A Faith That Makes Us Well
with Rev. Laura Sherwood
November 26, 2023
On Christ the King Sunday, hear about the culmination of the gospel story and the connection between giving thanks and Jesus’ proclamation that faith can make you well.
2 Corinthians 9:6-15
6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9 As it is written:
“They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor;
their righteousness endures forever.”[a]
10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”
14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.
17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”
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Today is Christ the King Sunday. We have marked this day in the Church since the feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pious XI in 1925. It is time set aside for us to reflect on and celebrate the rule of God in our hearts and the everlasting kingdom of Christ. It is a time for us to look toward how the world will be under Christ’s reign, when all of creation is redeemed at the end of time – whenever that will be. It is the celebration of the eternal hope that all the faithful share. It is our final hope that despite the pain, hardship and division of the world, there will be a time when peace, love and wholeness will reign because the Christ who loved in the face of hate, who forgave in the face of evil, who triumphed in the face of death – that Christ will be King.
This hopeful image of Christ’s kingdom is the culmination of the story of God’s people that began in the stories of Genesis and continued through the Revelation to John. This is also why Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church year because it is the last word of the Good News of Christ – that in the end, the Prince of Peace will be the King of Eternity and the fullness of God’s vision for all of creation will be realized. Next week, the Church year will begin all over again as we enter the season of Advent.
Today is also the Sunday after Thanksgiving, a holiday for gathering with friends and family, which I got to do in Cincinnati, and it is a time for giving thanks. In our first scripture from I Corinthians, we hear about God’s abundance and what I believe is a description of what the fullness of God’s kingdom looks like on earth, when the needs of all are not only filled but also overflow with thanksgivings to God.
Our second reading from Luke also gets at the connection between thanksgiving and the fullness of faith in a story about 10 men who were healed with only one returning to give thanks. When I read this story in preparation for today, I was immediately reminded of something that happened during my extended time of living overseas.
For part of that time, I went to a neighboring country, Belarus, at the invitation of a church delegation from a small town in that country who were associated with the missionary evangelical church I attended in Ukraine. They were an amazing group with a devout faith and very literal beliefs. One day, I was sitting with some of my friends there and one of them came up to me and took my glasses off my face and said that I didn’t need them – that if my faith was strong enough my eyesight would be healed.
I was taken aback by this and didn’t know what to do at first. Then, I decided to give it a try. Maybe they were right – maybe it was a matter of my faith being strong enough. So, I prayed every day and stumbled along – literally stumbled especially at night. I kept praying for a faith that was strong enough to be made well. I finally put my glasses back on after two very long weeks filled with headaches, blurry vision, and a lot of new questions about faith.
These questions were brought back to mind as I read the Luke passage and made me wonder about the true meaning behind Jesus’ last statement to the healed man, “Your faith has made you well.” A proclamation Jesus makes to four people at different times in the gospel of Luke: 1st, to the woman who washed his feet with her tears, then to the woman who suffered from 12 years of hemorrhaging, 3rd, to the Samaritan with leprosy in today’s story, and finally, to the blind beggar who shouts to Jesus from the side of the road and asks for mercy.
At first, it sounds like proof of what my friends in Belarus were saying – that a strong enough faith will make you well – will heal you, but as I studied and reflected I came to feel that wasn’t exactly right. Because, more often than not, Jesus made this kind of statement not as a way to bring on the healing but in response to some sort of interaction with the person after the fact, after the person had already received healing. So, I began to wonder about two points:
- What does Jesus really mean by Faith, and
- What does it mean to be made well?
The people I met in Belarus had actually seen dramatic healings of their friends – from serious illnesses to alcoholism to poor eyesight. They even told me that they had seen limbs grow. They were convinced that all healing comes from the strength of a person’s faith. When they told me to take off my glasses and I still couldn’t see their conclusion was that the problem was with my faith – I just had to believe more.
While I was very happy to be with them, this particular attitude became a problem for me – it made me feel as if I didn’t love or believe in God enough. It began to feel like either I was testing God or God was testing me – that faith was something that could be proved. In the end, I just couldn’t believe that’s what God meant by being made well by faith. After all, if we could be healed by the sheer strength of our own faith and will, then that would be too much power in our hands and not enough in God’s.
The phrase, “to be made well,” is actually one verb in the Greek. It can also be translated as healed or saved. In fact, in the stories of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet and the blind man, Jesus’ words are translated as, “your faith has saved you.” But there is absolutely no difference in the Greek.
There is yet another meaning of the Greek word that finally starts to shed some light on this subject. The same word for “to be made well” and “to be saved” also means “to be made whole.” This is the translation that is found in the King James Bible from the Latin word “salvare,” which is the root of our modern word, “salvation,” means “to be made whole.”
