“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

katherine-hanlon-242210-unsplash

Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers.

Christ’s and Christians’ Ministries of Healing

This week’s readings end with a summary of Christ’s day-to-day ministering.  (Note: to shake us out of some of the cobwebs surrounding KJV language, I’m going to rely on the NRSV throughout.)

Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” (Matthew 9:35-37)

Christ, here, is seeking more laborers to serve with him.  He calls Christians to be compassionate laborers who help gather the helpless sheep and heal them.

We often teach Christ’s healing as half-metaphorical – yes, he literally healed the sick, but we tend to emphasize that he did so as a “lesser” physical sign of his “greater” spiritual power to heal our souls.  The Come Follow Me manual invites readers to draw this very conclusion:

So when you read about a blind person or a leper being healed, you might think of the healing—both spiritual and physical—that you can receive from the Savior and hear Him say to you, “Thy faith hath made thee whole” (Mark 5:34).

I love the atonement and Christ’s power to forgive our sins and heal our broken hearts.  I wonder, though, if sometimes we emphasize the spiritual atonement to the detriment of Christ’s command to physically heal.   How much are we as Christian laborers working to heal Christ’s multitudes of harassed, helpless, and sick sheep?  By every means available?

Come Follow Me references an Elder Oaks conference talk, where he said “The use of medical science is not at odds with our prayers of faith and our reliance on priesthood blessings.”  Elder Oaks, in turn, quoted Brigham Young’s teaching:  “If we are sick, and ask the Lord to heal us, and to do all for us that is necessary to be done…[we should first] apply every remedy that comes within the range of [our] knowledge, and [then] ask [our] Father in Heaven … to sanctify that application to the healing of [our] bod[ies].”

Amen!  Our faith works to make us whole. Our faith should compel us to help make others whole.  Our faith also works in tandem with science.  Modern medicine is a gift from God, and as Christians we should strive to make it widely available to all who are sick.  Healing is one reason LDS Charities has a large immunization program.

I hope we all engage in fruitful conversations this week in home and ward families about how to faithfully fulfill Christ’s literal command to heal the sick.

As one additional prompt, a couple of years ago I wrote a BCC post, “And there was no sick among them,” reflecting on the Christian underpinnings of various healthcare systems.  As I wrote at the time:

Those who support government healthcare do so because they genuinely want to care for the poor and needy. They want fewer of their neighbors to be sick.  I can think of nothing more Christ-like….

The problem with patchworks of private charity is that they invariably end up benefiting the cute, the familiar, and the sympathetic.  Those who can pull at media and social media heartstrings benefit in a private charitable system; everyone else falls through the cracks.

How can we, as Christians, better practice Christ’s call to physically heal the multitudes of sick and weary in the world?

Christ’s Responses to Criticism

It can never be emphasized enough that Christ’s loving and healing actions were often seen as radicalThey were dangerousThey were rule-breaking.  Yet in the face of political and religious opposition, he still went about healing and otherwise doing good.

As I read and re-read this week’s chapters, I decided to flag every time Christ was criticized, and the substance of his response.  I present below a series of discussion questions surrounding these examples. (I ended up cutting approximately five for brevity’s sake).  I think it’s fascinating to compare the criticisms levied against Christ to criticisms levied today.

Healing the Paralytic (Mark 2:5-11 / Matthew 9:2-6)

Christ action:  “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

 Onlooker criticism:  “It is blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Christ response:  “For which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’?  But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he then said to the paralytic—“Stand up, take your bed and go to your home.”

Modern question:  Christ teaches here that he has the power to heal both physical ailments and spiritual souls. Christ’s atonement worked to forgive all sins by all people who accept Christ.  Despite Christ’s atonement, do we ever refuse to forgive?  Do we ever refuse to deny Christ’s authority to forgive?  Do we ever act as if it’s blasphemy to suggest that some sinner in our midst may be eligible for forgiveness?  How can we more fully teach, preach, and act upon the infinite forgiveness of Christ?

Healing the Withered Hand  / Plucking Grain  (Mark 3:1-6  / Mark 2:23-28)

Christ action:  Plucking heads in a grainfield with his disciples on the Sabbath.

Onlooker criticism:  Harvesting on the Sabbath is “not lawful.”

Christ response:  David himself, when hungry, raided the holy bread of the tabernacle to feed his companions.  “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.”

///

Christ action:  Healing a man with a withered hand in a synagogue on the Sabbath.

Onlooker criticism:  “They watched [Jesus] to see whether he would cure him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him…[then] immediately conspired …. [on] how to destroy him.”

Christ response:  “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

/// 

Modern question:  There are a myriad of ways to do good on the Sabbath.  As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we also have established a wide range of  spiritual and cultural “rules” about appropriate Sabbath behavior.  How do we balance our rules with doing good?  Can strict enforcement of our “rules” ever serve as a barrier to doing good?  Has anyone here experienced that personally?

