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  • Writer's pictureRev. Izzy Harbin

Physical Health - Jesus' Ministry of Healing

Luke 17:11-19

11 On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he entered a village, ten men with a skin disease approached him. Keeping their distance, 13 they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16 He prostrated himself at Jesus’s feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? So where are the other nine? 18 Did none of them return to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

As we continue our series on the social issues of Jesus’ day, we will be looking at the issue of healthcare this week. It is well known that a signature part of Jesus’ ministry was healing people – the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the leper to name a few.

In our passage today, and in other healing passages like it, faith is often tied to the act of healing. I have often wondered if these passages were explicitly or implicitly saying that a lack of faith limited or prevented someone from being healed. Jesus certainly implies this in various contexts such as the healing of the Centurion’s servant where Jesus exclaims the following:

In Matthew: “Go; let it be done for you according to your faith.”

In Luke: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

In the healing of Blind Bartimaeus, we see Jesus respond similarly:

In Mark: “Go; your faith has made you well.”

When we look at these instances where Jesus heals a physical malady, we have to ask the question, “Would he heal someone if the one who is asking lacked faith?” Oddly enough, we can never know the answer to this because all of the examples given to us in the gospels are of folks who showed tremendous faith. If faith is a prerequisite of being healed, then why do we NOT see this type of healing happening every day?

When I was in high school, I went with a friend to a “tent meeting” in Florida. At this meeting, there were two individuals with quite the reputation for healing people with the touch of their hand. They invited people up on stage, would say a few words, watch the individual collapse to the floor, and then proclaim that they were healed. I left there thinking, “That is so fake.” I guess from my response to what I was seeing, I would have to say my faith was weak or lacking.

Does my skepticism of these two individuals qualify as a lack of faith, or was I responding to something else other than a faith issue?

I personally believe it is the latter. What was hard for me to accept, and what is still difficult for me to accept, is that God would have some unknown criteria by which all people may be healed, but then God doesn’t clue us in to what those criteria are. Faith is such a broad term and can be defined in a multitude of ways. We typically think of faith as belief in, but I think it is more than just belief. It feels more like a conviction that is unwavering; a holding space for something; a reliance upon something that is unseen and potentially unknown except for the resulting evidence.

And for me, this is where the rub comes in. When I witnessed the “fake healings” it diminished the possibility of a true healing experience for me. Also, there was zero tangible evidence that any of those people were actually healed. For example, one individual claimed to have cancer. There was no way for us to ever know if the woman was cured from her cancer just because the “healer” said she was.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in healing—I do! I have an Aunt who was healed from what the doctors were certain was liver cancer. She found out she had a spot on her liver on a Tuesday that was the size of a half dollar. She went to church on a Wednesday; they laid hands on her, anointed her with oil, and prayed for her to be healed. She went back to the doctor one week later for additional tests and scans, but they couldn’t find any sign of the spot on her liver. They couldn’t explain it; neither could she, but she believed that God healed her.

In truth, I don’t know what the spot was on my Aunt’s liver, but I will not discount the possibility that she was healed. What I struggle with, though, is the fact that she was healed simply because people prayed over her, or she had some extraordinary faith that made it possible for her to be healed. My struggle is with a God who would arbitrarily choose to heal some but not others. Why?

What we see in our passage is that Jesus heals all 10, even though only one was going to be grateful. It is up to the reader to decide if Jesus knew that only one would return, but let’s assume for the moment he didn’t know; how does that change the equation? Jesus did heal them for the accolades or the prestige. He healed them because they needed healing. And he healed them all. If Jesus KNEW that only one would return and offer thanks, this makes his healing of all 10 even more important. Jesus didn’t withhold healing; even from the ungrateful. And, in this passage, he heals them all before knowing anything about their faith. It is only after the one returns that Jesus comments on his faith.

In my mind, Jesus makes a fundamental case for universal healthcare. Everyone should have the opportunity to receive the best care possible. If Jesus could have healed everybody, would he have made that his mission? Maybe. What we do know is everywhere he went, he healed people.

Another aspect to healing is that we live in a more technologically advanced time than Jesus. Since Jesus walked the earth, we have discovered antibiotics, we have x-ray machines, CT Scans, MRIs, and other high tech diagnostic equipment. We can perform all kinds of surgeries now that no one could have even conceived, such as transplants. These are truly miracles of modern medicine. Perhaps this was God’s plan all along. Through the advent of modern medicine, we’ve had to rely less and less on faith to heal us and rely more and more on science.

Does this shift, however, defeat the purpose of Jesus and his healing ministry? Or does it teach us to have a different kind of faith – faith in Science of Medicine?

No matter where you land along the spectrum between faith and science, the world is filled with unlimited possibilities. Healing happens every day, we just may not see it or understand it. Likewise, death happens every day. That, too, is a mystery. This is one theological dilemma that we may never be able to solve. Still, we grapple with what it means to be healed and whole, and what it means to have faith, and still believe that God is speaking through all the new technology we have at our disposal. We take it all in because it is all available to us. We take what makes sense to us, and leave the rest.

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