Joe Neville

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26




Dr. God


A popular TV commercial for cough syrup shows a houseful of sick kids lining up outside a closed door -- apparently awaiting their turn with the doctor. Finally, the door opens and standing there in a white lab coat, spoon in hand, announcing "Next," is ... "Dr. Mom."

The cough medicine hawkers are obviously trying to cash in on the fact that despite all the advanced scientific knowledge, all the technological wizardry of the modern medical profession -- we still all long to be cuddled, coddled and cured by the care of a loving parent -- no matter what our age.

The oftentimes cold, clinical approach of scientific medical practices and procedures doesn't seem to be satisfying our quest for wellness. Perhaps this is why over one-third of Americans seeking health care are trying such "unconventional" therapies as chiropractic, acupuncture or some Eastern healing technique. And people are willing to put their pocketbooks where their pain is -- spending over $10 billion a year on these alternative healing practices and procedures, about the same amount spent each year on hospital care, or half the total spent on traditional medical doctors' treatments.

M. Scott Peck, in his recent book, Further along the Road Less Traveled: the Unending Journey toward Spiritual Growth, tells of a conference where he and Harvey Cox both spoke.

Cox told the story of Jesus' being called to resuscitate the daughter of a wealthy Roman. While on the way, a woman who has been hemorrhaging for years reaches out from the crowd and touches his robe. He feels her touch, turns and asks, "Who touched me?" The woman comes forward and begs him to cure her and he does, and then goes on to the house of the Roman whose daughter had died.

After telling the story, Cox asked this audience of 600 mostly Christian professionals whom they identified with.  When he asked who identified with the bleeding woman, about a hundred raised their hands.  When he asked who identified with the anxious Roman father, more of the rest raised their hands.  When he asked who identified with the curious crowd, most raised their hands.  But when he asked who identified with Jesus, only six people raised their hands.

Something is very wrong here.  Of 600 more or less professional Christians, only one out of a hundred identified with Jesus.  Maybe more actually did but were afraid to raise their hands lest that seem arrogant.  But again, something is wrong with our concept of Christianity if it seems arrogant to identify with Jesus.  But, that is exactly what we are supposed to do!  We're supposed to identify with Jesus, act like Jesus, and as best we can, be like Jesus.  That is what Christianity is supposed to be about -- the imitation of Christ.  But “How?” we ask.  I offer, at least one way.

Medical doctor, author and alternative healing advocate, Larry Dossey has spent years studying the positive effects that prayer seems to have on the healing process.  Dossey and other scientifically trained physicians have actually run a raft of methodologically precise, double blind experiments to test the healing power and effectiveness of prayer. The undeniable "scientifically" obtained results demonstrated something that generations of believers had always known: prayer changes things.

Prayer Heals: In those double blind, carefully studied groups, those who were prayed for had significantly better rates of improvement, fewer complicating problems and even reduced medicinal needs.  Even more remarkable was the fact that those doing the praying didn’t have to be physically anywhere near the one for whom they were praying. The simple fact that prayers were being offered up somewhere on behalf of that person seemed to stretch out healing powers that immediately connected with the one in need of healing.

Love Heals: There is something that long-distance as well as "hands-on" (or "energy-transfer") healing events seem to have in common -- the presence of love.  Compassion, concern, empathy -- all those non-medical elements we long for -- are the common components in successful healings.  Without love, without specific caring, making the "healing connection" is impossible.  Healers of all stripes testify to this common belief -- that the ability to extend love toward the ones seeking healing is the first step.

Love -- it seems -- is what opens up that connection between a healer and one who desires healing.  After feeling the touch of the hemorrhaging woman, Jesus turns and addresses her directly -- but with a profound gentleness.  He offers her encouragement, "take heart," and opens his own heart to this woman by addressing her as "daughter."  While love is not the cause of any healing that takes place, it is the only environment in which it can occur.

Faith Heals: In today's gospel text, Matthew reworks the stories he shares with Mark and Luke in order to emphasize that faith in Jesus' healing abilities, not some magical healing "aura" surrounding him, is what makes healing possible.

The hemorrhaging woman's faith is both demonstrated by her actions and then declared by Jesus himself when he says, "Your faith has made you well."  The synagogue leader's faith is remarkable.  In the presence of death itself, he still believes that Jesus can heal.  In the presence of such faith, the healing does occur.  Faith is what links together Jesus' healing power with the wounded parts of our lives that require his healing touch.  Faith is what enables the believer to become so intimately connected to Jesus that his wholeness becomes our wholeness.

Story of Minister’s wife in Lynn, MA.(develop more)  Herself dying of cancer and was hospitalized knowing that she would not return home.  When visiting the hospital, I asked the nurse how she was holding up.  The nurse, with tears in her eyes said, “She is holding everyone else up”.  She was constantly walking from room to room and praying with other patients who were dying.  She held their hands, wiped their foreheads and offered her love and prayers.  Hers was a healing touch even in the midst of her own inevitable dying of the flesh.  She knew what Jesus meant when he said; your faith has made you well.

God Heals: Matthew's gospel lumps all the healing miracle stories together (chapters 8-9) in order to stockpile the evidence that Jesus was truly divine.  But as he re-crafted these healing stories, Matthew was also careful to demonstrate the intentionality of each miracle. Jesus did not continuously ooze some healing power. You couldn’t experience healing simply by standing downwind of him.  When Jesus healed, it was intentional and informed.  Healing was a definitive action, not some accident of interception.  Jesus intentionally healed others because God is a healing God.