2 Kings 5:1-14
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and you will be healed”.
“Go out into all the world, cure the sick and say “the Kingdom of God has come near”.
“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.”
“Go in peace, your faith has made you well”.
Healing is a major theme in the scriptures and in our lessons today. From the earliest writings of the Old Testament, we see that God is the source of health and wellness. The prophets, as we heard today in the story of Naaman who was healed of his leprosy, were ministers of God’s healing power under the Old Covenant.
In sending Jesus Christ, the power of God became all the more evident as a full three-quarters of the Gospel record is various accounts of Our Lord’s healing power over body and soul: he heals by touch, he heals by speaking a word of power – “get up and walk”, and he even heals the hemorrhaging woman who merely touches the hem of his cloak as he passes by.
Healing is a major theme in the scriptures, and, a topic with a great diversity of opinion in the Church today.
On the one extreme, we’ve all seen those enormously wealthy TV pastors who want us to believe that God instantly and miraculously heals the body of every person that they touch. (Though, I must say, I’m not sure how our Lord’s words in today’s Gospel fit with all of that – you know, his strict instruction to go and heal the sick, but carry no purse or bag or fancy shoes or private jet, and not making a big fuss or meeting people in the town square to make a name for yourself).
On the other extreme, for the more reserved among us, we may find ourselves thinking of God as a last resort, a last ditch effort only after everything else has failed. We try to help ourselves, we enlist the help of doctors and travel to find the best care available, at some point we’ll ask the Church to pray, and only after we’ve exhausted all available options, perhaps you’ll hear people say “well, it’s in God’s hands now” (as though it wasn’t in his hands all along!).
Healing is a difficult subject, not least because it is a personal subject. All of us, at some point, have known someone sick and in need of a miracle, perhaps for whom that miracle never came.
And in light of that, it’s important for us to think about healing.
The first claim that we make as Christians is that God is the source of all healing, not just the miracles that break the mold.
Healing, of course, comes in three forms. Natural healing – our body’s wonderful ability to fix itself when we get a cut, or to use white blood cells to fight off a cold – is itself a gift from God. Everything “natural” is because, as we proclaim, it is God who created heaven and earth, all things visible and invisible.
Medical healing, the healing that comes through the sciences, is also a gift from God. The wisdom and the ability to study the laws of nature and produce effective cures and treatments is itself part of God’s plan in making us share in his creative image; while the world in which we live is fallen, corrupted by sin, and subject to death and decay, it was God’s will from the beginning that we would study and subdue the earth, that we could reap the benefits of medicine, hopefully leaving the earth better than we found it for each generation that comes after.
And then God is the source of that third kind of healing, miraculous healing, those healings that, by definition, defy the laws of the natural world, and for which science and medicine have no answer: the fast-growing tumor that turns on itself and shrinks; the stroke victim who awakes from a coma with no detectable damage. These miracles, this form of healing, is the rarest of the ways that God heals, and, we believe and scripture tells us that, when these miracles happen, it’s rarely – if ever – for the direct benefit of the person who was healed; rather, as Jesus says in multiple places, these things have been done that the world might see and believe; miracles are done for the glory of God.
The Source of Healing
As we think about healing, it’s absolutely essential that we remember that God is the source of all healing powers, and even your body’s ability to heal a cut or fight off the sniffles is God’s gift as we are fearfully and wonderfully made.
And there’s a big lesson in that for all of us. If God is the source of all healing, that means that we are not.
In the Old Testament lesson today, we had Naaman, the commander of the army, who was in need of healing for a serious skin condition.
To anyone on the outside, Naaman was someone with everything he could ever need. He lived in a great house, with great pasture lands and huge flocks, he had servants to do his bidding, and a great army at his command. By all accounts, he was a powerful man, someone who could get what he wanted.
But, in spite of all this earthly power and wealth, in spite of all the people and lands that he controlled, his own health was the thing that remained outside of his control.
He went to see the prophet, and what did he bring?
Did he go, humbly seeing the assistance of the Lord’s servant? No, he went with 1100 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold coins, together with 10 new suits of clothes to buy his healing.
He set out, believing that these great worldly gifts would buy the Lord’s favor. And what happens?
Well, the prophet doesn’t even come out to greet this great celebrity of a man. He doesn’t accept his gifts. He simply sends a young servant who says, go wash in the river seven times and you’ll be healed.
