Second Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Luke 8:26-39

Christ’s gifts of healing, hope and wholeness

“Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, just as it is well with your soul” is the marvellous manner in which St.John begins his third letter to one of his Christian congregations. This greeting is so apt, we could use it in the letters we ourselves send to others. We have sayings like “The only wealth is your health”, or “If you’re got your health, you’ve got nearly everything that’s worth having.”

From the Bible, we learn of God’s concern for our health and well-being. Our Creator loves our bodies and souls, and is honoured when we care for them. Martin Luther calls caring for our bodies a Christian work, so “that through its health and comfort we may be able to work to acquire and lay by funds with which to aid those who are in need.”

The Old Testament is more concerned with preventing sickness and disease than with healing disabilities and handicaps. Moses has been called the father of preventative medicine. The New Testament focuses more of healing than on health. In St. Mark’s Gospel, for example, Jesus devotes more time to healing the sick and the handicapped than He does to preaching and teaching. St. Mark sees our Lord’s healing miracles as the Gospel in action for our comfort and encouragement. These miracles point to Christ’s greatest act of healing – His dying on the cross – to heal us of sin, our greatest disease and handicap.

Our Lord Jesus is concerned about our total well-being and not just our physical ailments or handicaps. He treats both sickness and health as something spiritual with mental and physical consequences. Christ our great Physician assumes that no one possesses perfect health and no one is free from every handicap or physical limitation, since we all live in a spiritually polluted environment. He seeks to keep us healthy in body, mind and soul through our connectedness to Him. All physical healing is only partial and provisional in this life. Total healing comes only at the Last Day with the elimination of all evil and with the resurrection of the body.

By first forgiving the sins of the paralytic person let down through a hole in the roof, our Lord demonstrates that He’s concerned about more than physical good or ill health. His fantastic bestowal of forgiveness heals our consciences and frees us from the debilitating effects of guilt. His eagerness to free us from anxieties and cares of this world shows His deep interest in our emotional health and well-being. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith? (Matthew 6:25-30).”

Peace of heart and mind is His will for us. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid (John 14:27).”

As we look around us in today’s world, we see tortured minds and restless souls who are not at peace within, but who hurt inside. Our Lord invites those in mental or physical agony, those weighed down with heavier loads than they can carry, to come to Him for relief and release. “Come to Me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28)” In Jesus’ time, there were many tortured souls, souls afflicted by unclean spirits, for whom our Lord showed a compassionate concern.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and His twelve disciples cross the Lake of Galilee at great risk to their lives, during a terrible storm, in order to heal one demented outcast. Frequently, Jesus interrupts whatever He’s doing to help those in greatest need around Him. The great men and women of our world today are super-busy folk.  We get the impression that they have little time to spare for interruptions and the unexpected. Not so our Lord! On His way to Jerusalem to complete His mission of our salvation, Jesus stopped. He stopped in order to help and heal a blind beggar. “Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, He is calling you.’ (Mark 10:49).”

In the demon-possessed man in this story, we see the destructive and degrading power of evil. Evil is the perversion of something that’s good – in this case, the perversion of one of God’s good creations, created in His image. Evil perverts what’s good in a self-destructive and menacing manner. Since the Son of God has become one of us, the forces of evil have also tried to “incarnate” themselves in human beings. Even today, we see the terrible destruction of good lives by the demons of addiction. We see the devastation caused by addiction to drugs, alcohol, gambling, petrol-sniffing and so on. Our doctors and professional carers and counsellors are our Lord’s allies in helping people handle and overcome these addictions.

Pessimists might say: “You can’t change human nature.” But our Lord can, and has done so. The New Testament is rich with stories of people’s lives changed by our Lord Jesus. The tormented person in today’s text has been ejected from his home. His rejection by his family must have only added to his agony. The name he refers to himself as, “Legion”, a military term, suggests the terrible battle within himself, the battle between his heart and his soul.He is known as “Legion” because he has been defeated by an army of destructive thoughts and harmful intentions.

The alien voice within the man asks “What do You want with me, Jesus?” He doesn’t want Jesus to disrupt the status quo. Sadly, we still see people who don’t want our Lord to upset their routines. There are folk locked in their addictions, trapped in the past, not letting our Lord liberate them and give them a brighter future. It’s cause for immense rejoicing when we see someone’s life totally transformed by Jesus. The Gospels picture how Jesus is surrounded with the feeblest of people – those paralysed, the handicapped and disabled, lepers and the lame – because they have no one else to turn to. Jesus has come to help the helpless. Our Lord helps those who cannot help themselves.

So much of His healing ministry occurs behind the scenes, as our Lord respects people’s need for privacy. Our divine Physician adopts a low profile to make it easier for the battered and the bruised, sufferers and invalids in His community to come to Him. The weaker a person’s faith, the easier Jesus makes it for the needy person to believe in Him. Jesus made it easier for all of us to believe in Him and His power to help us, by becoming one of us.

After Jesus healed this deranged individual, we learn that he sits at Jesus’ feet, being taught by our Lord, and is “in his right mind”. What a beautiful outcome! Our Lord’s healing of people has a greater purpose than simply the relief of suffering. He heals people so that their relationships with their families and friends can be restored. That’s why Jesus says to the healed man “Return home and tell how much God has done for you (v.19).”

Today’s Gospel has a message of hope for those for whom every day is a battle with depression, haunting anxieties, compulsive behaviours and fears of the future. What Jesus is doing in your life right now has everything to do with a better future for you. Never forget Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”  Display this message prominently in your home as a constant reminder of God’s design for your life. Jesus responds to your prayers for your own health and for the better health of your loved ones according to His loving wisdom, with either relief, with the gift of courage and endurance, or by giving you renewed hope.

St. Paul learned that he was more effective for God with his handicap (his “thorn in the flesh”) than he was without it. The Greek Orthodox Church calls the handicapped “the holy ones”, because they remind all of us of our need for God and of our own limitations. Wisdom is to know your limitations and to live within them with the help of our Lord. His unconditional love for each of us is the greatest of miracles. It’s a further amazing miracle that so many people believe that Jesus can really make a difference in their lives, and help them in a way no one else can.

To believe in prayer is to believe in miracles. Martin Luther says “Faith is prayer and nothing but prayer.” We cannot be whole without prayer. Our Lord comes to us with His healing power in our worship. In Holy Communion, He continues His healing ministry among us. What’s why, after receiving Holy Communion, we thank God for “this healing gift”. “We must … regard this sacrament … as a pure, wholesome medicine which aids and is life-giving in both soul and body. For when the soul is healed the body has benefited also (The Large Catechism).” Thank the Lord for that!

One of our hymns says it well:

At evening when the sun had set,                   
the sick, O Lord, around You lay:                     
in what distress and pain they met,                 
but in what joy they went away!                                 

Your touch has still its ancient power,
no word from You can fruitless fall:
meet with us in this evening hour
and in Your mercy heal us all!