Sunday, June 30, 2019

Reflections on Healing in the New Testament

What is healing?  Why do we do a “healing” liturgy on the 5th Sunday of the month?  Are we offering “cure?”  No, God has given us the gift of medical science to help us find cures. So then what is the “healing” that our liturgy offers us from God through Christ? It is easy to mix up those two words – healing and cure.  Our culture tends to understand “healing” as “cure,” and “cure” as “healing.”  Cure and healing are interchangeable in our society.  We go to the doctor for a cure in hopes that we will be healed of whatever ails us.  We come to church and experience a liturgy of healing in hopes that this will aid in providing a cure.  But are they the same thing?  No, in the Bible they are not the same thing at all.  They may be related, but they are two separate things.  Here then is a statement that sums up the biblical view of healing and cure: First, One can be cured without experiencing healing and 2nd, One can be healed without being cured!
The view of illness in the New Testament is somewhat ambiguous. On the one hand the NT sees illness as an inevitable part of life. Human beings get sick. And human beings die. We tend to see both illness and death as invaders from the outside. But the bible sees death in particular not as the opposite of life, but as a part of life. And illness is also a part of life – whether we like it or not humans will get sick. On the other hand the NT also sees illness as coming from the outside; invading life from outside and keeping people from being able to live their lives in a full manner. Illness focuses us on ourselves which means it necessarily cuts us off from others. During the first century Jesus’ reputation that spread throughout the region was primarily that of a healer. Jesus was someone who could restore people back to their community and who healed people in a way that enabled them to live fuller lives. What Jesus seemed to understand is that illness can be caused by a variety of factors. Of course the first century did not understand things like bacteria and viruses, but they understood that we can bring illness on to ourselves through our choices and priorities, that both external and internal factors can make us sick. Being sick may be the result of a variety of things some of which might not even be physical, but may have to do with our lifestyles or spiritual and/or psychological and even environmental issues. Surely we should use the gift of medicine to seek after cure for our physical illnesses, but what about these other issues, often there are deeper issues that can lead to the illness in the first place? The God of grace through Jesus offers us healing through his grace.
One can be cured without experiencing healing and 2nd, One can be healed without being cured!
Look at St. Paul, for example:  Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)   Many scholars believe that Paul contracted a form of Malaria in Tarsus when he was a boy.  He then continued to suffer with problems relating to this for the rest of his life.  As we can tell from this passage, he prayed fervently for cure but did not receive it.  But still, Paul experienced a healing that went beyond his physical ailments and which enabled him to continue serving and to rely on and celebrate the grace of God through Christ.
Accepting the gift of grace!  Accepting that, like Paul, the grace of God, through Christ, IS sufficient for us!  This is what we are about in our liturgy of healing.  We celebrate the grace of God, which we experience through Christ the healer and through the bread and wine of Communion with our Lord.  During this liturgy we will turn over to God our myriad issues – our illnesses of all kinds, our stresses and concerns and ask God to grant us grace so that we can experience healing and wholeness.  We may also ask for cure and that is appropriate, but we look beyond cure to the healing and wholeness that is offered to us in Christ. 
And to consider this gift of wholeness let us turn back to the Gospel of Luke – what are some of the characteristics of healing in the New Testament – what is offered to us by Christ the healer? What is God offering to us today?
Let’s look at 4 healing stories in Luke –
1. Luke 5:17ff – FORGIVENESS - Jesus heals the paralytic – Your sins are forgiven you.
2. Luke 7:1ff – FAITH - Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant – Not even in Israel have I found such faith. 
3. Luke 17:11-19 – THANKSGIVING & PRAISE - Jesus heals 10 lepers, only one returns to give praise to God – Were not 10 made clean?  But the other nine, where are they… Your faith has made you well.
4. Luke 14:1-14 – EUCHARIST -Jesus heals the man with dropsy while at a banquet – When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

What wholeness and healing does Jesus offer to us today?  These passages from Luke are only a small sampling of scripture texts, but there are a couple important patterns that emerge.  Notice that curing occurs, but is almost an afterthought in many of these stories.  In the Luke 5 story Jesus offers the healing of forgiveness.  In Luke 7 Jesus lifts up faith.  Now this is one that is very misunderstood.  This does not mean that curing will not come to you unless you believe hard enough (as if that is something we can actually accomplish anyway!).  In both this story and in the Luke 17 story faith is defined as an activity – an activity of confidence and reliance and trust.  It is like Jesus is simply confirming that the trust and action that is demonstrated is providing healing and this healing is also leading to cure.  And in Luke 17 we have a twist because there are 10 lepers cured but only one was healed! 
Finally, healing comes at table.  Over and over again in the Gospel of Luke Jesus is eating at table and his presence at a banquet is what promotes healing.  We see this in the passage with the man with dropsy, with the woman who anoints his feet, with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  In every case Jesus provides healing and wholeness and it comes from joining Christ at the Banquet.  The gift of Communion is a healing meal and a meal that is offered to you today.
So we will invite you to come forward, to receive the oil of anointing, to hear the words of promise, to receive bread and wine.  Christ offers to you healing and wholeness.  Come and receive.

Please note - I had intended to post all of the reflections on my trip but I found the technical issues too problematic. I intend to slowly post those reflections in the future.