Prayer: Gracious God, You are our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer. You give us the gift of life. We pray not only for strength of body, but also for hopeful spirits. These things we ask in the name of the One who is the Divine Healer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Over the centuries, healing as part of the mission of God has been readily accepted. From blind Bartimaeus standing outside the city gate to Legion, the demoniac-wrecked soul living in the tombs, healing has been frontpage news. “I was sick,” said Jesus, “and you took me in.” (Matthew 25)
In the New Testament, one-third of those healed are women. Another one-third are social outcasts including several Samaritans. One out of every five verses in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are about healing. You could say that healing represents the long embrace of God’s love.
There is more of the same in the letters of Paul. A constant theme in Paul’s correspondence is that the church has a special mission to those who are hurt, despairing, and ill. Moreover, he includes the gift of healing as one of the spiritual gifts (I Corinthians 12:9, 28). From the beginning of Christianity, healing stood out as a difference-maker in the church’s mission.
The church of the first three centuries after Jesus’ earthly ministry did what the Roman Empire did not do. Christians risked their lives to care for babies and children abandoned in the streets to die. The church ministered to the sick and dying during plagues. The Romans only cared for Roman citizens. Everybody else was on their own.
Romans thought that compassion and caring for others were senseless notions. But Christians valued loving-kindness and mercy as logical extensions of faith. Why, Christians buried their dead. Romans did not. They thought of Christians as some kind of oddball “burial society.”
We take it for granted that the church places its name on hospitals and other places of healing. Whether the name is CHI (Catholic Health Initiatives) or Methodist or Presbyterian or Baptist, there is a clear connection between healing and one’s religious tradition.
As a patient the past ten days, I have been quite aware that the places where I have gone for healing are connected with our Christian faith tradition. The hospitals have chapels. People say prayers. There are crosses on the wall in the hospital rooms. There are chaplains from various faith traditions. And each of these hospitals has a Mission Statement that is very clear about the connection between what they do as skillful healers and the One who is the Healer of All.
So far, I haven’t found a Gideon Bible in my nightstand! That surprised me a little. Then I realized that in these days of COVID-19 and pandemic, that all such materials have been taken out of the rooms. No Bibles. No “Upper Room” or “These Days.” Such are the times in which we are living.
Even so, the ministry of care that these hospitals offer addresses the whole person: mind, body, and spirit. And in so doing, the relationship between God’s mission and the very human experience of brokenness, sickness and disability is firmly grounded in Scripture. Compassionate caring is the Gospel in action.
The Romans never understood that one. The question is, Do we?
Grace and peace,
Rev. Dr. Gary S. Eller
President, Omaha Presbyterian Seminary Foundation