May 29, 2016 — 2 Pentecost – Healing Still Occurs

Luke 7: 1-10, “Healing Still Occurs”

Sallie O. Simpson, Deacon

St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, May 29, 2016

The story of the centurion asking Jesus to heal his slave is a familiar. In Matthew’s version of the story, the centurion himself asks Jesus to perform the healing but in Luke’s version, he sends some of the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus on his behalf. Let’s explore the Luke version of the story a bit more.

At first reading of this passage, one can wonder why a powerful centurion was interested in saving a slave’s life. After all, Gentile occupying forces were not known for their kindness to those they considered “beneath” them! One commentator proposed that this centurion was most likely a commander in the army of Herod Antipas, not a Roman soldier. Capernaum was a minor trade center and toll station on the trade route that led from the Fertile Crescent down to the Mediterranean. Capernaum was not a combat post, but it was very likely that this centurion was a military veteran who had seen combat earlier in his career. If that was indeed the case, the slave would have been by the centurion’s side during combat, resulting in a relationship that was less slave and master and more like comrades in arms. The centurion was facing losing his “battle buddy” to illness. The centurion was used to being a man of action, so rather than sitting around in anticipatory grief, he decided to take advantage of Jesus’s presence in Capernaum.

This centurion was indeed very different from the other soldiers. He actually cared for the Jewish people, building a synagogue for them (the foundation still stands in the ruins of Capernaum) and actually loving the Jewish people (verse 5)! This man had a different vision and feeling about this part of the world. He had a different view of reality about the Jews, and about the wandering, itinerant rabbi named Jesus, who had performed many acts of healing and other miracles.

This wise centurion realized that even though he had good relationships with the Jewish citizens of Capernaum, there was still a separation between him and the Jews. The centurion also felt that he was not “worthy” to have Jesus come under his roof, so he asked the Jewish elders to speak to Jesus on his behalf.

Now the really exciting part of the story comes! The centurion knew that he did not need to be present in order to get things done. He gave orders to his troops, and they were obeyed, even in his absence. The centurion had the insight and faith to recognize that Jesus had the same kind of spiritual authority – all Jesus has to do is say the word and the healing will happen “remotely”. Jesus is surprised and amazed that the centurion had such depth of understanding, such faith. And as we know, the slave was healed.

It has been a long time since Jesus physically walked the earth, healing people and casting out demons, but some scientists are now studying the impact of religious faith on health and recovery from illness. Dr. Harold Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate professor of medicine at Duke University, is also the Director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke. Dr. Koenig began studying thousands of people in 1984 and found that religious faith not only promotes overall good health, but also aids in recovery from serious illness. Dr. Koenig said, “By praying to God, religious patients acquire an indirect form of control over their illness. They believe that they are not alone in their struggle and that God is personally interested in them. This safeguards them against the psychological isolation that batters so many people with serious disease.”

In one study, Dr. Koenig reviewed 455 elderly hospital patients. Those that attended church more than once a week averaged four days in the hospital while people who never or rarely attended church averaged 10-12 days in the hospital. Not surprisingly, when Koenig began to share his results, many of his colleagues were skeptical. They felt that spiritual healing was irrelevant to medical science. But, more and more studies are being done and more scientific journals have been publishing studies with similar findings. More and more doctors are beginning to realize that faith can have a role in healing.

Researchers in Israel studied 3,900 people living on a kibbutzim over a 16 year period. They found out that the religious ones had a 40 percent lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer them their secular peers. A study at Yale found that in a study population of 28,212 elderly people, those who rarely or never attended church had twice the stroke rate of weekly churchgoers.

Yesterday, I had lunch with two good friends. One had just gotten a clean bill of health three years out from having a mastectomy followed by chemotherapy and radiation and the other had open heart surgery one month ago. They did not know what I was going to preach about today and they do not live in Raleigh, so they will not hear these words today. What struck me was that they both said that their doctors had talked with them about the negative impact of stress on health and that more and more evidence is pointing to stress and the resulting impact on the immune system and inflammation are major impact on the development of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

How can we embrace and experience the healing power of faith? Faith is not just a spiritual reality. Faith is best lived out in relationship to others in the body of Christ. Similar to the words of St Theresa of Avilla, “Christ has no body here on earth but ours, no hands or feet here on earth but ours”, we can become the healing presence of Christ to each other, helping each other move towards health. Please do not take this to mean that we can heal each other from dire medical conditions! But we can have a huge impact on others and ourselves as we struggle with emotional trauma, brokenness in our lives, and physical pain and suffering. We don’t need to be trained therapists! We just need to be people who are willing to listen and to be willing to ask for help. We all need people who can represent the physical presence of the spiritual presence of Christ.

In 1 Corinthians 12: 25-26, Paul said that the “members should have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.” The Jewish elders in Capernaum viewed the centurion as a neighbor and wanted to help alleviate his suffering by going to Jesus. Can we become agents of healing for each other? Can we become an advocate for others? Can we learn to ask for help from others? Sharing the love of Christ and the power of faith does promote spiritual healing and can have a very positive impact on physical health! Step out and become the body, hands, feet, ears and eyes of Christ on earth!

Amen

References:

Homiletics on Line

De Angelis, Tori. “Virtual Healing.” American Psychological Association website. September 2009.

Wood, David. “Iraq, Afghanistan war veteran struggles with combat trauma.” The Huffington Post, July 4, 2012

Websites referencing Dr. Harold Keonig and his work