By David Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 5:12-26
12 Once when he was in one of the cities, a man covered with a skin disease was there. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” 13 Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, “I am willing. Be made clean.” Immediately the skin disease left him. 14 And he ordered him to tell no one. “But go, show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 15 But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds were gathering to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16 Meanwhile, he would slip away to deserted places and pray.
17 One day while he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem were sitting nearby, and the power of the Lord was with him to heal. 18 Just then some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, 19 but, finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down on the stretcher through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. 20 When he saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven you.” 21 Then the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, “Who is this who is speaking blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” 22 When Jesus perceived their questionings, he answered them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? 23 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and walk’? 24 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the one who was paralyzed—“I say to you, stand up and take your stretcher and go to your home.” 25 Immediately he stood up before them, took what he had been lying on, and went to his home, glorifying God. 26 Amazement seized all of them, and they glorified God and were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen incredible things today.”
A man once told me about someone in his family who was very sick. He said, “We tried prayer, but that didn’t work.” That’s a common response. But behind that assertion is an immature understanding of prayer: you ask God for something you want and expect to get it under your own conditions. You’re going for the “vending-machine god.”
The two healings in today’s lessons take us much deeper. The leper said to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” A statement rather than a request, it is an admirable expression of unconditional, heartfelt devotion. Jesus answered the man’s prayer as it was asked.
But we may wonder — in such a case, how could Jesus not be willing? Well, one reason could be that for the man to be ill might be for his greater good, at least for a time. The one who loves us always knows what the greater good is. Maybe Jesus would preserve someone’s illness because it would teach him to depend on the love of others, thereby opening a heart surrounded by a thick wall of self-protectiveness. Maybe it would teach her about mortality and compel her to anticipate the kingdom of God. Maybe it would bring him into a marvelous understanding of Jesus’ own suffering on behalf of others.
There may be many factors affecting a person’s persisting illness. And there are also many reasons and occasions for healing, which Scripture encourages us to pray for. But all healings, even those that are miraculous, are temporary. We will all someday meet death. And will we meet it as people who are forgiven? When Jesus says, “Which is easier, to forgive or heal?”, it is a good question.
David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Mumias – The Anglican Church of Kenya
The Episcopal Church in Minnesota