22 September 2019
Revd Nicholas Mercer
I read, last week, the story of a Nigerian woman who gave birth to quadruplets in a London Hospital
The woman was returning home from the United States, when she went into labour – in the plane – and was subsequently delivered of four children
The birth and post-natal treatment was not without its difficulties, however/as she was not a UK resident/she was presented with a bill – for half a million pounds
How the hospital arrived at that figure or how she was meant to pay, I do not know
I’ve always had a horror of medical fees.
My wife and I once went to visit an elderly parishioner in Cyprus who had been taken into hospital
She had been in for a week, but told us she could not stay any longer.
It had cost her £9000 and that was all she could afford
When my own Mother had a stroke, BUPA would not pay for her convalescence in a Nursing Home
Despite the enormous premiums, this was one of a long list of exclusions
It was the NHS who picked her off the pavement and put her back together again
Partly as a result, I consider the NHS to be like a saintly St Bernard.
It is there in your time of need – but you don’t expect to be charged for the brandy
The theme today is healing and the Gospel reading this morning recounts one of Jesus’ healing miracles
There are more than 40 such miracles in the New Testament and they range over many diseases and disabilities
These miracles are supernatural displays of power reflecting that Christ is, indeed, the Son of God
However, it does leave us with something of a dilemma
What are we to make of these miracles and what does it mean for our Church today?
The Bishop of Salisbury once remarked, that if someone turned up at Salisbury Diocese and said they had a healing ministry, no one would know what to do with them
The clue as to what we are to make of the parables is in the telling of the stories themselves
These stories seem to have deliberate patterns giving us a distinct message
There are three themes which emerge:
This morning we heard of a man with a stammer whose speech impediment was cured
However, although we hear of the healing, we know little or nothing of the man involved.
Who was he?
What was his name?
Indeed, in all the healing miracles we are rarely given the name of the person who was cured
Who were the two blind man (Matt: 9:27), the mute (Matt 12:22), the possessed (Mark 1:24), the leper (Mark 1: 40), the man with the withered hand (Luke 6) and so on and so forth – we don’t know
In all the healing miracles, we only know the name of about three people
This inevitably begs the question as to why?
Secondly, it is also of note that Jesus sends those he has cured back to their own society
You might expect Jesus to say “take up your bed and follow me”
But he simply says, “take-up your bed and walk”
In Luke’s Gospel (8:26), we hear the story of the mentally ill man who has been chained up in the graveyard.
Once he has been healed, he begs Jesus to let him stay with him
Jesus refuses and sends him away saying
“Return to your home and declare how much God has done for you”
Is Jesus being hard hearted or is there another purpose to this?
Thirdly, another unusual feature of the healing miracles is that Jesus asks for nothing in return
In the reading this morning all the man has to do is to tell no one
In the same Gospel we hear of the Syrophoenician woman who pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter
She does not have to become a Jew
Or even go to Church
She does not have to do a thing, other than to accept the healing
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus instructs his disciples to cure the sick, cleanse the leper but says
“You received without payment, give without payment”
There is no price for the healing of God poured out in Jesus Christ
What are we to make of Jesus’ healing miracles and the way they are presented?
The first thing of interest is that, although names are seemingly unimportant, touching is heavily emphasised
The healing which we heard about this morning shows Jesus being incredibly tactile
Jesus, first puts his fingers in the mans’ ears and then touched the mans’ tongue
Similarly, when Jesus heals the man who was blind he puts mud and spittle on the man’s eyes.
When the leper approaches Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him, even though the man has got leprosy
But this act of touching is very important- because these are people whom Society does not want to touch.
They are “unclean”, diseased, wounded, bleeding and possessed.
I am always reminded of the late Princess of Wales who made such a wonderful contribution to our tolerance of those suffering from Aids
There is the iconic picture of her holding the hands of Aids patients when she visited them at the London Middlesex Hospital in 1987
She made the point about touching far more clearly than I can do
The second thing to note is that in all of the healing stories Jesus’ seems willing and able to take on the stigmas and taboos of society
He literally gets his hands dirty
He gets mud and spittle on his hands
He touches eyes and tongues which are diseased
His hand will have been covered in blood when he healed the ear of the High Priests’ servant
Jesus reminds us that the Church is required, not only to touch the sick but to assume the pain and impurity of the excluded
And by doing so, he renders them whole again
By getting his own hands dirty, he enfolds them with God’s love and also brings them back into society
Which is, no doubt, why Jesus insists they return from whence they came – to make their societies complete once again
But finally, and most importantly, when Jesus heals the sick, he also implicates the crowds
The crowds have expelled the so-called unclean from their midst but Jesus breaks down those barriers which we all seek to erect around us
Put simply, he mixes with the wrong type of people
The leper, the blind, the cripple, the mentally ill to name but a few
He heals those who are on the margins of society – those who have been excluded
And by doing so, he turns the tables on us
We become the ones with the problem rather than those whom we have sought to exclude
We know this from our past treatment of children with Down’s syndrome
Now we have ended their exclusion, so many families report the joy those children have brought to their families, their society, enhancing their own quality of life
But, perhaps, the greatest indictment of us all is that Jesus asks for nothing in return for his healing
The grace of God is free and does not come at a price
Can you imagine the disciples following up those Jesus had healed with a card machine?
It would be deeply offensive
Which brings me back to my story at the beginning of this sermon about the charging of the woman for giving birth
I was pleased to read in the same article that there were a group of doctors in the hospital who refused to implement the policy saying that it was “unfair and racist”
The doctors touched on another dimension to the article
It was not just about NHS costs, but trying to make a point about immigrants
I won’t get embroiled in that, other than to say that I have spent the last decade of my life visiting my elderly parents and relatives in Nursing Homes in North Yorkshire
I have witnessed, first-hand, unbelievable acts of kindness by those ministering to my Mother, Father and maiden Aunt
The people who ministered to them/ and who will minister to us at the end of our lives/ are very often like those excluded in the New Testament,
In a sense,
- They don’t have names
- They go back to their own communities at night and
- They work for nothing
These are the very people who touch us
The very people who get their hands dirty
The very people who deal with our uncleanliness, our disease, our bodily fluids.
They are the very people who return us to society in our dying days
Perhaps, at the end of our lives, Jesus has turned the tables on us once again?