While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.
I am a lectionary preacher, which means that I preach on the same Bible passages that Christian churches all over the world are reading studying and preaching on. There are many reasons for this. One reason I like the lectionary method of preaching is that I am challenged to preach on a passage in the Bible that I would not ordinarily preach about. When I read the story in Matthew a few weeks ago and saw that my first Sunday was the story of the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter (and he does), I thought, “No, I don’t want to preach on that story. Not my first Sunday. I have quite different experiences of miraculous healings than most of my UCC colleagues and I will surely alienate my new congregants.”
But then I prayed about it and thought, “Yes, this is a good challenge for me and them.”
Let me first share with you about my reading of the Gospel for the first time.
I was in seminary, taking a class in healing. We were assigned to write a paper about healing in Christianity or any world religion, based on either research or an interview. I decided to do any interview, mostly because I lived far away from campus and so an interview would be easier. I didn’t know any healers, so I called my yoga teacher, thinking that she might know a one. Her boyfriend was there when I called, and he said there was a healer named Rev. Gene Egidio in a storefront next to his computer store. I looked him up and called for an appointment.
When arrived for my appointment, I noticed there were a lot of very sick people there. The receptionist said the charge for the appointment would be $40. I was horrified! Finally, I decided that was about the price of textbook, and so I paid. I was escorted to a cot in a room full of cots separated by partitions. I sat in a chair next to my cot, feeling uncomfortable. I had thought I was going to be interviewing him, and here I was, being handled like a patient. After a while, I lay down on the cot. When Rev. Egidio came in, I sat up and explained that I was there for an interview, not a healing. He was kind, and asked if there was any healing issue that he could help me with, and suggested I lie down. Obediently, I lay down again and said that there was nothing physical going on, but that I was going through a difficult divorce. Rev. Egidio began passing his hands through the air over my body, as if he were swishing something off, and then left. I had been completely caught off guard, and had not asked any of the questions I’d planned to ask. A few minutes later, he came back, and made the same kinds of motions with his hands.
Suddenly, I was startled by a pervasive feeling of intense goodwill, well-being, and happiness. It was very hard for me to fathom how this had happened. I spoke briefly with Rev. Egidio afterward; he invited me to an evening meditation session later that week. When I spoke to him at the meditation, I explained that I had been planning to interview him, and didn’t get to do that. I also told him that I had had such a strong physical experience, that I wanted to check the cots to see if they had something on them. Rev. Egidio just laughed and said, of course, check the cots. I found nothing.
I felt that my experience was due in part to the fact that I was reading the Gospel for the very first time and was realizing that there are mysteries beyond what we can understand. I began to consider miraculous healing in a very different way than I had
Later I learned that one-fifth of the New Testament is miracle stories – not moral healings!
What I am called to preach as a Christian minister is the Gospel: the good news that God wants us to be healed, to be whole. Historically, the Old Testament, or the Jewish Bible, has – like the Christian Bible – vast varieties of explanation and theologies for healing and everything else under the sun. However, there is a general theology in the early Jewish Bible that offers the idea that god punishes us because of our sin. This Deuteronomic theology holds that an obedient Israel will enjoy good weather, prosperity, and security, and disobedience brings drought, a failing economy, and harassment – if not invasion – by foreign nations. This theology has recently been challenged with the Holocaust.
The Jewish Bible does have miraculous healing stories. Elijah, for example, heals leprosy in 2 Kings.
But the Jewish Bible also has complex theological considerations that embrace the mystery and complexity of life. The Book of Job asks the question, “Why do we suffer?” It comes up with a much more mysterious, less clear-cut explanation for suffering than, “It is God’s way of punishing us.”
I don’t believe that God punishes us. I don’t believe in that kind of God and I don’t believe Jesus as a Jew did either. Jesus had a very different answer for why people suffer. Jesus comes with a radically different idea. He rarely moralizes. Very simply put, wherever Jesus sees suffering, He brings love and healing.
What I am going to say today about miraculous healing – or the fact that I am talking about miracle healing at all – may be upsetting to you. But I ask you to hold judgment and try to hear what I am going to present.
Jesus, in our story this morning, has left his home, his Jewish Israel, and is now gone to a city by the sea – like I have just come here – and he was changing the religion of his ancestors and family tradition. I feel that this subject of miraculous healing today in part represents a new kind of reformation of the Christian church. In recent times, churches in our denomination have not, for the most part, talked about or dealt with miraculous healing. Protestant churches historically have taken up the Jews’ ideas about healing and disregarded Jesus’ ideas about healing. An explanation that you may have heard is that God allowed miraculous healings to get the church started, but they don’t exist anymore. How many of you were taught that growing up, or have heard of this idea?
Now modern medicine has begun to categorize and write about miraculous healing. Have any of you heard of a case of someone being miraculously healed, and the doctors not understanding how it happened?
Miraculous healing has continued in Pentecostal and Christian Science churches, and in many Catholic communities beginning the 1970s.
Actually Jesus’ ideas were similar to those of Egyptians and Babylonians: that sickness was from the will of evil spirits. His world view was similar to the shamanic traditions of Native Americans, which perceived human beings as instruments of divine grace. A shaman is a mediator between individual and spiritual reality. Jesus brings the corrective of LOVE in which all real healing takes place.
