Calling on the Lord in Faith
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. God is one. Amen.
The reading today from the eighth chapter of the Gospel of St Luke is about how Jesus Christ can heal those who come to Him. Two people come to Jesus—a woman who touches the hem of the garment Jesus is wearing, as well as Jairus, the leader of a synagogue who is seeking the healing of his twelve-year-old daughter. They each have faith that Jesus Christ will grant their requests for healing.
Consider this remarkable scene in ancient Palestine, described in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. This really happened! Jesus steps off a boat into the middle of a large crowd of people, many of whom are seeking to be healed of different illnesses. Notice that Jesus Christ says nothing until after the woman has been healed. Then He asks, “Who touched me?” Those with Jesus are puzzled and say, “Master, the crowd presses in upon you, and You say, ‘Who touched me?’ But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched Me, for I was aware of power having gone forth from Me.’” That is a remarkable statement, because it shows that on this occasion Jesus Christ Himself did not initiate the healing of this particular woman. Rather, her faith in Him was so strong that she was healed. Christ tells her: “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” How can this be? Often our own requests for healing may not be met.
Both of the healings in this gospel passage are quite remarkable. Notice that in the second healing of the daughter of the leader of the Jewish synagogue, the news arrives that the young woman has already died. However, then Jesus Christ intervenes dramatically, telling the synagogue leader, “Do not fear; only believe; and [your daughter] shall be well.” So, just as in the healing of the woman who touches His garment, Jesus places the decision about whether the healing will take place on the faith of the synagogue leader. Furthermore, Jesus had already started on his way to the home of Jairus when the woman who is not named touches His garment and is healed. The two healings are presented as a unity; and in both healings it is the faith of the person requesting the healing that appears to lead directly to the blessing. Yet we cannot expect that when we die, Christ is going to bring us back to life. Even when Jesus Christ lived on earth in first-century Palestine there were many people who sought to be healed whom He did not heal.
The healings in this gospel are miraculous healings of two faith-filled people—one person with a chronic long-term, life-threatening illness and another person who is the father of a daughter with an illness that causes her death. Christ chose to perform these miracles, as signs pointing to the Kingdom of God. As St John the Evangelist wrote in the concluding chapters of his Gospel, Christ performed these miracles “so that you might have faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” [John 20.31] With the two healings in this Gospel and with many other healings at this time, Jesus Christ is establishing His power and His presence as the Son of God living on earth. However, just because Jesus Christ has this power does not mean He will always use it. When He is tempted by the devil in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark [Matthew 4.10 and Luke 4.8], Jesus Christ tells the devil firmly, in the words of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verse 16, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” We too must remember not to put the Lord our God to the test, because the Lord knows far better than we do what is best for us and for our friends.
Nevertheless, we can persevere in the search for health and healing as long as we live on earth. We can still have the courage to ask for healing in which we participate. That is certainly the approach of Presbytera Constantina Palmer in her book, The Sweetness of Grace: Stories of Christian Trial and Victory [Ancient Faith Press, 2017]. She explains that “when I was a child, I had a really difficult time in school. I struggled so much, it’s hard for me to even put into words how difficult this struggle was” [p. 47]. At the age of nine, her parents held her back a year at school; and a specialist said she had a learning disability. However, her grandmother kept telling her, “Now Con, every morning when you wake up you should say, ‘Holy Spirit enlighten my mind,’ just five simple words.” Presbytera Constantina tells how this phrase—“Holy Spirit, enlighten my mind”—“became my childhood prayer rule. Every day I prayed these words,” she writes, “before every test, every assignment, every time the teacher called on me to give an answer, these words were silently whispered in my heart. And then one day my prayers were answered. I remember the exact moment the clouds darkening my thoughts began to part. It happened [when I was 17 years old], while my mother was helping me study for my final exam in modern history. All of a sudden, I could see what I was studying clearly; there was a cohesiveness [that is, a unity] of thought I had never known. Everything clicked, like puzzle pieces fitting together, and I understood what I was studying as a unified whole, not fragmented [that is, broken up into little pieces] as my studies had always been. I truly felt as though my mind was enlightened—the darkness dispersed,” concluded Presbytera Constantina [p. 47].
Now, notice that Presbytera Constantina persevered in prayer for many years before her prayers were answered. However, she writes of how she “progressively became a better student. I went on to receive high academic distinction in my undergraduate studies, learn the modern Greek language (and this after retaining virtually nothing from over ten years of French language studies), obtain my Masters Degree in theology, become an author and subsequently a social worker. No one would have believed I would be able to accomplish so much, least of all myself,” she reflected [pp. 47-48]. Often, we too underestimate our own ability to achieve purposes that both we and Lord seek together.
What I find especially helpful is that she sees that these achievements came because of a combination of her faith in Christ and “through the prayers of many saints.” Indeed, the saints want us to ask them for their help; they want to intercede with Christ for us. Constantina Palmer learned, just as we can learn the truth of St Paul’s words in the Book of Philippians, chapter 4, verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” [pp.48-50]. Furthermore, Presbytera Constantina reflects in her book, The Sweetness of Grace, that in her life and in all our lives, “there are no coincidences [that is, random, haphazard happenings]—only providential encounters [with the Lord]” [p.66]. Yet, despite the power of the Lord and the intercession of His saints, she is also aware that, and I quote: “it’s all about free will. It is [a] choice [we each make for] which path we take and which path we continue on or turn away from,” [p. 23] concludes Presbytera Constantina. However, it should be added that, in a very real sense, the Lord Himself decides when and how He will intervene in our lives.
The greatest “healing” that the Lord gives to all of us is forgiveness of our sins, the joy of drawing closer to Him and learning to experience His love—in short, salvation. In the book of Deuteronomy, in the two verses immediately after Moses urges the people not “to put the Lord your God to the test,” Moses urges them to “diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God” and to “do what is right and good in the sight of the Lord.” Those words still apply to us.
Let us rejoice today that whatever physical or emotional healings we receive or do not receive in our lives we can each choose to continue to follow Christ and the Blessed Theotokos and many saints as we journey on the beautiful path of being faith-filled Orthodox Christians.
And so we ascribe as is justly due all might, majesty, dominion, power and praise to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, always now and ever and unto the ages of ages.
Father Emmanuel Kahn