By Jim Killen
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
February 16, 2003
If Jesus was primarily interested in proclaiming the good news about the Kingdom of God and teaching us a new way of life that is appropriate for it, why did he spend so much of his time healing the sick? Jesus is not the only one in the Bible who has something to say about God's healing work. We have heard an Old Testament story about the prophet Elijah healing a man with leprosy. And we have heard a psalm in which the poet lifts up a song of praise to God for healing him of a life threatening illness. Yet, many of our churches don't say or do much about healing. Are we missing something here? Jesus used his healing work to teach us something important about the Kingdom of God and about what God wants for us. Through his healing work, Jesus taught us that God wants us to be whole persons.
I. What does it mean to be sick?
Have you ever had to cope with a really serious of prolonged illness? If you have, you know that it has to do with more than just your physical condition. It can involve your whole life and keep you from living up to your highest possibilities.
The several different kinds of healing works that Jesus did give us some insight into the different things that can go wrong in a person's life.
Jesus healed some of disabling conditions like lameness or blindness that kept people from functioning as happy and productive people.
Jesus also healed some, like the person in our scripture lesson, of leprosy. Leprosy was a much dreaded, multifaceted illness. Not only was it a physical illness that could be terminal, it had an additional stigma attached to it. There was a widely held belief that it was probably a punishment for some sin. It could make people look down on you. It could destroy your self respect. And, because of ritual laws of uncleanness, it could cause you to be quarantined away from human relationships in the community and prevented from worshiping in the temple. It could alienate you from yourself, from family and community, and from God.
Still another kind of healing was the casting out of unclean spirits. This had to do with people who were physically well but were afflicted with some invisible condition like epilepsy or mental illness. We can imagine that some might be possessed by evil spirits like greed or hate or bitterness.
In the Bible, people were thought of as unified souls. The mind, the body, the emotions, the spirit and the relationships were all interrelated aspects of the one person. If there was a serious problem that prevented a person from functioning fully in all of those aspects, there was sickness. Can you see how the different kinds of physical sicknesses that Jesus healed represented different kinds of spiritual sicknesses that can overtake us? Can you see how the different kinds of healing works that Jesus did related to more than just a person's physical health?
II. What does it mean to be whole?
The Bible often speaks of being healed in terms of being made whole. That is a good way of thinking of it. To be a whole person is to be able to live life fully and happily and productively like a person should be able to live. That is really what we want for ourselves, isn't it?
That involves every aspect of our being. The Bible talks about wholeness as something that starts in the center of our being and organizes our lives rightly from the inside out. It works through our basic relatedness to self, to life, to others, and to God. In fact, it begins with coming into a right relationship with God. (Can you see how this has to do with the good news about the Kingdom of God coming near?)
Wholeness in that center of our being can have a lot to do with physical health. Bernie Siegel, a surgeon who treats many cancer patients, has written several books sharing the belief that it is often something wrong in our way of relating to ourselves and to life that causes physical illnesses like cancer and that emotional health can contribute to physical healing (See Love Medicine and Miracles, Harper and Rowe, 1986).
Sometimes a person may be a whole person even though there is a physical illness or disability. A woman with crippling Rheumatoid Arthritis came to her pastor very disturbed. She had met a person who, with the best of intentions, had told her that if she just had faith, God would heal her physical condition. The pastor responded that he knew that she did have faith, lots of it. And as a result of her faith she had been able to rise above her physical condition and live a full and productive life in spite of it. She was an outstanding wife and parent and teacher and citizen and person. Even though the arthritis was still there, her faith had made her whole.
Sometimes the thing that needs to be healed is not a physical condition but a relationship. That kind of healing can sometimes save a person's selfhood and sometimes a family.
The field of holistic medicine is exploring the dynamics of wholeness.
This is really close to the essence of the Christian faith. We know that the Christian Faith has a lot to do with being saved. But being saved in not just something that has to do with the hereafter. The Greek word sozein which is often translated "to be saved" can also mean to be healed or to be made whole. To be saved is to be made a whole person.
III. What can all of that mean to you?
The answer to that question begins with our asking, "In what ways may I need to be healed?" Don't focus just on physical illnesses. Search deeply for any unwholeness there may be.
Know that God wants you to be a whole person. If you can get physical health, do it. But if you can't, remember that God can make you a whole person in spite of a physical illness. An amputee has to discover that he or she can be a whole person without the limb that has been lost. A divorcee must discover that he or she can be a whole person without the former partner. An unemployed person must discover that he or she can be a whole person even though unemployed. God wants you to be a whole person and God is working to help you become one.
If there is a physical illness, by all means go to the doctor and practice the disciplines required for good health. These things are all parts of God's plan. But also be intentional about growing in your relationship with God. Spiritual health facilitates physical healing.
Look around to see what things God is doing in your life that can contribute to your healing. Are there friendships and loving relationships through which God can work to heal your hurts? Is there beauty or goodness around you that can restore your hope? Are there support groups or church groups that can help you cope with your unique problems? Are there harsh experiences that God may be trying to use to wake you up to the need for change? Are there challenges through which God may be calling you to venture out? Learn to recognize what God is doing in your life to make you whole and work with God. Reach for wholeness. God wants you to be a whole person.