“And he came and took her by the hand a lifted her up and the fever left her; and she served them. That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick with various diseases and cast out many demons.”
No one I know—doctor, philosopher, member of
the clergy, nor anyone else can explain the reality of suffering and
disease in the way that it distorts human lives. People curse God, they
blame the devil, or they may even refuse to accept any responsibility
for the problems they face. Often God seems to take the brunt of any
physical or mental problem by our suggesting that it is God’s way of
teaching us a lesson.
However, there is, in suffering,
sometimes a place where we grow and which compels in us respect and
sometimes even silences as we experience the wholeness of God. And
most of us here, at one time or another, have been brought to silent
wisdom through some kind of knowledge of suffering and disease.
gospel lesson for today is one that deals with the subject of disease.
Some people experience a lifelong struggle against chronic diseases,
permanent handicaps and disabilities. Other people may have temporary
or occasional problems with disease. And the question that I would like
to raise today is, ‘what part does religion play in the battle against
The answer, I believe, is that there are two
extremely different viewpoints. According to one view, religion plays
the whole part in disease. Christian Scientists believe, as nearly as I
can tell that God is good and that disease is evil. God, therefore,
could not have made disease and that human beings make disease by their
own imperfect and impure thinking. Disease can be destroyed by
correcting our thinking and purifying our beliefs.
the other side, there are many more people who believe that religion has
no part in the issue of disease at all, and I think that even most
Christians accept this point of view in practice. Prayers may be said
when we are sick, but you and I mostly hold the view that religion
doesn’t play any significant role when it comes to understanding
This is why most doctors and most clergy do
their profession independent of each other. The clergypersons sphere is
the soul while the doctor’s sphere is the body. Often clergy and
doctors work on friendly terms, but mostly their paths don’t cross and
each assumes that the other person—priest or doctor—hasn’t much to do
with each other.
I want to propose, however, a third
point of view—a viewpoint that is expressed in the New Testament. Jesus
talked about health and healing often as part of his ministry and his
way was always expressed in action. We see this clearly in his healing
of Peter’s mother in our gospel today.
Let me recall
four areas which describe the action of Jesus and you decide what his
point of view was on this subject of the healing of disease.
first is that Jesus made sick people well: “And Jesus went about all
the cities and villages, teaching in the synagogues and preaching the
gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity.”
Jesus often made people well before he attempted to preach and teach
them: “and whenever he entered a village or city or the country, they
laid the sick in the streets and as many as were touched were made
whole.” Keep in mind—this happened before he preached about the moral
and loving demands of God.
Thirdly, when Jesus gave
his credentials to those who came from John the Baptist to ask if he
were the messiah or not, the order in which Jesus lists his
accomplishments are these: “the blind receive their sight, the lame
walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the poor have the
gospel preached to them.”
Finally, when he sent our
his disciples, Jesus says to them to do the same—heal the sick, raise
the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.
difficult to get around these facts and if we put any confidence at all
in the picture of Jesus as we see him in the gospels, it’s the picture
of a man who made his first impression on people as a man who made
people well. He didn’t say that disease was unreal, or that it was
always even curable. He didn’t cure everyone. But he did accept
disease as a reality of life and brought to bear all of the spiritual
energy he had from God.
Now, what about our experiences?
big difficulty for many of us is to know something in our head and feel
it in our heart, so we can make it a part of ourselves and apply it to
In past years, it was the custom to functionally divide people into three parts—body, mind and spirit.
over the last few decades we have begun to understand more fully that
these three divisions—body, mind and spirit—have become unified.
hard to believe we went off the track so far, for the simplest
experience show us that all of the parts of our nature are tied
together. For example: when we have a splitting headache—and your
body is suffering—we’re also likely not able to think very well. And we
know that when our minds are harassed by grave doubts, when you have to
make a decision that is important, then our body often shows the
strain. We know these simple facts. When we lose heart about life,
we’re likely to lose our appetite. In other words, our bodies are more
than once a sign of our suffering spirit.
greatest of these three things—body, mind and spirit—is that the spirit
has the upper hand. Most of us doubt this when we come to a difficult
place. We would like to believe that we are defined by our physical
body—that we can go no further than our bodies will allow. But none of
the facts of living confirm this—in the long run our spirit has the
How many of us have been called on to do
something that we believe is impossible and we have asked ourselves “can
I do this”? And yet through stress and strain—like caring for someone
you love through a long illness—somehow the reserves that come to us and
replenish us come from the spirit.
What I am trying
to say is that our spiritual lives are often the source of our energy.
Like a river they must be open and flowing.
sometimes we are—like the river—blocked at the source. We need to be
able to trust in God. By trusting God I mean like this: God will keep
us through everything—not protecting us against all disaster or pain,
but God will keep us. We will never be let go. There is nothing that
can happen to us that we need to be ultimately afraid of.
don’t believe we are promised perfect health if we will just trust God.
But openness toward God can eliminate a lot of fear and frenzy. It
can break through barriers of doubt. It can set our lives forward and
we can have at our disposal, an incredible and wonderful energy that
comes to us from God.
There are some wonderful words
in the Prayer Book written by a fine priest named Ted Ferris. And this
prayer is right on top of where we should be: This is another day, O
Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for
whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If
I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me
to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.
Make these words be more than words and give me the spirit of Jesus.