Question: What is faith to you? Can faith lead to healing? If so, how?
I start by saying that faith is sadly misused–both as a word and a concept. I’ve had plenty of experiences in which people were told that they did not have enough faith, or, if a person was going through a really difficult time [or dying of some disease, illness, or injury] that she should just have faith in God and all would be fine.
True story. Years ago, in my clinical pastoral care work as part of a Master’s program, I was at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital in NJ. A sixteen-year-old kid was in a terrible car accident. He was brain dead. His mom, however, kept him on the machine that kept him, well, “alive.” Meanwhile, the doctors encouraged her to take him off the machine. He was suffering. But she had faith. She believed. She brought in faith healers and called in the kid’s friends from school. They gathered around him in a circle, with the healer, and were told to pray and to have faith. If they didn’t have enough faith, maybe this kid wouldn’t survive. I was mortified. I looked at those HS kids, standing in that circle, and I thought to myself: what are we doing to them? What’s wrong with us? If this is faith, I want nothing to do with it!
This is a challenging topic, and so, I invite you to interact with me on this blog or to email me. Let’s talk about faith in an authentic way. And now, let’s look at a story in the NT Gospels that may help?
We pick up Luke’s Gospel story right after Jesus of Nazareth’s sermon on the plain, and now it appears that he will be headed to the town of Capernaum. This is one of those rare times [at least in my view] when Luke’s author makes it clear that there is a literary agenda. Luke’s Gospel is kind of a bridge—trying to help Jews and non-Jews [called Gentiles] find some common ground as it pertained to Jesus. So at times, Jesus is portrayed as quite Jewish, but in such a way so as to attract Gentiles to his message. Enter the Centurion, then.
A Centurion was a man who commanded soldiers and servants. He was an authority figure. He was a Gentile. He was most likely someone considered non-religious. But the Centurion, for some reason, loved deeply one of his servants, a servant who happened to be seriously ill. Maybe for the first time, this Centurion felt helpless.
He had no authority; he had no control over the situation.
So this Centurion, who obviously had heard of Jesus, understood only one option: have Jesus, another authority, heal his servant. So yes, it’s a story about authority. One hundred percent. Notice that the Centurion didn’t face Jesus, one authority to another. Notice that he sent Jewish elders to talk to him. Huh? Jewish elders. What in the world?
Well, Luke’s author gives us a clue. Apparently, this particular Centurion “loved” the Jewish people. He even helped them build them a synagogue. Okay, I get it. The Centurion was calling in favors. The Jewish elders obliged. They went to Jesus. We don’t know if these particular Jewish elders were “for” or “against” or “neutral” as it pertained to Jesus’ teachings. Apparently, for Luke, that didn’t matter in the story. The Jewish elders came to Jesus and asked him to go to Capernaum to help the Centurion’s servant.
So Jesus did, of course. But on the way, another twist. Jesus was just about to arrive at the Centurion’s house, and then, the Centurion sends someone else to mediate. This time, it was his friends. The message is:
Jesus, don’t come. I’m not worthy to receive you in my house. But, if you just speak a word, my servant will be healed.
The Centurion isn’t willing to meet Jesus face to face, but he is willing to accept Jesus’ authority to heal. Just as the Centurion was used to ordering people to what to do, perhaps this Jesus could order sickness to leave a person?
Whatever the Centurion’s motivation, Jesus, in Luke’s version of this story, is moved. He marveled at the Centurion.
Then, he turned.
Why is that significant? Because each time that Jesus “turns” it is important. This time is no different. Jesus said he had not seen more faith than that of the Centurion, even in Israel. Does this mean that there was no faith in Israel, in Jesus’ people, the Jews? No, of course not. What it meant was that this Centurion—a non-Jew, non-religious person, surprised everyone [including Jesus], by having faith.
And then, almost like an afterthought in the story, the sick servant got better.
At first glance, this story is all about faith. But I don’t think it is—at least not in the way we often talk about faith. The story is about perceived authority and humility. The Centurion realized that he was not in control. He found humility. In this case, that was faith.
So, from my perspective, faith, in this case, is about giving up our desire for control, realizing that that there are some things out of our hands.
What do you think?
Teaser for next week: Luke 7:11-17: A young man had died in a certain town, a mother’s only son. Jesus had compassion for the woman, and…Have you ever felt that you were dead? Why? Can we rise from the dead in this life?