The Healing of God Cannot Be Purchased
Reflecting on the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost: One Day after Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 6
Old Testament: 2 Kings 5:15-19a
Epistle: Acts 19:21-27
Psalter: Psalm 119:73-80
Old Testament: Jeremiah 6:10-19
Epistle: Acts 19:21-27
God of mercy and healing, you who hear the cries of those in need, receive these petitions of your people that all who are troubled may know peace, comfort, and courage.
Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” He urged him to accept, but he refused (2 Kings 5:15-16).
Elisha has healed Naaman the Syrian of leprosy, a word used for one of many skin conditions in the ancient world, some not so serious, others quite so. Understandably, Naaman is quite grateful for the cure he has received and offers a gift to Elisha for what he has done. Elisha in no uncertain terms refuses: “As the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will accept nothing!” To begin a statement with the words, “as the Lord lives” is equivalent to an oath. Some will say today, “As God is my witness” in the same way.
That Naaman offer a gift is not a surprise. In the ancient world, as well as today, people sought to profit from divining the power of the gods for others. This is not the same as physicians and hospitals charging for services in order to make a living and stay in business. Often these self-proclaimed prophets and healers were charlatans preying on vulnerable scared people.
But nowhere in the Bible do we see any of the biblical prophets in the Old Testament nor the apostles in the New Testament charging for their “services” of healing and restoration. First of all, they realize that it is the God of Israel who does the work; they are merely instruments of such power. Second, all of creation belongs to God. The Lord of All That Is does not need to turn a profit in order to continue his work of reconciliation in the world.
There is no doubt that ministry involves money. Churches do not need to make a profit, but they need money to keep the doors of the building open, to host soup kitchens, offer a safe and nurturing place for youth, and compensate people for their time as staff. This is not what I have in mind when I say that the healing and reconciliation of God are not for sale.
What I mean is those who seek monetary gain by manipulating vulnerable and sometimes even desperate people looking for anything that might bring them health and wholeness. It is one thing to buy a vial of water from the Jordan River because one just wants to have a little water from that sacred place for Christians. It is quite another thing to pay for it because some TV preaching snake oil salesperson hawks it for its curative power if one drinks it.
Many years ago, I made a hospital visit and brought Communion to the patient and the family present in the room. I offered the sacrament and then anointed my parishioner with oil and prayed for his healing. When I finished, family members started opening their purses and taking out their wallets in order to offer a donation to me. I stood there for a moment in stunned silence. I was not expecting their response. When I gained my senses, I graciously declined and told them that God’s grace is always offered free of charge. They were surprised. Apparently, they had experienced otherwise from some other clergy.
The Church of Jesus Christ, like Elisha is in the grace giving “business.” God desires to use his people to offer healing, salvation, and reconciliation to all free of charge.
The church has no bottom line when it comes to its mission of offering what God has already done for the world in Jesus Christ.
PRAYER: God of fresh beginnings, you make all things new in the wisdom of Jesus Christ. Make us agents of your transforming power and heralds of your reign of justice and peace, that all may share in the healing Christ brings. Amen.