2 Kings 5:1-14 February 14, 2021 Mark 1:40-45
Many of you know that I spent five days in the hospital in the middle of January, recovering from COVID-19. From my room, I could hear the coughs and cries of other patients in the “COVID ward,” and I marveled at all the nurses and therapists who never seemed to be discouraged by the whole ordeal. As the “brain fog” cleared, I found myself thinking a lot about healing, and appreciating all your prayers for me. Eventually, I remembered what I had heard from Pastor Dick Leon. He had gone back to seminary to work on a doctorate, and he chose as his dissertation topic “Christian Healing.” He always got a chuckle when he met someone new and they asked him, “What are you doing your dissertation on?” and he would reply, “Christian Healing,” and they would do a double-take and ask, “Aren’t you Presbyterian?!”
Friends, Presbyterians are very serious students of Scripture, and all of Scripture is riddled with accounts of healing of all sorts! Isn’t it odd, then, when people are surprised to hear that a Presbyterian takes seriously the subject of healing? It’s almost as if we say to ourselves, “Well, yes, the Bible is full of examples of God’s healing power, but God doesn’t really do that much anymore. We have doctors now.”
Dick Leon would tell us that, even when medical personnel are involved in the healing process, GOD is still the One who is doing the healing!
Another thing I remember learning from Dick is that there are at least three ways that God heals: slowly, using medicine and other healing therapies; immediately, in a miraculous, instantaneous fashion; and completely, the only perfect healing being death where, instead of continuing on in this used body that is eventually headed for the grave, God gives us a new body that is never going to deteriorate!
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death HAS been swallowed up in victory!” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?!”
So, death is the complete healing, the perfect healing. The other healings we receive are temporary and incomplete, whether they are accomplished slowly or instantaneously! Even Lazarus—raised from the dead—eventually died. But we still believe in God’s healing power—demonstrated by Jesus of Nazareth.
Both of our Scripture readings today include the healing of a person who had leprosy. We read first about Naaman, a non-Jew, a very powerful man in Aram but powerless against this terrible disease—the most feared disease known at the time. He traveled to Israel with his retinue, ready to spend a huge fortune on his healing. But when Elisha sent a message to go and wash himself in the Jordan seven times, he was incensed! Not only had Elisha NOT treated him like “an important foreign dignitary,” he had instructed him to wash in the JORDAN, for crying out loud! Why, he had better rivers back home!!
He left in a huff. (It’s obvious that Naaman was a proud man.) But his servants were able to gently persuade him to at least give it a try. He humbled himself enough to do as he was told, and he was healed! “His flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.” Now, the part of the story we didn’t get to is that Naaman went back to Elisha and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except the God of Israel.” He was now a believer, able to live his life fully without any leprosy.
Our story from Mark features a man with leprosy, unfortunately simply called “a leper.” His name didn’t seem to matter. But that’s the way things were then: anyone with leprosy lost everything—family, status, possessions. The only people they could associate with were other lepers. It was really awful. If they happened to come near other people, they had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” so that people could avoid contamination. (And we think wearing a mask is onerous!)
Scholars tell us that having leprosy was a long, slow way to die—the misery compounded by the severe ostracism of the society. So, this pitiful creature came to Jesus and knelt before him—he knew God’s power was in Jesus—and he clearly stated his faith: “If you choose, you can make me clean.” (It didn’t sound much like a request—only a statement that he knew Jesus had the power to restore his life to him.) And Jesus said, “I do choose,” and the man was cleansed! I get a kick out of the fact that Jesus then instructed him to quietly go to the priest for an official inspection and to make an offering. But what did he do?! He went out proclaiming his healing to anyone who would listen, and the word spread like wildfire! Jesus couldn’t even go into town anymore, but stayed out in the countryside where people came to him!
When I compare these two characters, Naaman and the un-named leper, I see such marked contrasts:
- One was proud and powerful and Gentile; the other was humble and powerless and Jewish.
