only related to her when she was summoned. She was a woman controlled by all the men around her.
In many relationships of men and women, men dominate over women. Women very often do not assert their capacity and right to be partners with men. Probably because they have been conditioned to be passive and have been made to believe that they are mere followers and not leaders. But when life is at stake, women come forward to offer life for others. Just as Esther did.
For me Esther is a wounded leader. When a decree was made for the annihilation of the Jews, Esther came forward and said to Mordecai,
“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa , and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)
Esther’s leadership was not dependent on position, security and gain. Unlike so many of our politicians today. Esther risked her place as royalty and gambled everything she had for the life of her people. As a woman, she claimed her identity with her people at the very time when they were to be massacred, she dared to identify Haman face to face, a favored advisor of the king, and she pleaded with the king to change an unjust decree that the king himself commanded. Every step she took was a challenge to the king and his power but she used her intelligence, courage and charm to save her people. The closing chapter of the book of Esther is no longer focused on the woman leader. Her achievements are overshadowed by Mordecai and King Ahasuerus. She is a wounded leader for two reasons: First, she is denied her place as the leader in a revolution of life for the Jews, and, second, her commitment to life comes from her experience as a wounded woman who valued life even when she was denied it.
The experience of Esther, the wounded leader challenges us to critique systems, institutions and persons that conspire to deny women choices and the right to life, emboldens us to stand up, speak up and lead in the struggle for those who are denied of life in our different capacities and circumstances affirms the creative and imaginative powers of women as co-creators and co-defenders with God.
Many of us are wounded healers and wounded leaders. We respond to those who need healing even when we ourselves need healing. There is no perfect state of health. And for us, it is when we are vulnerable and wounded that we are more sensitive to the wounds and vulnerability of others. That is the essence of diakonia.