Dining With Sinners (Mark 2:15-17 / Matthew 9:10-13)

Christ action:   “And as he sat at dinner … many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples.”

Onlooker criticism:  “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Christ response:  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”

Modern question:  The Prophet Samuel famously chastised Saul that it is better to obey than to sacrifice — that God desires the hearts of men more than strict adherence to works.  Christ upends that standard even further, here – teaching that it is better to show mercy towards sinners, than it is to engage in sacrifice or other self-promotional works.  Do we as Christians ever emphasize our individual or collective “worthiness” over mercy and inclusion towards all?   Should homeless shelters and prisons be our temples?

Casting Out Demons  (Mark 3:22-23  / Matthew 9:32-34)

Christ action:  Casting out demons; healing the mute.

Onlooker criticism:  “By the ruler of the demons he casts out the demons.”

Christ response:  “How can Satan cast out Satan?”

Modern question:  The Pharisees here seem to assume that any involvement with evil must stems from or otherwise be tainted by evil.  Christ’s response rejects that premise; instead, Christ recognizes that rooting out evil is a good fruit.  Satan, being evil, cannot produce such good fruits.  In what ways do we sometimes condemn others as evil, or malign them for failing to stand in holy places, when they are actually demonstrating Christ’s love and going about doing good?  (Quick potential examples – those who serve the LGBT community, the homeless, immigrants, prisoners, drug addicts, sex trafficked women, etc.)  How can we as Christians do better?

Casting Out Demons, Round 2  (Mark 5:8-17 / Matthew 8:34)

Christ action:  Casting out unclean spirits into a herd of swine

Onlooker criticism:  “The whole town … begged Jesus to leave their neighborhood.”

Christ response:  unknown, but I suspect he left at their request

Modern question:  Society often rages about “Not In My Backyard” problems regarding the homeless, public housing, immigrant communities, blue-collar industry, infrastructure projects, and more.  Here a community banished Jesus from their midst for casting out devils in their backyard.  Do we likewise banish Christ from our hearts when we view compassion towards others as a blight?

*Photo by Katherine Hanlon on Unsplash

Comments

  1. The healing story in these chapters that struck me the most this time around was the incident where Christ heals the centurion’s servant. The scriptures do not record that He was criticized for this act, but surely He must have been, especially after He tells the centurion that he has more faith than many of the children of Israel. My daughter and I have been studying Roman history in our homeschool and reading the historical fiction book The Bronze Bow, which is set in Galilee (with parts occurring in Capernaum) at this very time. With the Jews’ hatred of their Roman oppressors, it must have been a punch in the gut to them for Christ to make a statement like that. Maybe they were just too scared of the Romans to openly push back against this statement?

  2. Carolyn says:

    I thought about writing a separate post about the Centurion, but decided not too. The Centurion’s request is literally the prayer that Catholics say before taking the Eucharist, and I have reflected on it deeply as I hear it every week when I attend Mass with my Catholic husband. That prayer formed the basis in part for my post last month on worthiness — which ended up being the main reason I thought it might be overly repetitive here.
    But absolutely ,everyone should study the Centurion’s story in depth!
    https://bycommonconsent.com/2019/01/04/rethinking-worthiness/

  3. Kristin Brown says:

    Thank you Carolyn for your effort concerning this lesson. It seems the hardest part of preparing is deciding what to cover and leave out of a lesson.

  4. Thank you for your insights. I’d like to reframe the discussion about the disabled rather than the sick. Both healing the paralytic and the man with the withered hand are about the disabled. While threre is overlap between these areas, disabilities are different from cancer and heart disease. As the parent of disabled children, I find wards and individuals much more willing to support those with cancer or heart disease. The disabled, particularly the intellectually disabled, are at best ignored and at worst discouraged from coming to church. Their families are often ostracized. We need to reach out and support these individuals and families in order to help them feel Christ’s love which can heal their hearts.

  5. I have had a very hard time this year with Christ’s healing stories. I don’t really recall many stories about people who had faith, and were NOT healed by Christ. The only time I recall him not healing someone was when they had no faith (he couldn’t do miracles in his own land). So I find it very hard to reconcile a loving God with these stories and the millions of people who aren’t healed in spite of their faith in God. I find platitudes about the faith not to be healed honestly not in line with the scriptures and their promises.

  6. I have often wondered why the people wanted Christ to get out of Dodge after he cast out the spirits into the flock of swine. Re-reading it now, I wonder if the answer is simpler than I imagined: the flock was potentially a source of wealth and income for some, and he had just (basically) destroyed it. I think there are some obvious links to our modern society disliking solutions to problems if they negatively affect our personal wealth.

    (I realize that it doesn’t actually say the townsfolk owned the swine, and that would maybe even be weird given the relationship between pigs and the Law of Moses, but I am ignorant as to whether hogs were still deemed commercially valuable at the time.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.