Healing the Whole Person
Jesus was engaged in the ministry of healing. If Jesus was engaged in the ministry of healing then his followers should also be engaged in the ministry of healing.
First, we should be engaged in the ministry of social healing. In vv. 12-16 we see Jesus healing a leper. Leprosy was a physical disease but in the ancient world it had severe social repercussions. A leper had to wear torn clothes and had to cover his lip and cry out “Unclean” to anyone approaching. Lepers had to live outside the normal social circles in which folks usually resided. Perhaps that is why this leper phrased his question the way he did: “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean” (v. 12). He seemed to have no doubt as to Jesus’s ability to heal him; he probably mustered the boldness to approach Jesus on the basis of his belief in Jesus’s ability, a belief probably born out of reports of other healings. The leper’s question likely expresses his doubt as to whether Jesus will deal with a social outcast. Jesus of course did and the man was healed and was thus allowed to resume his place in society.
Individual Christians and the church that they comprise are to be about the business of helping the outcasts and the unacceptable, too. Who are they in our community and what can we do to help them? I think that a ministry like our Share Room and our other benevolence ministries offer a good start. But there should be no one who is beyond the reach of the Lord’s grace and love as expressed in our lives. Who does our society marginalize besides the poor? Are we as a church guilty of shunning or marginalizing certain people? The church has to be willing and anxious to help anyone who needs help. At the same time, the church has to get to a point where we bravely face the political and social structures that work against justice and fairness and that create divisions and that beat people down.
Second, we should be engaged in the ministry of physical healing. Jesus healed a paralyzed man in the second story of our passage. The church should be involved in a comprehensive ministry to the sick and the hurting. I like the model that is offered to us by the men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They were obviously filled with compassion and love; they were going to let absolutely nothing stand in the way of their getting their friend to Jesus. That is the way we should be. We should want to make sure that those we know and love come into the orbit of the healing power of Jesus. I once heard a preacher use this story at an ordination service as a model for how deacons should minister. I like that, but I think it is a model for how we all should minister. We should bring our sick friends before Jesus in prayer and into the presence of Jesus in whatever ways we can.
Third, we should be engaged in a ministry of spiritual healing. There is an interesting twist to this story. The friends bring the man to Jesus because their friend is paralyzed. But Jesus does not immediately address that physical need. Luke reports, “When he saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven you’” (v. 20). This of course created problems with the Pharisees and scribes there assembled because they thought that Jesus was being blasphemous by claiming to do something that only God could do. Jesus then healed the man’s paralysis to demonstrate that he had the power not only to heal but also to forgive. That is the connection between the man’s physical healing and his spiritual healing.
The greatest need of people is spiritual healing. God is interested in the whole person and so should we be, but the most deeply felt needs of people, whether they could put it this way or not, is spiritual healing. They need to have their sins forgiven. How else can we say that? They need to come home to the Lord. They need to experience grace. They need to know that their lives can count for something. They need to know that they don’t have to stand under the threat of judgment. They need to have a relationship with God that gives them a healthy perspective on life. Spiritual wellness is the basis for all other kinds of wellness. John Kavanaugh told this story.
She had some kind of “wasting disease,” her different powers fading away over the march of the month. A student of mine happened upon her on a coincidental visit. The student kept going back, drawn by the strange force of the woman’s joy. Though she could no longer move her arms and legs, she would say, “I’m just so happy I can move my neck.” When she could no longer move her neck, she would say, “I’m just so glad I can hear and see.”
When the young student finally asked the old woman what would happen if she lost her sound and sight, the gentle old lady said, “I’ll just be so grateful that you come to visit” [John Kavanaugh, America 73, no. 10 (Oct. 7, 1995), 24, cited by Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust (HarperSanFranciso, 2000), pp. 32-33].
I don’t know that lady, but sounds like someone who is spiritually well to me. How can we as Christians and we as a church purposely extend the grace and love and forgiveness of the Lord to those around us who are lost and broken? How can we foster wellness and wholeness and forgiveness and grace and love?
Let us pray that God will give us a vision for a ministry of healing to the whole person. Let us pray that he will inspire us to carry it out. Let us pray that we will always be a family within which help and healing are freely extended.