20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
October 10, 2010
Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19
A large Shark Eye (Neverita duplicata) sea shell rests in a pottery dish on my office desk. I found it years ago while taking an early morning “discernment walk” along a Gulf Coast beach following a particularly strong storm. When it was whole and occupied by a predatory snail, it measured about four inches across. Now, the snail is gone, and large portions have been chipped away thanks to a rough journey ashore and four interstate moves. It is still a thing of beauty to me, a reminder that God is able to take even the most damaged and broken among us, see the beauty and purpose inside, heal us, and restore us to inclusion and wholeness. Like the damaged Shark Eye that I treasure, God sees us through eyes of love and grace, though we may still bear the scars of our hurt and pain.
Two of the readings for this Sunday deal with healing. Both accounts, the story of Naaman in 2 Kings and the account of the ten lepers in Luke’s gospel, concern individuals with skin diseases that separate them from polite society. Both accounts also involve faith. For Naaman, faith meant moving beyond his own notions of the conditions under which his healing should take place and accepting divine methodology. For the Samaritan leper, faith meant heartfelt thanksgiving and praise for the healing–a response to grace. The healing is beyond the control of these individuals living with scarring and devastating disease, but from all accounts and what we know of the cultures, restoration to place/status and inclusion in community are the end results.
So how do we hear these words today? If we wish to be healed, we make an appointment with our physician who will treat whatever presenting symptoms exist. We assume that there will be recovery to full physical health, although when things do not work out, when the cancer overtakes a body, when the damage from the stroke cannot be reversed, when the Alzheimer’s takes over a loved one’s memory, we count it as failure. We cannot fathom that healing may have taken place in a different sort of way, and all too often we turn from God, angry and bitter as we keep company with loss and fear.
Naaman expected healing to be more than washing seven times in the muddy waters of a particular river, and he was enraged at this strange prescription given by God’s prophet, Elisha. He wanted and expected more, perhaps seeking the equivalent of the best medical centers and finest diagnostic tests. God did provide healing when the leader relented and followed directions, and Naaman in turn showed his gratitude to God.
The lepers in Luke’s gospel cried out for healing, and Jesus obliged, instructing them to go show themselves to the priests. They did not question the prescription but went immediately. One, however, realizing that healing has taken place, runs back and falls at Jesus’ feet praising and thanking him. Jesus sends him on his way, saying “…your faith has made you well.”
Were they healed? Yes. Was the healing on their terms? No. Their healing was a gift of God received by faith. Is it possible to be healed, made whole in Christ, without the pain or scars being removed? Remember how Paul talks about his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7)? God did not remove but rather gave him grace enough to live with his affliction, and Paul remained a faithful and powerful witness to the gospel, constantly giving praise and glory to God. In effect, he was healed to wholeness as a child of God and disciple of Christ, even though this “thorn” was not removed. I think of Joni Eareckson Tada who although paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair after a diving accident at age 17 has dedicated her life to praising God and serving others.
The answer, I believe, is yes. God does heal and make whole, even though scars, physical disability, illness, or pain remain in this life. The soul is healed; the spirit is made whole. This healing, dear Christian friends, is only possible by grace alone through faith. I am a cancer survivor. My body will never be “whole” again in the physical sense, but I am “well” spiritually. Yes, I still die daily to sin and rise to newness of life, growing in faith each step of the journey. For this I give all thanks and praise to God.
Those in need of healing fill our sanctuaries, walk the streets of our neighborhoods, and yes, even live in our own homes. None of us makes it through life without pain. Suffering is more common than we would like to admit, and if we don’t wear our scars visibly, chances are they tear us up on the inside. We all want so desperately to be made well. God is able to do amazing things with broken and battered yet beautiful and beloved people. So let us lift up our neighbor, bear each other’s burdens, encourage one another, and be good stewards of the faith. Finally, remember always to offer praise and thanksgiving to the God of all hope and healing. Amen.
Point to Ponder: What image or item or story serves to remind you of God’s ability to make us well, strengthening our broken places and smoothing our rough edges, and bringing us to new life in Christ Jesus?
Image by Sharron R. Lucas