Do you need a physician?   Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26         June 8, 2098
 
Whichever version of national health care Congress eventually passes, it's a good bet that most of us will be groping around, trying to find a plan that has the doctors we want. It won't be easy, warns J. Ian Morrison, president of the Institute of the Future. During a speech in January, he offered this wry view on how to survive:

Step one: Decide on the diseases you and your family are going to have in the coming year.
Step two: Identify the best doctors and hospitals for those diseases.
Step three: Find out what plans all these doctors and hospitals belong to.
Step four: Select the cheapest plan.
Step five: If there are no plans with all the doctors and hospitals you want, go back to the beginning and pick some new diseases.
 
 The often cold, clinical approach of 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 try such "unconventional" therapies as chiropractic, acupuncture or natural healing techniques.
 
It seems people are willing to put their money where their pain is -- spending over $10 billion a year on these alternative healing practices. This is about the same amount spent each year on hospital care, or half the total spent on traditional medical doctors' treatments. (See Utne Reader, [September/October 1995], 51.)

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 trained physicians have actually run a raft of 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 did not have to be physically anywhere near the one they were praying for.
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" healing events seem to have in common -- the presence of love. Compassion, concern, empathy -- all those nonmedical elements we long for -- are the common components in successful healings. You’ve probably heard the phrase “that doctor has a good bed-side manner.” Usually, that means that he or she exhibits caring, compassionate personal care as well as medical care.
 
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."
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.

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 recrafted these healing stories, Matthew was also careful to demonstrate the intentionality of each miracle. Jesus did not continuously ooze some healing power.
 
You could not 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.
Do you need a physician?
(Recap) Physical healing: synagogue leader’s daughter and woman.
 
Do you need a physician?
(Introduce) Spiritual healing: Matthew’s calling, sinners saved by grace, Jesus accepts social outcasts.
 
Moving to the first part of the text in verses 9-1, the dispute detailed is over whether Jesus should associate with obvious sinners, the disreputable outcasts of proper Jewish society. The text begins with Jesus encountering Matthew, a customs official. Matthew's profession was a despised one. Not only were fee collectors suspected of taking more than they were due, strict Jews held that they and many other banking-type professionals were in violation of Torah laws. Thus, even if Matthew were "honest," he was deemed reprehensible.

Jesus' behavior throughout these verses flagrantly opposes this viewpoint. First, he speaks openly and directly to Matthew, inviting him to "follow me." In verse 10, Jesus is depicted at dinner with an entire roomful of Matthew-types -- "tax collectors and sinners."
 
And Jesus is not preaching before these outcasts or lecturing them sternly on their sinfulness. These unlikely associates -- Jesus, disciples, sinners -- are specifically described as "reclining" at table together. They clearly are a group gathered in fellowship. Jesus is literally a "friend of sinners."

Jesus comes for sinners, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, IRS agents and even used car salesmen." (Manning 23). He comes "for those who know they don't have it all together, and who are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace." (29-30)
 
The Pharisees, those paragons of righteousness, are appalled at Jesus' behavior -- and question his disciples about it. … Jesus' response in verse 12 explains to the reader why he keeps this company. Jesus describes himself as a "physician" and sinners as those who are "sick" and thus … the ones in need of the physician's healing presence.
 
When he encounters criticism for this practice, which might have constituted a violation of ritual purity laws, Jesus makes it clear that only by being willing to engage those who are considered impure can one reach them with a message of a better way of living. Jesus then cites Hosea 6:6, where God announces, “I desire covenant faithfulness (Hebrew chesed) rather than sacrifice.”
 
The translation “I desire mercy not sacrifice” comes from the Septuagint Greek version of Hosea 6:6. However, this Greek translation of the Hebrew chesed was fairly common and reflects the notion that mercy was seen, by the translators of the Septuagint, as an important aspect of practicing covenant love and loyalty.
 
By eating with persons who, though viewed as sinners whose near proximity might render one ritually impure, were nonetheless members of the covenant people, Jesus is placing their entitlement to the covenant loyalty of other Jews above the need for other Jews to preserve the ritual purity that would allow them to participate in temple life. "Go and learn the meaning of the words, "It is mercy I desire and not sacrifice." I have come not to call the self-righteous but sinners." (Manning 23)

Jesus was passionately committed to overcoming sickness and death throughout his earthly ministry, and his healing work continues today as people lift their needs to him in prayer.

All across the country now, churches are offering services for wholeness, and people are testifying to the power of prayer in the healing process. Researchers are assembling data on prayer and illness, and some doctors are even getting into the habit of praying for their patients.

Prayers are being offered for whatever is broken in people’s lives, not just for physical illness. Craig Barnes, a Presbyterian pastor who has participated in many healing services, reports that prayers are lifted up for healing of broken hearts, lost relationships, broken marriages, childhood abuse and lost jobs.
 
He believes that God may answer these prayers in different ways, even using the brokenness of the body to heal our spirits. “The promise is that God will give us himself, and that is what is needed,” he concludes. “The spirit is healed, no matter what happens to the body.”

In times of personal brokenness, God gives us the gift of himself — a gift that is seen most clearly in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We are never completely powerless in the face of illness or loss, because we can always tap into the power of Jesus — a power that can give us peace and comfort, healing and hope.

Do you need a physician?
Let God be a healing presence and power in your life. Amen.
 
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
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