Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ,
Jesus’ miracles in this morning’s gospel text give us a chance us to think about the subject of health. I’m sure we’ll all agree that health is a big concern. We often have someone’s physical well-being on our minds, either our own or somebody close to us. The Bible assures us that God knows about our frailty, that he will strengthen us to bear up, and that he performs wonderful acts of healing.
Jesus’ healing miracles in the four gospels give glory to God and show us the nature of the Savior’s power. He is the Lord of both our spirits and our bodies. His acts of healing also show us that God is on the side of good health. Illness is part of life. It’s one of the effects of sin that come with being alive on the earth. Everyone gets sick from time to time; we know what illness is. Children and seniors are both susceptible to sickness. We get sick if we don’t take care of ourselves. If we adopt certain unwholesome practices, illness comes to us. We don’t say, though, that every disease is the result of a specific act of sin, for germs and bacteria don’t follow a moral code, nor do we say that our illnesses are signs that God is angry with us, for disease is like rain: it strikes the just as well as the unjust. Illness goes along with life on earth: we can’t do anything about it. God can, though, and he does. He is a healer. Jesus defeated the devil, who is the ultimate cause of illness; Jesus heals and restores.
We know something about how God’s healing works. Miraculous cures do occur in today’s world, and we are thankful to God if he has worked a miracle on our behalf. As a general rule, though, God works by intermediaries. He uses doctors and nurses and other health care workers to provide for us. He sees to it that they are well-trained and wise about the body. They are often compassionate, especially after they get to know us, even in today’s hectic environment with lots of cutbacks. It’s God’s will for us that we listen to our doctors and follow their advice. I once heard a man who I’m sure never crossed the threshold of a church door say that he hated his doctor. Doctors are human and busy; they have a lot on their minds; they make mistakes. But they are servants of God, whether they know it or not, and on the side of life. If we do not like or trust our doctor, we ought to forgive and find another one. Whatever the case, the Lord sends doctors to help us; he blesses us as we follow their guidance.
The Lord also gives us the privilege and power of prayer. He hears our prayers for our own healing and for others who are sick. The letter of James advises us to pray for one another, that we may be healed. “The prayer of a righteous person,” he says, “has great power in its effects.” We pray for the sick of St. Peter’s every Sunday and we pray in private at home. Prayers work and sometimes surprising healings do take place. Jesus invites us to keep on bringing our concerns to him.
Another sign that God is on the side of healing is that he blesses our use of the common sense he gives us. We live moderate, balanced, orderly lives, with proper attention to diet, exercise, and the need for rest. We don’t push ourselves beyond our limits. We older folks don’t give way to the notion that we are 20 years younger than we actually are and push ourselves like someone in his or her twenties. Younger people thank God for the good years he’s given them, while they remember that they are flesh and bone, not steel, and that all flesh is grass, destined to perish. Heaven blesses sensible living. This has always been the case and always will be. One of Solomon’s proverbs says, “Good sense wins favor...a prudent man acts with knowledge...wisdom dwells in prudence.”
Now, along with gospel stories of healing, our readings include an excerpt from the book of Job, who at one time in his life was greatly afflicted with diseases and other losses. His case encourages us to look at the question of health from a more spiritual point of view. What do we do if the gift of good health is taken away from us or from someone we love? We notice from the story of Job that the Bible doesn’t tell us that we ought to give up and suffer in silence.
Job was a unique case. The devil afflicted him, you remember, in hopes of winning a bet with God. Satan claimed that Job was faithful only because he had every good thing life could offer. But if he took away family, riches, and health, the devil argued, then Job’s faith would evaporate. God allowed Job to suffer as a test of his faith and to win the bet with Satan. Job railed and sputtered, but he held onto his belief in God’s goodness toward him. “I know that my Redeemer lives,” he affirmed. The Lord gave him the gift of steadfastness. He believed that no matter how unfortunate he was at a certain point in his life, he would eventually see God face to face. His trust received its reward. God appeared to him at the end of the story and blessed the last days of his earthly life even more than his beginning.