- One almost failed to receive his healing because of his unwillingness to humble himself; the other knelt in the dirt, his very posture that of humility.
- One was a skeptic who became a fervent believer; the other was a believer whose faith then exploded with a radiant, infectious joy!
It’s clear that all kinds of people can be healed—they don’t fall into any particular pattern! If we were to keep reading in Mark, we would read the story of a paralytic man who was carried to Jesus, on his mat, by his friends. And when they couldn’t get close to him (because of the crowd we just talked about), they opened up the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching and lowered him on his mat.
***It was his friends’ faith that caught Jesus’s attention, a faith that would not be deterred.***
Mark tells us that, when Jesus saw their faith, he addressed the paralytic and said, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Some of the teachers of the law in the crowd were muttering, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?!” So Jesus demonstrated his authority: “Get up, take your mat, and go home.” And the man was healed! His friends had taken him to Jesus, asking for his healing. In essence, they put intercessory prayer into action!
Just to illustrate that all kinds of people can be healed, I want to explore another healing Jesus performed in Jerusalem. It was the Sabbath, and Jesus went to the Pool of Bethesda and talked with a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. He was waiting beside the pool, because it was believed that, whenever the waters were stirred up, the first person into the pool would be healed. Jesus asked this man, “Do you want to be healed?” One might have expected him to say something like, “Oh, YES, Lord!” But the man replied, “Sir, I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” L His response was just his pitiful patter that he gave everyone who came by—hoping to get some alms. Notice that Jesus healed him perhaps against his will. He commanded the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” And he did! Now, I say that he was healed against his will because, when he was later challenged with “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat!” he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’’”
When they wanted to know who had healed him, he was unable to identify Jesus. But later, at the Temple, Jesus found him and said, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Now he knew it was Jesus, and he went and tattled that it was Jesus who had healed him on the Sabbath. This was NOT a man who wanted to be healed—he had made a life out of begging for 38 years—and he truly resented being “robbed of his infirmity.”
***Clearly, all kinds of people can be healed, and all manner of illnesses can be addressed by God’s power!***
So, the question comes to you and to me: What kind of infirmity or illness or addiction or issue do WE need to be healed from? And a second question is like unto it: Do we WANT to get well? (Do we want to find a WAY to wellness, or would we prefer an EXCUSE to keep living the way we are now?) Tough questions.
If we DO want to get well, how do we begin? We begin by asking. By admitting defeat. And we ask God to heal us. You see, THE CURE is standing among us right now as we gather in his name. Jesus stands here loving us and wanting the very best for us. He’s waiting for us to ASK. We talk to God in prayer, and we ask for ourselves and we ask for others; we ask God to heal people we hardly know, and we ask God’s healing for folks we don’t know at all!
I love Karen Orfitelli’s story of seeing the same man shuffling across a certain intersection almost every morning on her way to work. She wondered about him, and imagined that his life was not an easy one. “Lord, bless that man today and meet his every need” became her daily prayer for this stranger. She had no idea if God was doing anything in his life; she just kept on praying for him. One night at church, people were standing and sharing how God had provided for them. A man spoke up with a voice she didn’t recognize, and when she turned to look at him, she did recognize him as the man from the intersection! And he was thanking God for his new apartment and his job, and she knew God had heard her prayers.
It’s true that there are times when it feels like our prayers are just “spreading out into the void” and we don’t see the results.
As people of faith, we have to live with that.
Occasionally, we are blessed to hear about how God has been at work; we get to see an answer to prayer.
Friends, let me finish by summing up what our texts are saying: God has healing waiting for us!
- We mustn’t let our pride stop us from asking
- God hears us best when we humble ourselves to God’s will
- We can carry our friends to Jesus when they can’t move
- We can lift up total strangers and put them in God’s hands
- God’s healing might be gradual, aided by medicine and surgery and therapies; it might be instantaneous/miraculous; and it might be the perfect, complete healing found only in death. God will choose the best way to heal us.