Healing embracing every aspect of our human condition

Stephen Adam, 21 October 2018

Acts 16: 6–12a; Luke 10: 1–9

Today we celebrate St Luke, that great apostle – ‘an evangelist and physician of the soul’ in the words of the Collect for St Luke’s Day. Luke was the author of both the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles, accounting in total for around 25% of the New Testament. He was a Gentile (a non-Jew) and was a faithful companion of St Paul – we learn from 2 Timothy that he was the only person with Paul in prison in Rome.

As we read Luke’s account in Acts of Paul’s great missionary journeys we cannot help but be struck by both the urgency with which Paul seeks to spread the good news of the gospel, and by the vast distances he covered either on foot or by sea voyage. Our first reading this morning points to a critical moment in the spread of the infant Christian faith, with Paul’s vision of a man saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia to help us’.

Travelling from what is now Syria and through Turkey, Paul and his companions make the momentous decision to cross the Aegean into Greece – a move that in time would bring Christianity into the heart of the Roman Empire – and Luke is there as an eyewitness.

And so Luke’s writings have this universal scope: he wants to show God’s redeeming purpose at work in Jesus Christ; that this message is for all; and that Gentiles are also included by God’s grace within the people of God.

Alongside the sheer breadth of Luke’s vision there is also the tradition linking Luke with healing. This is sparked by two things – he is called ‘the beloved physician’ by Paul in his letter to the Colossians, and the fact that there are more stories describing Jesus’ healing in Luke than the other three gospels.

For Luke healing is not simply about curing diseases of individuals – it’s much deeper than that. It’s about wholeness of body, mind and spirit, being touched by and embraced within the love of God made known in Christ – a love that excludes no one.

It’s no coincidence that Luke roots the start of Jesus’ ministry in the synagogue at Nazareth as Jesus recalls the prophecy of Isaiah and says that today these words have been fulfilled:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

The healing that Luke wants us to understand and to share in is ambitious in its scope, embracing every aspect of our human condition:

  • good news to the poor: here is the challenge for economic healing, for justice
  • release to captives and letting the oppressed go free: here is the challenge for political healing – and goodness, as we see the largest mass movement of people across the Middle East and Europe since the Second World War, with all the consequential strains on our political life and public discourse, so the need for such healing is really acute
  • recovery of sight: here is physical, bodily healing and also, at a deeper level, the invitation to see the gospel with fresh eyes and willing hearts.

This is a gospel that begins in the most unpromising of circumstances with a young, pregnant, unmarried mother proclaiming the greatness of the Lord, announcing the divine reversal of social status. It’s a gospel that shows how a despised Samaritan traveller caring for a man robbed by thieves becomes the revelation of God’s love. It’s a gospel that portrays the rejected beggar Lazarus, his sores licked by dogs, as being the inheritor of the Kingdom. And it’s a gospel that recounts how the hated tax collector Zacchaeus acts as host to Jesus, who brings salvation into his very home.

And so the healing that Luke speaks of is suffused by the proclamation of Jesus that ‘the Son of Man came to seek out and save the lost’; it’s a picture of God watching and waiting and yearning for his children to return to him, running to meet the returned prodigal. Luke points us to the eternal, forgiving love of the Father who loves his creation.

One of the greatest affirmations in the New Testament is that ‘we love because God first loved us’. That love of the Father is there for us in sickness and health, in our youth and in our old age, and through the good times and the bad times. It is that kind of confidence and hope and trust which can give us real inner healing and peace.

Each of us carries in different ways hurts and losses from the past. We’re all wounded and have bruises from our life experiences; loving and grieving go together – they’re two sides of the same coin. There’s no miraculous cure for our mortality – after all, the gospel doesn’t promise us eternal health, but eternal life, meaning a quality of relationship with God in Jesus Christ that no physical infirmity can destroy.

There’s no miraculous cure for our mortality – after all, the gospel doesn’t promise us eternal health, but eternal life, meaning a quality of relationship with God in Jesus Christ that no physical infirmity can destroy.

Jesus knew as well as us that life can be brutal, unfair, painful and short. It’s a world in which the good often contract terminal illnesses, and one in which the worldly often seem to prosper. Jesus never explained suffering or sickness, but instead simply affirmed that God is to be trusted, and when he healed it was out of compassion, to show God’s love in and through everything.

I expect I’m not alone when I say that I find the questions around suffering some of the most challenging for my faith. At the deepest level I can only find some resolution in the context of the Eucharist, where we encounter Christ’s brokenness and death transformed into a sacrament of life and hope.

Do you recall that encounter of the risen Jesus with his disciples, and his invitation to Thomas to touch his side and see his wounds? The risen Christ still bears those scars, pointing to how in our Christian understanding the very being of God entered into the heart of his creation and continues to share in its suffering.

So, as Michael Mayne puts it, as he invites us to reflect upon the image of a crucifix:

[God] reveals his nature in the only language we can understand, in the human language of one man’s birth, life, suffering and cruel death … [What this life and death discloses] is a God who fails to answer our agonised questions about the why of pain and suffering and loss, but instead (in that most profound of mysteries) himself enters into the questions. [From Pray, Love, Remember]

For my own part, I believe that this is the most accurate picture of God we have.

As we remember with thanksgiving today Luke, whose gospel speaks so profoundly of inner wholeness and healing, so may each of us freshly discover and be touched by the love and healing power of Jesus, and seek to show glimpses of that love to those around us.