Healing the World

(This is how things happen in a church:  for the Vestry meeting Bible study last month I suggested we look at the next week’s epistle – James on healing.  I said something about the church’s healing ministry and someone said, “We used to do that every month.”  So I said, “Why don’t we do it next month?  St. Luke’s Day is coming up and we could take the nearest Sunday.”  After the meeting one Vestry member told me that she had been trained for healing ministry and would be glad to assist.  Why did it take three years to find this out?)

They say that St. Luke was a doctor. St Paul calls him “the beloved physician”- you heard that in the second reading – and it’s certainly true that Luke pays close attention to how Jesus healed people.  He thinks like a doctor.  Luke’s gospel goes into medical details that the other gospels lack.

But the definitive evidence it seems to me comes in the story of the woman who had had an issue of blood for twelve years. Mark says “she had endured much under many physicians and had spent all she had and was no better but rather grew worse.”  Well, if Luke was a doctor, you know that would bother him and sure enough he leaves out that line about “endured much under many physicians” and simply tells us “though she had spent all she had on physicians, no one could cure her.”  So Luke was definitely a doctor, a dues paying member of the local chapter of the medical society. It’s no wonder hospitals get named for him.

But there’s more to Luke than just a narrow self-interest and specialist’s concerns. Luke cares about healing and he tells us the story of Jesus in a way that gives us the big picture. It’s not just physical healing that matters.  Human beings get sick in lots of ways and Luke wants us to see the big picture and Jesus’ role in the big picture: God’s concern for healing and wholeness in all the places where it’s needed.  There are many.

Did you notice the agenda Luke set in this morning’s gospel? The four gospels are very different in the way they begin the story of Jesus’ ministry. Three out of four begin with some reference to Jesus teaching in the synagogues but only Luke tells us what he taught, and that matters.  Luke tells us that Jesus read a passage from the prophet Isaiah and said he would fulfill it. We heard it in the gospel, but listen to it again:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,” Jesus said, “because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. . . to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

It seems striking to me that Luke, Doctor Luke, gives us a passage that says nothing direct about disease. The closest it comes is in citing “recovery of sight to the blind” but first place goes to “good news to the poor.” And that’s another priority for Luke. He does, later on, tell a number of stories of how Jesus healed the sick and he’s more specific about it than the other gospels. He describes the disease and he tells us specifically what Jesus did to heal the disease. But in the agenda that Jesus sets here at the beginning. the focus is not narrow, not just physical disease, but the poor and the oppressed because that’s also a sickness: where there is poverty and oppression society is sick and needs to be healed. Luke keeps the focus especially on poverty as he goes on to tell the story of Jesus.

In fact, even earlier in the gospel, Luke set that agenda. When the angel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah she responded, Luke tells us, by singing what we now call the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,” she begins, and she goes on to say, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty. . . .”  It’s a continuing theme throughout Luke’s gospel.

When we come to the sermon on the Mount, we know Matthew’s version best: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” says Matthew, but Luke gives it differently: just “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of heaven is yours . . .” And that’s more like a blank check: just being poor gives you the kingdom.

Well, think about that; I think we tend to think much more about individuals, but we only exist within a society, in relationship to others: family, friends, fellow workers, the larger community, and, of course, the so-called global village. The Presidential debates can’t avoid talking about China and Iran and Libya because what happens there affects us, can be a matter of life and death for us. If those relationships are healthy, life is better; if they’re difficult, tense, troubled, life is harder for all of us.  If the global community is sick, so are we.

Think about some societies that are obviously sick, societies in revolt, for example, like some of the mid-eastern states. The diagnosis would certainly include poverty and oppression. When people lack opportunity, can’t find good jobs, can’t express themselves freely, when all the power is in the hands of a few, the sickness comes finally to a crisis point and erupts like a fever that requires emergency treatment.

But put it in a larger perspective than that: why are we here?  Why did God create us? To satisfy ourselves, to get rich, to pile up possessions, to be winners or losers in terms like that?  I don’t think so.  I don’t think you would be here if that were what you valued. I think we know that life is not satisfying in purely material and monetary terms. I can’t tell you first hand, I haven’t been there myself, but they tell me there comes a time when another million or too doesn’t do a single thing for your joie d’vivre.

If you get to the Bill Gates level, you may well find more satisfaction in giving stuff away than piling it up. But you don’t have to get to that point to find that satisfaction.  You can start right now and most of us have already begun: we find ways to help and to share and to build up the community. You don’t need a zillion dollars to do that and I think most of us know it.

I remember a story I heard somewhere of a poor widow, somewhere in the south, I think, who was struggling to raise her children alone with never enough to make ends meet – but she always tithed to her church.  And the elders of the church concerned themselves about the situation and finally commissioned their pastor to go and speak to her and tell her that they thought that even though it was the standard for their church they thought she should be excused from tithing.  So the pastor went and told her what they had decided and she burst into tears and said, “You are taking away the one thing that gives my life meaning and joy.”

What joy could there be in a life locked up in self and nothing to share with others?  It’s a sick society that loses that perspective. I think we need to be concerned about a society in which the politicians focus entirely on the so-called “middle class.” That probably includes me and I should be grateful but I don’t find any reference to the middle class in the Bible. Jesus never said, “Blessed are the middle class . . .”  I think there was a middle class even in those days but Jesus’ focus is always on the rich and the poor: the danger the rich are in and a deep concern for the poor.

It seems to me a very simple equation: if we were made for life together, life shared, as I believe we were, then the rich are in danger because they are so likely to let their goods get in their way, to pile up possessions instead of sharing them, and the poor are blessed because at least they are free from that obsession. Oh I know, there are poor people obsessed with possessions and rich people who could care less about all that, but you can go to the people that do polling and they’ll tell you, the poor give far more to others than the rich in relative terms. They know what need is like and are readier to share what little they have. For the rich, it’s all too easy to center your life on possessions. I mean, if you have five houses and ten cars just think of the time it would take to keep the houses painted and the cars serviced and remember which house you’re in at the moment and which car you left in the parking lot. I mean, it’s got to be complicated to be rich, and most of us don’t have that worry.  We can be a little more aware of the needs of others and work together to make a better community for all.

So Luke, the good physician, has that larger concern for the sickness of obsession with self, a sickness we often treat today with psychiatry and drugs. Are you anxious, are you insecure?  We have a pill for that. But it might just be that a better cure would be in learning to reach out in self-giving concern for others, the self-forgetfulness that has no time or need to worry about self because the needs of others always seem to come first.

We will take time today to anoint and pray for those who are sick or crippled or limited physically but those who become involved In the healing ministry will always tell you that healing is often much more than physical, that often in fact physical healing depends on a deeper healing, a peace that comes from a deeper relationship with God, a sense of security and wholeness, and where that is present healing spreads out and heals the whole society, drains away the anger and bitterness that poisons our politics, and gives us a new focus, a new center and security and peace releases from the narrow self-concern that can so easily enslave us. Pray God that we may all receive the healing that releases us from the oppression of self-centeredness and enables us also to proclaim an acceptable year of the Lord.

Leave a comment

Your comment