Healing Prayer- feast of St. Luke
Today we are celebrating the feast of St. Luke who was referred to by St. Paul as “the beloved physician”. Tradition tells us that he was a physician of the body, but the Gospel and the book of Acts he wrote also shows us that he was a physician of the soul. Today we pay particular attention to the ministry of healing as a part of our mission as Christians.
Healing was a continuous part of Jesus’ ministry. Wherever Jesus went he healed the sick as a sign of God’s compassion and a sign of the wholeness that comes with the kingdom of God. It seems like wherever he went he was healing people who suffered from a variety of illnesses.
Healing was also a part of the ministry of Jesus’ disciples. We read in Luke chapter 10 that Jesus sends out the 70 into the surrounding towns. Jesus says to them, “Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’“ (Luke 10:8-9) (See also Luke 9:1). We also see this ministry of healing continue in the book of Acts after Jesus ascends into heaven. Early in the book of Acts St. Peter and St. John were going to the temple to pray when they come across a man begging. Peter turns to him and says, ‘I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.’ (Acts 3:6). The man is completely healed and it starts a huge controversy with the authorities.
As disciples of Jesus we are also told to pray for healing. In the letter of James we read, “Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (James 5:14-16).
We also have many stories from the lives of the saints about healing. There are stories from our own lives about people who receive healing in response to prayer. I have a friend who is a priest who once went to the hospital to pray for an elderly woman who was dying and anoint her with oil. He believed he was going to die and so did the medical staff. In the morning the phone rang and there was a voice on the other end asking, “what did you do to grandma?” The woman woke up the next morning with no serious problem. She went hope to England and sent him a Christmas card until she eventually passed away. There was a woman in this building a few weeks ago who told me about her cancer being healed in response to prayer in a very dramatic way. She was preparing for an operation and the cancer was gone. I hear many of these kinds of stories. I have prayed for people and they have gotten well. No doubt God uses medications and various medical treatments and the wisdom of doctors and nurses and various other healing professionals. But, God also uses prayer.
In the book “Healing Words” Dr. Larry Dossey speaks about how as an agnostic medical doctor he was confronted by evidence of prayer’s effectiveness. He writes, “Over time I decided that not to employ prayer with my patients was the equivalent of deliberately withholding a potent drug or surgical procedure. … I simply could not ignore the evidence for prayer’s effectiveness without feeling like a traitor to the scientific tradition. And so, after weighing these factors for many months, I concluded that I would pray for my patients” (Dossey, xviii).
This might be a good time to mention that this is part of why it is so important that we develop a Pastoral Care group. This group can be a group of people that can provide constant prayer for those who are suffering. It is an important ministry and can be used by God to bring various kinds of healing.
We also have to take seriously the fact that sometimes we pray and there is no healing. St. Paul speaks about a thorn in his flesh that would not be healed (2 Cor. 12:7). In the Bible, Job is the ultimate example of a good person who suffers unjustly and does not receive healing. There are also many saints that die early deaths or who deal with constant illness. For example, St. Francis of Assisi was only 44 when he died and was nearly blind. When we pray sometimes people seem to be healed, but sometimes they don’t. Sometimes people seem incredibly deserving of healing and don’t receive it. So prayer is not as simple as we might want it to be. There is a mystery here. It touches on the mystery of suffering.
The fact that prayer doesn’t always bring physical healing doesn’t refute the fact that sometimes it does bring healing. We don’t understand how it all works, but sometimes it works and so we should pray for healing while also understanding that there are deeper purposes that might mean healing will not always come. There is a deeper purpose in suffering. For example, sometimes suffering can teach us patience. Hemingway once wrote, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places”. Mysteriously sometimes suffering can have a positive effect on our soul. The healing and strengthening of our soul might be more important than our physical healing. But, we have to admit that sometimes we see no purpose in suffering. It is deeper and more mysterious than we can see.
Jesus performed some amazing acts of healing. He healed people that were born blind. We even read about Jesus bringing people back from the dead. The most famous of these was Lazarus, but there are others as well (Jairus’ daughter- Mark 5; The Widow’s son and Nain- Luke 7). Jesus healed people, but it is important to remember that eventually they all died. Physical healing is only temporary. So physical healing really only points towards a greater healing.
What kind of healing ultimately matters? Jesus in his compassion and mercy is about healing the entire person, body, mind, spirit, but this isn’t just a matter of healing the individual. Jesus also desires the healing of social relationships, which is why he places such an emphasis on forgiveness. Jesus’ ultimate goal to heal the relationship between the world and God. Jesus’ physical healings (which are temporary) really foreshadow that great healing.
In Jesus we see humanity as it was meant to be- he is the fully healed human being. This is God’s desire for us as well. The church is ideally meant to be an instrument of God used to help heal the split between the world and God. We enter the church as broken, fallen, sick, and confused human beings, and through a variety of spiritual disciplines, and working in the power of the Holy Spirit, and following the teachings of Jesus, we enter the process of becoming healthy.
We see this healing most clearly in the saints. They are the ones who have received the deep healing God is offering. They followed the way Jesus taught us and they have bee healed of their sin and in being healed show the Fruit of the Spirit- “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal 5:22-23).
The theologian Paul Meyendorff says, “the very purpose of the Church is to heal us, to restore the rift between God and humanity which is caused by our sin and leads to death. This is achieved precisely when we are united to one another and to God in the body of Christ, which is the church”… “Jesus Christ is here asking for nothing less than the healing of the whole world, all humanity, all creation. This is achieved when we come to know Christ, when we become one with him and with one another. Everything that the church does, all its sacramental and liturgical life, all its teaching, is directed at restoring the proper relationship between God and creation, which has been corrupted through our sinfulness. This is the real meaning of Christian healing, and it involves the whole person, body, soul, and spirit.”
Baptism is the ultimate sacrament of healing and is aimed at the whole person, body, soul, and spirit. I love this Eastern Orthodox prayer over the baptismal waters: “Therefore O loving King, come now and sanctify this water by the indwelling of your Holy Spirit, and grant to it the grace of redemption, the blessing of Jordan; make it the fountain of incorruption, the gift of sanctification, the remission of sins, the remedy of infirmities… Master of all, show this water to be the water of redemption, the water of sanctification, the purification of flesh and spirit, the loosing of bonds, the remission of sins, the illumination of the soul, the washing of regeneration, the renewal of the spirit, the gift of adoption to sonship, the garment of incorruption, the fountain of life …” That is the healing God wants for us.
If God’s purpose for the church really has to do with healing, then baptism (as our entry into the church) is really at its core about healing. It is ultimately about healing our relationship with God. Baptism is primarily a healing sacrament. It is where we are set on the path of restoration and wholeness. So I encourage you to mark yourself with the baptismal water today as a sign of embracing your baptism and the healing that began on the day you were baptized. We do pray for healing. We pray for the healing of the entire person- body, mind, and soul. And we pray knowing that our ultimate healing is God’s desire for us. Amen