We can apply the story of Job to ourselves. For one thing, Job never knew about the dispute between God and Satan. He didn’t know that he was playing a part in a cosmic drama with supernatural dimensions. From this point of view, we know more than Job did. Life has its mysteries that our Heavenly Father instructs us to trust will turn out well. Somebody said that the life we see now is like the back side of a tapestry. Scripture tells us a lot, but we see knots and colored threads, a few dim patterns, not the whole design. The big picture will become clear to us in the next life. Life is fragile; health can be uncertain. We don’t know why. But everything serves a good purpose that God understands in full. We ourselves play a part in a cosmic drama. The point is to hang on. Meaning will come to us in God’s good time.
Take the question of Job’s friends. They came to him with lots of advice and conversation, but they didn’t really understand. People believed in those days that illness was the punishment for sin. If he suffered so much, Job must have done something terribly wrong. Not so. He was a righteous man. The faith of his neighbors must have become stronger, they must have had a profounder understanding of God’s love, after they witnessed the conclusion of this phase of Job’s life. God’s blessings returned as mysteriously as they were taken away. Since they loved to ponder and talk things over, Job’s recovery must have given them plenty of food for thought and conversation. The Lord uses our faith, too, as a testimony to our neighbors and our families, even to doctors and nurses and healthcare workers, when dark and painful moments come and we hold onto the Lord's promises to us. We Christians trust that God doesn’t use our illnesses to punish us, but that they come as a necessary feature of a sinful world. We accept them as a test he will help us pass. He comforts us and promises better days ahead. As Paul wrote, we pass the comfort we receive on to others. This happens automatically. God’s light shines through us for others to marvel at.
The book of Job also gives us an indirect lesson about Christian care for people who suffer from ill health. Job’s friends were pious men. They meant well and didn’t speak from malice of heart. They spent time with him, but they brought him little comfort. They lacked a deep understanding of God’s love, which we ourselves see at work in Christ, so they spoke platitudes that didn’t help. The Lord took note of this when he said to one of them near the end of the book: “My wrath is kindled against you and your friends, for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”
This is not the case with us. We spend time with friends and loved ones who are sick. We pray with them. We may read passages from the Bible or comfort them with Christian words from our well-stocked memories. Sometimes it’s best just to be silent or listen with understanding. We are practical people, so we don’t try to interpret, especially things that we don’t really understand. But we do understand that the God who came to heal is present everywhere in the world. He promises not to let eternal harm come to those who trust him. We know these words from Psalm 91: “When he calls to me, I will answer him; will be with him in trouble, I will rescue and honor him. With long life, I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Yes, it’s true. The world is full of difficult things, and very little is guaranteed. Job experienced this firsthand. “Has not man hard service upon the earth? Are not his days like those of a hireling?” He speaks from the extremity of pain, but even we ourselves hear of people whose burden is as heavy as his. Earthly misfortune is not the last word for believers. God is different from the world. He is powerful; he is good and full of love. The prophet Malachi wrote that for those who fear his name, he comes with healing in his wings. “You shall go forth leaping like calves from the stall,” he says. The Lord may make us wait. He may test our spirits. But healing comes. God promises in Christ that the conditions of this life are temporary and that perfect bodies and minds will be his gift to us in the everlasting kingdom that awaits.
We need to remember, though, that Jesus is much more to us than a miracle worker. Health and healing are never for us ends in themselves. Jesus is the end and goal of our lives. He calls us not to fix our hearts on any earthly blessing, but on him. Jesus is our savior, whether we are well or ill. He holds us in his embrace no matter what the state of our health. We thank him for his wonderful healing powers. We especially thank him for the forgiving of our sins that is the doorway to salvation. We ask him to keep us focused on what is most important. Health is rightly a big concern, but health is not our God. Jesus is. All our concerns are resolved in the one who died for us on the cross. Our hope comes from him. We ask him for healing. We also ask him to keep us in the faith that saves. In his name we rejoice. AMEN.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge of Christ Jesus. AMEN.