Faith and Wellness
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen. Dear friends in Christ:
The Gospel lesson just read is likely very familiar to you—probably because we regularly read it at Thanksgiving. As our country pauses to give thanks, we Christians remember that gratitude is a virtue commended by our Lord Jesus. We see this in Jesus’ commendation of the one who returned to give thanks.
In addition to gratitude, when we read this text, we will also often point out its message about appreciating those outside of our own circles. The one who returned to give thanks was a Samaritan. Samaritans were usually looked down upon by those first hearers of Jesus. Jesus makes it clear that we are to put away our prejudices about foreigners. In his eyes, all people are valued. This text has been paired with an Old Testament reading from Ruth to underscore this point. Ruth was from Moab, but she became well-respected in Israel – and was even a part of the line of King David.
Today as we consider this text, I’d like us to focus on something different. I’d like us to think about its very last sentence. Jesus said to the man who was healed: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
Perhaps you know that Jesus spoke this phrase on a number of occasions. He said it to the woman who was troubled for twelve years by a discharge of blood, and who anonymously touched his garment, in the midst of the crowds, hoping to find healing. Jesus also said it to a blind man named Bartimeaus, who, when he heard that Jesus was walking by, cried out to him for help.
When we hear Jesus say “your faith has made you well,” we might think that it’s our faith which has healed us, or that our faith is somehow a requirement for our healing. But those ideas are wrong. Jesus didn’t say “your faith made you well”… using the simple past tense. Rather, he said “your faith has made you well”… using what we call the perfect tense. This tense denotes a present state made possible by a past action. The people were well because they were in a present faith relationship with Jesus, not because their past action of faith made them well.
The bleeding woman and the blind man and the ten lepers all cried out to Jesus—which in some ways was an act of faith. But that wasn’t what effected their healing. They were healed because Jesus is merciful, and powerful.
Still, even that little bit of faith from these people was important. And Jesus’ words to them acknowledged the importance of that faith.
Today’s text shows that Jesus wants us to have more than just a little bit of faith—one that simply hopes. He wants us to have a faith that also trusts and gives thanks. There were ten lepers who were healed in body. Only the one who returned to give thanks heard the words “your faith has made you well.”
Jesus’ use of this phrase teaches us something about faith. Even more, it teaches us about wellness.
We tend to think of wellness as simply a report on the function of the body. If everything’s working well—movement, circulation, etc. – then we’re well. Simple as that.
But of course, we also know that true wellness involves much more.
It also involves things like our emotional state. If we are emotionally calm and hopeful, that is an important sign of our wellness.
Jesus and the Scriptures would say that true wellness goes beyond our physical and emotional state to include also our beliefs and choices. The person who is fit as a fiddle but who hurts others in word or deed is not really well. The person who is happy as can be but who doesn’t believe they have any obligations to others is also not really well.
Over the past number of years, the term wellness has become very popular in our society. While it still has a connotation of referring to so-called alternative medical interventions, most traditional hospitals and medical groups have now embraced the term too. We go to wellness clinics, and choose wellness solutions and sign up for wellness seminars. We’re all about wellness.
Wellness implies an approach and an understanding about health that is wholistic. The National Wellness Institute speaks of Six Dimensions of Wellness—physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, occupational and social. Other groups will add things to the list such as financial or environmental.
The Bible and the ancient world used the terms body, mind and soul (or spirit) to speak about people—indicating an understanding of wellness that was also very much wholistic. When Jesus healed people, it was often hard to determine which of these was his primary target. Sometimes he would even heal the body and tell the person their sin was forgiven. Such words speak to the nature of Jesus’ healing. He heals the whole person. Jesus was into wholistic wellness long before we were.
That being said, Jesus’ view of wholistic wellness is also very different than most of today’s views. While people today tend to view the “spiritual” as a separate category—one in which we can put all kinds of beliefs and practices—Jesus teaches that the spiritual life is primary. It is foundational for all that we are. It is only when our relationship with God is right that we will truly be well. “Repent and believe the Good News” were the words of his first sermon (Mark 1:15). That remained his focus throughout.
We began our sermon today by noting that Jesus said “Your faith has made you well” on multiple occasions. I listed two examples besides our text. Now I’ll share with you a third.
Luke 7:50 tells of a time when a sinful woman came up to Jesus and anointed his feet, with oil and with her tears. The people who were gathered with Jesus saw this and were appalled by her actions. But Jesus said to her: “Your sins are forgiven; your faith has made you well.”
You should know, however, that in this case we normally translate Jesus’ words as: “your faith has saved you.” This is actually the literal translation of the word. In the context of a physical healing we tend to use “makes you well,” but the primary meaning indicates salvation. This reminds us that Jesus’ physical healing is an aspect of his salvation. All of his work, in fact, is to save us. And we are saved not just from illness, injury and disease, but from sin, death and the powers of evil.
“Your faith has healed and saved you.” Both. That’s how one modern version – The Message – translates the phrase. I like that. The old King James Version had “thy faith has made thee whole.” I may like that even better. Jesus’ healing brings true, wholistic wellness.
In our second reading today, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul makes mention of the salvation given by Jesus. “I endure everything for the sake of the elect,” he says, “that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” Then he goes on to share words that explain what that salvation means—words that appear to be part of a hymn. “If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.”
Dying with Christ means to turn away from our sinful desires and choose the way of Christ instead. Even more, it means to align ourselves with his suffering in doing so. The ways of Christ won’t always be so advantageous for us. They will even lead to persecution at times.
But when we die with Christ, we will also live with him. That’s the promise. Because Christ was raised from the dead, we will we find true and lasting life too. We will be raised with him—now and in the life to come.
When the hymn calls us to endure, it is calling us to live in faith. We are to trust in the victory given us by Jesus. We have been healed by his gracious hand and now are to return, regularly, to give him thanks. Such giving thanks will help us endure.
I know, at times it may seem that we are just one in ten to do so. Where are all the others? But over time, we discover that there are in fact many more. We gather together with them—people from Moab, Samaria and all the ends of the earth—to celebrate our healing by Jesus. And in that gathering we discover that we are a part of a great kingdom—one in which we are in fact reigning with Jesus. It may not seem like a very powerful reign, at least in this world. But it has far more power than we realize. It is the power of healing and wholeness—shared with a struggling world.
One final thought. As Jesus pronounced wellness to the one who returned, he also said to him: “Rise and go your way.” We would think that maybe he’d say: “Come and follow me.” The man seemed like he would be an excellent disciple.
As we hear in the Gospels, Jesus both invites and lets people choose. The man was welcome to follow Jesus as a disciple if he wished. If he didn’t, for whatever reason, he could still serve as a witness to what Jesus had done. There would be plenty of people for him to tell.
Each of us, in fact, is called to be both disciple and witness. We follow. We go. We return. We do so without compulsion. We do so because we have experienced Christ’s healing.
Jesus extends his healing to each of you. He has cleansed your souls through the forgiveness of your sins and the imparting of his Holy Spirit. He has called you to faith and declared you to be well.
As you follow his ways, go as his witnesses and return to give thanks, he says to each of you again this day: “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”
In the holy name of Jesus. Amen.