Sunday we started a fresh series on the way of Jesus. For much of the summer we’ll be trying to follow in Jesus’ footsteps and going back to the basics with gospel stories from Luke. This week we read Luke 7:1-10, the story of Jesus healing a Roman official’s servant, and we wondered about how healing works in the real world. Thoughts after the jump.
I wish the world worked this way—you help build a synagogue or church, have a bunch of friends pray for you, demonstrate some level of faith, and then your loved ones who are sick are all better.
But it doesn’t work that way does it?
Whether we’ve had an experience of a miraculous healing or not, we all know that most of the time, when loved ones get sick and there’s no medical answer, they stay sick. We all have loved ones who didn’t get well, who suffered and died—even though they were good people, even though we prayed, even though we tried as much as we could to have faith.
As we wrestled with this in Bible study this week, one person asked if there are any stories of Jesus not healing someone and them struggling through and then things being okay in the end. It’s a brilliant question. Because, of course, that’s the majority of our experience. Our loved one is not miraculously healed, but life goes on, and we find meaning or joy in life in spite of the pain of illness and death. The Spirit brings new life out of death and pain and heartache. That’s how it works most of the time.
But these weren’t the stories that Jesus’ followers wrote down and remembered. The only story like that is Jesus himself. He suffered and died—no amount of faith or being God’s son saved him from that pain and the reality of death. Otherwise, though, stories of difficulty and illness end with miraculous healing. Which makes it tough.
We make it harder on ourselves because we tend to read these stories as if they end with “happily ever after.” The friends in this story get home and discover that the servant was in good health, and all their problems were fixed, and everyone lived happily ever after. Right?
But of course we know that can’t be how it went. Everyone Jesus healed still had to deal with normal life and all its challenges. Everyone Jesus healed ultimately died. The physical healing was a postponement, a gift of more time, but it was not a permanent fix.
And of course Jesus knew that. So it makes me wonder, why does Jesus bother? What is he up to with all this healing? Is there more to these stories than meets the eye?
Let’s look at our story for today. When we step back, the actual healing of the servant is a very small part—it’s the set up and the conclusion, but not much of the middle. What else is going on?
Take, for example, the servant—did he have any idea how valued he was? How did it change his life to discover how deeply loved he was? I think, even if his health had not been restored, that he would have been utterly amazed to be shown such love. That kind of love can change a person’s life.
And the centurion—did he know people would go to bat for him like that? He must’ve known that he was respected. But did he have any idea he was loved? I wonder if he’d ever asked for help before. I wonder if his friends and those elders had any idea that this man they respected needed them. How did it change him to discover that he was not just admired, but loved? How did it change him to ask for help? And how did it change his friends to be asked?
We think of faith as an individual endeavor. It’s a choice we make, or an experience we have, to have faith or not. But that’s not really how it works in this story. Faith looks like more of a team sport. It takes a whole heap of people. There’s the relationship between servant and centurion, and between the centurion and the town leaders, and the centurion and his friends. Everyone is part of this.
Truth be told, that’s probably how it is for us as well. Despite what our sense of individualism might tell us, our faith is stronger the more hands support and nurture it. We need people to walk with us, to teach us, to hold on for us when we’re weak, to intercede for us when we have no words. When Jesus exclaims that never has he seen such faith, I wonder if it’s maybe not just the centurion, but also this community of faith that he’s astonished by. I wonder if he’s amazed to find servant and master, Roman and Jew, all these people brought together in his name.
I think it’s a mistake to imagine that Jesus’ work begins with the healing at the end. Jesus’ work begins long before that. It’s his name that pulls these people together in the first place, that sparks hope, that enables vulnerability, that creates this community. All of this is healing as well. The next time a member in the household falls ill, even if Jesus isn’t around, these relationships will endure and ensure that there is love and life in the midst of pain and heartache. That healing will endure, no matter who falls ill.
If we have eyes to see, this healing is all around us. It is, in no small part, what Jesus is up to when we gather as church. By coming, singing, and praying, and worshiping with people we might not otherwise ever meet we are making space for Christ to be present, to be working in our lives. As we weep with each other through pain and laugh through the joy, as we pray for friends and neighbors and each other, as we hold on to the faith for each other in times of doubt and shout it loud during times of certainty, we are being knit into the body of Christ.
At times we will find our lives shaped in utterly miraculous ways. But even on the ordinary days, even on the hardest days, Christ is at work, bring about healing in our lives—mending relationships that are broken, forging new ones that will sustain us through the hardest days of our lives, surrounding us with people who will pray for us and lift us up when we’re out of strength, giving us the power to turn and offer that healing to the world around us as we care for the people set in our path, giving them the most love we possibly can. This, friends, is the true healing. Respite from illness will come and go, but the healing of our hearts, our very lives, that endures.by Sarah W. Wiles June 2, 2013 Bethany Presbyterian Church Tacoma, WA