As I said in my introduction, in our readings today, God displays his healing and saving power. He heals the leper, Naaman, in our first reading, and Jesus, following in his footsteps as his divine Son, does the same thing to no less than ten lepers in our gospel. God is always doing that sort of thing, not only in the Bible, but also throughout human history, reaching up to and including our present day. But why do we not see more of this healing and saving power manifested in our day and age?
There are many theological and practical answers to this question, but I believe that one of the major blocks to God showing his healing and saving power is that he looks to us to show faith, a healing and saving faith in his power to heal. And he fails to see it so often, and therefore, so often, we fail to see his miraculous power at work in our lives and those around us. As the great English preacher, John Wesley declared: ”God does nothing on earth except in answer to persistent, fervent prayer “. The problem is not on God’s side, as we have seen; the problem is on our side. I have said over and over again from this pulpit that, while we cannot do this sort of healing stuff on our own, God will not do it on His own. He looks for our co-operation, and fails, more often than not, to see it in us. As our first reading from the prophet Habakkuk last week reminded us: “The righteous person lives by their faith”. And so, we are back again to thinking and talking about our faith-response to God’s word, which seems to have been the theme to the last few weeks readings, including today’s.
God is perfectly willing and able to bring us healing, physically, emotionally and mentally, as the Bible and human history make clear. But he also wants to go further and bring us spiritual healing, to our soul, or spirit. At one level, that means forgiveness of our sins, at a deeper level, however, we are talking about our very salvation. In fact, both these levels interact with each other. As Luke ‘s gospel proclaims:” salvation comes from the forgiveness of sins” (1: 77), since it is unrepented sin itself which separates us from God and closes the door of heaven to us. That is not God’s will for us, not at all.
St Paul says, in his first letter to Timothy, God “desires everyone to be saved, and come to knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim 1: 4). That is why He sent Jesus, his Son, into the world, to “make known to us our salvation through the forgiveness of our sins” (Luke 1:77) and to offer his life as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross, something none of us could do for ourselves. As Paul makes clear, in his letter to the Romans: ”All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; so now we are all made right with God by his grace as a free gift, through the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement for sin by Christ’s blood” Romans 3: 23 – 25). This, by the way, brothers and sisters, is the core of the gospel, the good news, in case you were wondering what the good news is that we are supposed to proclaim. But Paul goes on to say that this atonement, this salvation, is made “effective through faith” (3:25)
All of our readings today speak to us about God’s healing and saving power, made effective through faith, as I have already said. But they make a difference between healing and salvation. Naaman initially receives physical healing from his leprosy, as we see in our first reading. But Naaman has to exert faith to receive it, faith in the power of the God of Israel to deliver it, because he is a pagan, from a foreign land, and he has to travel to Israel to meet with Elisha, the prophet of the God of Israel , simply because one of his Jewish slaves urges him to do so, Imagine how much faith that takes, especially since, at the time, his own kingdom, Aram, and Israel , are at enmity with each other. However, he makes the journey by faith, receives his healing by faith, and then goes a step further. When he declares before Elisha that “there is no God in all the earth except in Israel”, he is turning away from paganism, from all the false idols of his own culture, and embracing the faith of Israel in its God, Yahweh, and thereby, Naaman is coming not just to healing, but to salvation. Because salvation is “to turn from idols to serve and worship the living and true God” as Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians declares (1 Thessalonians 1: 9). Specifically, salvation comes from declaring faith also in Jesus, God’s own Son, and worshipping him as Lord and Savior.
In the gospel today, all ten of the lepers are healed, because they have the faith to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Chosen one of God, with the power to heal incurable diseases, such as the leprosy they are suffering from, that no-one else can deliver them from. But only one of the ten, the Samaritan, goes further, from healing to salvation and eternal life. Because only he sees through his physical healing, to recognize that Jesus is not just Messiah and Healer, he is God and therefore Savior. When he falls down before Jesus and thanks him, it is an attitude of worship, he is worshipping Jesus as God and Savior. That word translated as “made well” in this context should actually be translated as “saved”. Jesus is telling the Samaritan leper that he is not only healed, but saved, he has not only received healing on a physical level, but he has also received it on a spiritual level, he has received eternal life. And this, Jesus tells him, is because of his faith, his saving faith.
St Paul says in our second reading today, that he endures everything, even his present confinement in a jail, “so that those chosen by God may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory”. We pray for our loved ones who are sick, that they are healed, but we should also pray that they attain to salvation, which is everlasting life. Every suffering we endure, should be offered to Jesus in union with his sufferings, so that those we love may break through to salvation and eternal life. St Paul says , in his letter to the Colossians, that “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of his body, the church” (Colossians 1:24). I always urge those who are sick to pray for their healing, but I also urge them to offer their present sufferings in union with Christ, so that breakthroughs may happen for the members of their family who do not have faith. Our sufferings, offered to Jesus and united with his sufferings, achieve breakthroughs to saving faith for others, that cannot be attained by any other means.
We are going on shortly, to offer prayers to God for many intentions for our world and our church and our loved ones. We are praying for the intervention of God in the world. And we should be asking ourselves, as we do so: how much faith do I have in God to answer our prayers? Am I just going through the motions, offering lip service to God, without really believing that he wants to, or is able to, help, heal or save those I am praying for? How strong is my faith really, brothers and sisters? Do I need to ask the Lord Jesus, in the words of the man with the epileptic child who cries out to Jesus in the gospel of Mark: “I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)?