The point, in all of that, is that we are not the source of our own healing. We don’t buy it. We can’t earn it.
No matter how great we are, no matter how respected we are, no matter how powerful or wealthy, none of that earthly power can add even one day to our lives apart from the grace of God.
And, while I’d suggest that we aren’t as proud as Naaman, we’re guilty of the same sort of over-reaching self-reliance when we forget God in our own sickness.
When we put our trust in medicine and doctors, but leave God as our last resort, we’re really doing the same thing as Naaman, who trusted in silver and gold. We’re saying, well, I live in a great country with access to medical care and a pharmacy down the road, I’ll trust in that to make me better.
When really, we’re called to acknowledge that God is the source of all healing. That God made the body, God made the immune system, God made the laws of science and nature, and it’s God who numbers our days and who is lord of the living and the dead. We can trust our doctors because God is the source of all healing.
When we don’t get what we seek
And then, sometimes, we pray for healing, and it doesn’t come.
Perhaps we pray fervently, we gather the church around in prayer, trusting only in God, but the illness doesn’t go away.
This is difficult, it’s heartbreaking; it causes some people to question what they believe.
And, in times like these, it’s important for us to remember the deep truth that we are not just souls wrapped up in a fleshly tent. Our body, our mind, our spirit are not separate entities, but God created each of us as a body, with a mind, animated by our spirit, all perfectly united to make up a person.
And healing, true healing, is a matter not just of the body, but for the whole person.
Modern medicine has come to this realization, a realization that the Church has preached since time immemorial: that it’s not enough just to treat the body.
If we patch up someone’s body, but don’t heal the illness of their mind and the sickness of the soul, sure we might extend their life, but we haven’t improved the quality of their life.
By the same token, doctors now realize that some illnesses aren’t caused by bacteria or viruses, but are physical illnesses caused by depression, anxiety, or stress.
When the Church asks God for healing, we have to realize that there is always more to this life than meets the eye. We see the physical. But, St. Paul tells us, we see and know only in part, only a dim reflection of reality.
God sees us as we really are – body, mind, spirit, united – and, God sees us as we shall be, eternally.
For all of us, the guarantee is that this body, at some point, will breathe its last; and then, by faith we believe, at the last day those who are in Christ will receive renewed bodies, bodies in which the scars of this corrupted world are removed, in which want, and hunger, and pain are no more.
And, while we can’t yet see on the other side of the thin veil between life and death, we firmly trust that God, who sees the end game and knows the heart, does what is truly best for us.
And, as scripture tells us, sometimes that means that the regular course of the rules of nature, cells growing and dying, bodies wearing out, are opportunities for the mind and spirit to grow into the image of God. Or, as the Bible says, “suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope that will not put us to shame.”
Trust: not a last resort
Jesus didn’t say “follow me and your life will be easy”. Jesus didn’t say “call on me when you’ve exhausted the other options, and I’ll swoop in to save you”.
Jesus didn’t say “follow me and the rules of nature will on longer apply.”
He says “take up your cross and follow me”. He says, “unless you give up your life, you will lose it”.
And, He says “I am the light of the world”. Believing in him doesn’t pluck you out of the world with its sickness and death, but he does say “you’ll never walk in darkness”. The Lord says “Fear not, for I am with you. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my hand”. He will never leave you nor forsake you, he is with you always, even to the end of the age, healing not just the body, but healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds.
Our Lord is the source of all healing, healing that we cannot buy or earn, but which is a gift to God’s glory and our benefit. He is the one who numbered the hairs of your head, who knows your heart and sees you not just as you really are, but as you shall be, and he says “I’m preparing a place for you.”
And, if he’s preparing a place for us, then, as he works through the changes and chances of this life, as he takes the realities of this natural life and the consequences of our actions and the actions of others and works all things together for good for those who serve him, then that means he’s also working through our illness, preparing us for that place.
Our job is to trust in God first, for he is the source of all good gifts. Our job is to trust that Jesus is Lord, and that he will direct our path, and that he is preparing us to live with him in glory. And our job is to trust that with him all things are possible, not just the healing of this mortal body, but the things that matter eternally – even the forgiveness of sins and our eternal life.
To God be the glory. Amen.