What I want to proclaim to you today is that Jesus’ heals the sick, makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the mute to speak. I want to tell you that he is the healer of our every ill, that he makes all things well. But, I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to get through all the things that we know to be true about medical science—about the reality of illness and disease in the world and I don’t know how to get THERE—to that place where Jesus’ heals us—from where we are NOW, in the 21st century with HMOs and Living Wills, laser surgery and microscopic diagnostic tools.
How impressed can we be by someone who repairs eyesight, hearing and speech when we have the miracle of lasik surgery, hearing aids and speech therapy? Who would be amazed by an exorcism, even one done with the patient miles away from the exorcist, when we are all too rational to believe in a fairy tale creature “possessing” someone. We can rid ourselves of anything that people back then thought of as possession with a good therapist, detox facility or medication. What’s really so amazing about any of it? We don’t need Jesus’ healing the way those people did back then when there weren’t real doctors like there are now. Or do we?
What does it really mean to be healed? Mostly, we think of that in terms of simply being without disease. We have a problem. We go to the doctor. We have a few tests done and get a diagnosis. Procedures and therapies are done and medications are prescribed. Then we are either without the problem or still with the problem. Healed or not. It is science—it is reasonable and, for the most part, reliable—and part of virtually all of our lives.
Let’s look for a moment at the two healing stories in today’s gospel.
There is a woman whose daughter has been taken over by a demon or a malevolent spirit of some sorts. She hears about Jesus, this teacher and healer, and she seeks him out. Now, not only is she a woman, who would not typically be allowed to speak to a teacher such as Jesus, but she was also not a Jew. What would this Jewish rabbi’s presence have to do with her? Why would she seek out someone who would most likely reject her?
I think that any of us who have born witness to the suffering of a loved one can answer that question. It is a kind of suffering of its own. To stand beside someone we love while they suffer pain or illness and to be powerless to help is one of the most helpless and hopeless feelings in the world. Many years ago, my father died of cancer. I can remember what that was like—watching and wishing there was something I could do to make it better, even in some small way. This mother had watched her daughter struggle with whatever had taken hold in her and could bear it no longer. Not only did she seek out this Jewish rabbi, but she tenaciously believed he would help them enough to not give up until she got a yes!
Jesus’ healing of this woman’s daughter is more than just casting out a demon from a child. His action shows us something important about God—In the end, Jesus did not withhold his healing from the girl just because she wasn’t Jewish. Both Jew and Gentile receive his healing. In this action of healing, we see more than one girl healed. We see that God did not come for one group alone but for the whole of humanity. All receive Jesus’ healing.
There is a man who is deaf and cannot speak well. He himself does not come to Jesus and seek out healing and we don’t know if he even knew anything about Jesus at all. We can imagine that it would be unlikely that he would know anything because he could not hear. But his friends knew of Jesus’ and brought this man to be healed. Jesus takes the man away from the commotion of the crowd—away from all the visual distractions around them.
He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, spits, touches his tongue and says “be opened”. Immediately, he could hear and could speak. Although Jesus told all of them not to talk about it, they were all unable to contain themselves and went around telling everyone about the miracles that he could do.
I think this story is about more than one man who had his hearing and speech restored. I think it is about all of us who fail to hear the Good News that is spoken to us all the time by God—the good news that we are created by a God who loves us no matter what. Sometimes, it is our friends who bring us to a place where we can hear this again. Jesus comes to us—face to face—and opens our ears to hear his words. He does not let any impediment get in the way. He also gives us the power to speak, not in the unclear and jumbled words of the world, but in his words of grace to speak to the world.
The words most commonly used in the healing stories of Jesus mean so much more than merely without disease or flaw. In fact, they mean wholeness, completeness, wellness and harmony. It is very much like the Hebrew word Shalom—which means more than peace but the peace that passes all understanding – the peace of wholeness, wellness completeness that cannot be given by any doctor or therapist or pharmacist but is given by God alone. The scriptures are teaching us that Jesus does not merely cure ailments but he makes all things well, complete, whole. We are not merely hearing stories of a man who healed in the same way that modern medicine heals. Rather we are hearing of the ways in which God makes life whole and complete for us.
Whenever I read or hear one of the healing stories of Jesus or one of the places in the bible where it says that God will make the blind to see and the deaf to hear I remember one particular hymn from my childhood. We are singing some BEAUTIFUL hymns today—all of which illustrate God’s healing power for our lives and our world in Jesus Christ. This one hymn, though, is pretty old and it is not in either the green book nor the blue book. But, some of you might recognize it:
Come ye disconsolate
Where ere ye languish
Come to the mercy seat
Here bring your wounded hearts
Here tell your anguish
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven cannot heal
Joy of the desolate
Light of the straying
Hope of the penitent
Fadeless and pure
Here speaks the comforter
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven cannot cure
Here see the bread of life
See waters flowing
Forth from the throne of God
Pure from above
Come to the feast of love
Come ever knowing
Earth has no sorrow
But heaven can remove
In thinking about this hymn, I realized something. I don’t need to find a way to get us to Jesus—he and all the power of God’s healing comes to us right here in the real bread of life on the altar today. There in the baptismal font with living waters flowing forth. Jesus comes to us and gives us his healing, his wholeness, his shalom, his wellness that surpasses any that the world gives.
Come to the God who has come to us—bring your wounded and desolate hearts. Come to the feast of love—the feast of the one who makes the deaf to hear, the blind to see, the mute to speak. Hear the comforter, the healer of our every ill, say: there is no sorrow, no illness, no brokenness on earth that I cannot heal. For I make all things well.