Why did he heal so many? Because he cared about them and didn’t want them to suffer. He was hostile to the forces that made people sick. He believed that demons possess the mentally ill, and the physically ill were under the influence of an evil power. It is important to heal people, even more important than keeping ritual laws. Two scriptures help explain Jesus’ attitude toward suffering, sickness and healing.
In John 9:3, when the disciples asked him about the man who was born blind, Jesus said, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; he was born so that the work of God might be displayed in him.” People who suffer tragedy are no more sinful that other people.
Another explanation is in Luke 13:2-5. Jesus is speaking to a large group of people and he says, “Do you suppose the Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners that any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on who the tower of Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you.”
Jesus had compassion for human suffering, just as God does, and wants to eliminate it.
Morton Kelsey in his book Healing and Christianity writes on pages 75 and 76 that Jesus believed that the “… primary cause of sickness was the force of evil loose in the world, which was hostile to God and the divine ways. Jesus believes that people sometimes fell into the hands of this power, which then exerted a destructive influence in their lives, morally, psychologically and physically. You may call this force Satan, the devil, evil spirits, demons, autonomous complexes, or what you will. The exact source was never fully accounted for; this knowledge of the reality of errant destructiveness is shot through the teaching and actions of Jesus.”
In our story, Jesus has just left his Jewish home and gone to Tyre, which was in Canaan. The Canaanite people were gentiles, meaning they were not Jews, they were pagans. They lived in this territory by the sea that Jesus was visiting. In this territory there were many different ethnic groups with a long history of military conflict with the Jews. Still today there are many different ethnic people living in this area which is now Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. This story about the Canaanite woman is also found in Mark 7:24-30, which says she is a Greek from Syria. (Jesus is perhaps learning from traveling in a more diverse area. The more I study miraculous healing the more I feel that I am in a going into territory with very different kinds of ethnic people.) This woman calls Jesus “Son of David,” so she believes he may be a Jewish King. She is what some may call a pushy broad. I relate to her completely. When someone you love is sick and in pain, you feel desperate. Remember that scene in the movie “Terms of Endearment” when Shirley MacLaine asks for her daughter’s pain meds and doesn’t get them and starts screaming “She needs them NOW!”? You go a little crazy when you feel like there is nothing you can do, watching someone you love suffer.
Now Jesus uses the metaphor of his being like the children of Israel and she says, “Yes, but even a dog gets the crumbs from the children’s table.” Jesus has treated her like she is less than them. And then Jesus recognizes what he has done and corrects himself and says, in essence, “I am sorry; I forgot God wants everyone, no matter who they are, not to suffer.”
How did Jesus heal? The same way you can. I believe that religious healing is due to the healer’s direct relationship with God and making oneself an instrument of God’s love.
Here is “Bonnie’s 12-step Healing Plan:”
1. Have faith; Jesus called upon the faith of the person that needed help.
2. Touch the sick; Jesus touched the person (for example, the leper in Mark 1:40).
3. Command people to be healed as Jesus gave commands: “Be healed”
4. Pray, because Jesus prayed with those in need of healing.
5. Invite those who need healing to pray, as Jesus asked for people’s own prayers to be involved.
6. Forgive sin, as Jesus used forgiveness of sin. An example is the paralyzed man in Mary 2:5: “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
7. Heal with compassion, as Jesus healed with compassion. Examples include the widow who lost her son in Luke 7:13 and our reading today about the Canaanite mother.
8. Use the tools of healing, as Jesus used such things as oil. Mark says the disciples used oil. The disciples “cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.” 6:13. Jesus used mud and saliva to make a blind man see and then he instructed him to wash in a special pool in Siloam in John 9:6-7.
9. Love those who suffer, as Jesus loved those who suffered.
10. Exorcise demons, because Jesus exorcised demons. An example is the blind and dumb demoniac in Matthew 12:22.
11. Preach and teach; Jesus preached to and taught crowds just like we do together every Sunday morning in worship
12. Heal because, like Jesus, you are God.
I commission all of us to do these simple loving acts of prayer, touching, and having compassion for one another’s suffering.
Two important reminders: Don’t blame yourself for your own suffering, and do not moralize about why you are suffering. Please reconsider if you holding on to the idea that God is punishing you for your suffering. Jesus did not believe that and neither should you.
Why are you sick? Why are you suffering? This is a great mystery. Many holy spiritual people suffer. Look at Jesus, Martin Luther King, and recently Jimmy Carter, who has suggested that many in this same territory of Israel who have been considered to be dogs are in fact deserving of crumbs. Where ever we encounter suffering let us be agents for healing without moralizing. Our own UCC denomination was beginning to embrace the healing ministry of Jesus in 1978. It has not gained much steam since then. This was a resolution to recognize the “place of healing alongside preaching, and teaching as ministries commissioned by Jesus.”
In Luke 10:1-2, 8-10, Jesus said, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
Martin Luther, who began our protestant reformation, gives advice about ministering to the sick through prayer and the laying-on of hands.
I believe Jesus saw suffering, and wanted to relieve it, every kind of suffering: physical, mental, spiritual.
I offer this first Sunday a beginning of a conversation about miraculous healing in the love that is Jesus the Christ. Amen