(Psalm 46; John 5: 2-9; Luke 17:11-19)
“Your faith as made you well.” That’s what Jesus tells this person who has been healed. Your faith has made you well.
“Faith” and “trust” here are one and the same. It’s the same word in the Bible. And “being well” is the same as “being made whole” or “being saved.” So we can hear Jesus as saying, “Your trust has made you well. Your trust has saved you. By your trust you are made whole.”
What does this trust, this faith mean? And what does it have to do with healing?
Faith is trust in God. That trust in God is all about about wellness. It is about being made well. The trust is saying, “With you, God, all will be well.”
Studies have shown that prayer does improve health and it does help healing. Both praying and being prayed for. (Larry Dossey, “Healing Words”) What’s most telling is that these studies have found that actually it’s a very simple type of prayer that has the best outcomes. That’s a prayer of simple trust: “Thy will be done.”
We present ourselves before the Holy One, and say “O God, here I am. This is what I’m going through. This is what I’m scared of. This is what I’m hoping for. I put all of that in Your hands, O God.I put my very self in Your hands. I trust that however things play out, with You, I am well. Thy will be done.”
In a way, this is a prayer of surrender. A prayer of radical trust, radical trust in a God who’s Being and whose Will can seem quite mysterious to us.
There is peace in that. “Be still and know that God is God.”
In Psalm 46 this statement of peace, “Be still,” comes in the midst of a demonstration of a very powerful and awesome God, a God whose power can obliterate the instruments of war, and devastate all the ways that we humans try to play God by taking life. The Psalm is saying that it is in this God a God so much more powerful than ourselves, so much beyond our understanding, it is in this God that we can find refuge. It is in this God that we can trust. It is standing before this God that we can be still and know the true God in whom we find peace.
How is this kind of prayer healing? How is it healing to surrender in this way?
First, notice what this prayer is not. This prayer is not, “God, give me what I want.” “God, what have I got to do to get you to give me what I want?” This is not a transaction.
Jesus did everything he could to destroy the idea that grace is a transaction, but still it’s common to twist his words in this way. So even this saying in the Gospel, “Your faith has made you well,” has been abused to shame people into believing that if they aren’t getting the healing that they want it’s because they don’t have enough faith.
No. That’s got it all backwards, as a matter of fact. Trust in God and the wellness that comes is all about a surrender of our will to the divine Will, which is way beyond ourselves. The faith to pray “Thy will be done” is about the relationship above all else – the relationship between ourselves as we are in our most vulnerable and an awesome God in whom we must ultimately entrust ourselves. This relationship is the wellspring of wellness.
When the ten lepers approached Jesus, in our story from Luke, they didn’t say “Heal us. Make this disease go away.” Rather they said, “Have mercy on us.” Asking for mercy shows vulnerability, and it expresses our absolute dependence on not our own will but on the Divine will.
Now, the lepers kept their distance from Jesus when they cried out for mercy, because they were infected outcasts. Still they took the risk to approach Jesus. And Jesus saw them. He beheld them for who they really are. And he told them to go and present themselves to the priests.
Now the meaning of this instruction is tremendous. In that time and culture, if someone got leprosy they were forced to present themselves to the priests who confirmed the leprosy and then performed a ritual, which was like a funeral, in which this person was banished as an unclean person to the margins of society. Presumably these ten folks with leprosy had already done this. But if a person became healed from the leprosy, they then once again present themselves to the priests who confirm the healing and then perform a ritual in which the former leper is reincorporated into society.
So Jesus was saying to these folks with leprosy, go and present yourself to the priests the second time as if you are healed. And they trusted him and did that even though they weren’t yet healed … and on the way, they noticed that lo and behold, they had been made whole.
This is all about restoring a relationship. Jesus connects with them as if they were not outcasts, and he tells them to go and do what they would do as if they were not outcasts. In an earlier story, Jesus healed a leper by laying his hands on him – he touched the untouchable. He closed the distance that the illness had created with society. He restored the relationship.
Before any of that was possible, though, was the act of radical trust on the part of the folks who were sick and cast off. Hey come to Jesus and say, “Here I am, before you, vulnerable, in need. I am still and know that you are God. I entrust myself to you, I give my will over to yours.”
In response, Jesus invites them, and invited us into a restored way of being, broader than the boundaries that we had set for ourselves, or that society had set for us. Here is the healing – we surrender our small selves to the ultimate Source of all life, the great I Am who is the wellspring of all wellness.
So this healing involves surrender but it’s not at all passive. In a way, our will joins a larger Will, Who wills for us to be whole. There is a boldness here – it is a trust that makes one bold to be a beloved child of the living God, regardless of our circumstances and regardless of whether the outcome.
The healing story from the Gospel of John is very much about this boldness in which we step beyond the limitations of a sick sense of self. Jesus comes upon a man who had been sick for thirty-eight years, and he had been stuck waiting near healing waters. Apparently this pool has healing powers when a spirit comes and stirs the water. But no one was there to help this man enter the water when the healing power comes. And he was too weak to do it himself, especially with other people who also needed healing who could crowd him out and beat him to it.
This guy is someone that certain people may call a “loser.” No one likes him, it’s probably his own fault he’s sick anyway, and, hey, if you don’t like it, tough, it’s a tough world.
He had become so defined by his illness, his disability, that apparently he’d given up. This happens all the time, especially in our society which can be so heartless so mocking of any sign of weakness or imperfection. So Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” And the man answers by saying, basically, “Well, I can’t, so, here I am, what’s the use?” He had given up. His will was gone. But it wasn’t gone because he had given it up to God, but rather he had given up his will to this limited sick sense of self that was imposed on him by cruel forces in society. Jesus responded by taking this surrendered will and giving him in return the Will of the Source of All Life.
All of a sudden he is not a pathetic, lame, loser, he is a beloved child of the Living God.
“Stand up, take your mat and walk.” That’s what Jesus tells him. Be as if you are well, and you will be well. The man obeyed, he trusted with such a radical trust that he did what a moment before was unthinkable: he stood and walked.
His faith had made him well. The heart of that faith for him was Jesus connecting with him through love, he beheld him as a beloved child of the Living God. This had then restored the man’s relationship with God and with himself. He was made well.
All we can do in return is be grateful, come what may. In the story from Luke only one of the people who had been cured of leprosy returned to Jesus to say thanks. He didn’t feel entitled to his healing. He knew that his wellness is due to grace. So we can see that he truly had trusted, he truly had surrendered his will to God. He knew what we all most know when we surrender in this way – that the outcome may not in fact be what we hope for at.
The leprosy may not go away, the cancer may not be cured, the pain may not disappear.
But then again, it may.
And perhaps whether it does or doesn’t is missing what’s really at stake here.
There is much more to reality than meets to eye. There is much more to heaven and earth than can be dreamed of by our philosophy. Who we are in the midst of the Spirit in which we live and move and have our being is far beyond our petty sense of ourselves and our lives.
“O God, here I am. This is what I’m going through. This is what I’m scared of. This is what I’m hoping for. I put all of that in Your hands, O God.I put my very self in Your hands. I trust that however things play out, with You, I am well. Thy will be done.”
We can trust, that come what may, in all our living, in our dying, in our healing, in our pain, we are well, we are whole, we are fully who we are as beloved children of the Living God, when we have the faith to be still and know that God is God.
Thanks be to God.