So, Jesus is actually saying to all of these people, “your faith has made you whole.” Since most of them are already healed by the time he says this, perhaps his is communicating something more than physical healing with this statement. Perhaps he is talking about the wholeness not just of the person’s body, but of the spirit.
In today’s story, there are ten men who are afflicted with leprosy – a terrible disease of the skin that was painful and incurable and immediately made you a social outcast. All ten of the men in Luke’s story received physical healing from their leprosy. The 9 who do not return do not lose their healing, but the one who returns to give thanks gets something more. Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well after the healing had already taken place. So, there must be a connection between the giving of thanks and a persons’ faith.
In the society of the time of Luke’s gospel, thanking someone of your same social status was not considered necessary – you simply got things from one another that would and could be repaid eventually. So, no need for gratitude. Thanking someone of a higher social status signified that you could not adequately repay that person and the gesture of falling at the feet of another was a further acknowledgment of servitude and inferiority. When the Samaritan came back to fall at Jesus’ feet in thanks for his healing he was affirming that he had no resources with which to repay Jesus’ kindness. This meant that he was completely reliant on God’s mercy for his healing since he had done nothing to earn it and had nothing with which to repay it.
The Greek word for Faith also means “to rely on” someone or something. This man’s admission of reliance on God for healing that had already occurred was what made Jesus comment on his faith. Jesus knew that the other men were just as reliant on God for their healing as the Samaritan, but he was the only one who recognized it. Perhaps these other guys were from a higher social status, before their illness, and were not used to relying on anyone but themselves for what they needed. They did know that their healing came through Jesus, but they must have thought that they could repay it in some way or that it was somehow owed to them because of their past works. For the one who came back, it was easier to recognize his reliance on another. As a Samaritan, he was automatically at the bottom of society – the lowest class – and was probably used to humbling himself in thanks for things he could not repay.
As a matter of fact, the people in all four stories were of relatively low social status: they were women, a Samaritan, and a beggar. They not only came from humble positions in society, but they willingly humbled themselves before Jesus both in earnest desire for God’s mercy and in response to God’s mercy with sincere gratitude. In each case, the response of thankful faith led to wholeness in spirit and in relationship with God. It is in this last point, of responding to God’s mercy with gratitude, that I believe the connection between faith and wellness or wholeness is found.
In my mid-twenties, I was in a terrible accident. I was thrown from a horse and broke my sacrum – the hinge between my spine and pelvis. I was unable to walk for two months, gradually going from bedridden to wheelchair to walker to cane. It was devastating for me. I was used to going where I wanted, when I wanted – I was used to being independent and in one instance, I was rendered completely dependent. I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t even wash my own hair. I had to be taken care of. My mom was my main caretaker, people from church brought food and sent cards; friends of mine came and helped me get out to the movies and to the mall. Things I used to do at the last minute, without any worry of how I would get there now happened only because of the good will and generosity of friends and family.
I struggled with this – I was used to being the strong one, the one who helped others – not the one who needed help. I knew that there was no way to repay all that was being given and done for me – I literally had nothing to give but gratitude. When I got to this point of understanding, I felt that I was somehow drawn to a deeper level of relationship with the people who were helping me. I was able to begin to let go of my own need for control and to let myself receive God’s gift of grace through them. It was truly humbling.
In some small way, this may be similar to what happened to the man who returned to praise Jesus for his healing. By this act, he went beyond the simple acceptance of the gift by daring to respond to the Giver with nothing more than the gratitude in his heart in humility of spirit. I believe that it was at this point when the already healed man was able to move to a deeper level of relationship with God, where he could begin to be affected and changed by God, not in body this time, but in spirit. This is what the other nine missed and what caused Jesus to tell the one who returned that his faith had made him whole.
As Christians, total reliance on God is central to our belief. We cannot not save or heal ourselves, so God comes to us in the humble form of a servant, Jesus, to invite us into a relationship that will restore us to communion with God and bring wholeness to our lives even in the reality of the shortcomings of our physical world. It is because of this belief that we begin every worship service with Thanksgiving and Praises to God in recognition of God’s wonderful gifts of life in the spirit and hope in Jesus Christ. We give thanks with our hearts because, after all is said and done, we cannot say that we earned or can ever repay God’s gifts to us.
It is in this surrender that we offer up our true and sincere gratitude to God. It is this faith, this total reliance on God, that brings us into relationship with the One who restores us, sustains us, inspires us, brings us into wholeness and who makes us well.
In the name of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit, Amen.