[The first of 2 parts, this message is the groundwork leading up to “A Service of Healing” — the United Methodist worship liturgy in which individuals come forward prayerfully to be anointed with oil for personal healing, to represent another for healing, and/or for repentance. Part 2 is here.]
Not so “So-so”
This is one of those days that needs to start with…a word. Just one. Two syllables. It’s Greek, by the way. I’m letting the anticipation build…. It’s a little word that packs a lot of boom, and that boom is worth letting fly: Sozo. It sounds just the way it looks, which is, I understand, a little bland.
But if you were a little Jewish 2nd grader in Jesus’ day, who walked in to discover a pop quiz one day, unprepared, you might have caught yourself whispering it under your breath. In the ancient world if you got poison ivy, or came down with the flu, you might have said it as a one-word prayer. If your village or nation had a mighty enemy march against it, and there was no help in sight, you might have said it in your heart. If a loved one was on his/her deathbed, or if you yourself were headed toward a desperate end, then the word on your lips might have been, very simply: sozo.
How? Why? Because this word, this verb, this cry or command, comes to us in the English as “Rescue” or “Save.” And it also bears the weight of “Heal.” The root behind sozo gets at an idea of safety, or of total soundness and peace — physically, mentally/emotionally, and spiritually. So whether life and limb were at stake, or health, or heart, it was appropriate. It’s a powerful mash-up of an idea.
We start there, with the word lesson, to try to get at the ancient understanding that wholeness, healing, and soul-salvation were unified concepts. It plays out heavily, and mightily, in the Gospel of Luke today…
Read Luke 5:17-26 here.
The people said, “We’ve seen strange things today.” Egad, yes. For some of us it’s a familiar story, but have you ever focused on the way that healing, saving, and forgiveness are all intertwined at the hands of Jesus?
Christ doesn’t seem to care that he’s doing things out of order. I mean, typically, the miracle/healing comes first, the crowd is wowed, and following that explosion of faith, Jesus pronounces that sins are forgiven. This chain of events lines up with our usual rules for salvation — God reaches out, one responds in faith, and the saving happens. Not so here, with the paralyzed man. We don’t hear him acknowledge Jesus, or call him Messiah, or ask for help, or confess. The text says that it’s the faith of his friends that moved Jesus, with no mention of his own. You could argue that it’s not even what any of them came there looking for. But, still, Jesus grants him the forgiveness of sins first, followed by the ability to walk.
What’s up? I think a part of the point is for us to reconsider what we understand about healing/saving, especially in light of this concept of sozo. Too often these are two distinct events, or actions by God. Healing is the thing we pray for and hope for to solve issues in the here and now. Salvation is what we bank on in the life to come. But maybe we need to let those lines be blurred.
After all, we know that every individual who ever felt Jesus’ miraculous touch went on to face at least one more insurmountable obstacle — death. The person Jesus cured of cancer could’ve caught pneumonia the next year and kicked it. Lazarus, who was commanded out of the tomb, would find himself one day taking that journey again. This man who picked up his mat and walked out, might’ve lived another two weeks and then been hit by a bus in Jerusalem. Or he could’ve lived 50 years and died in his sleep. All we know is that the healing itself, alone, would be deficient.
At the same time, many of us know what it is to trust that we’re saved, and yet long for God’s action in the present. We hope for relief from the burden of sin — now, today — and to change. We long to be able to live free. We ask for peace and guidance and safety for ourselves and those we love. We expect salvation and Christ’s resurrection to already have some effects. It would be an awfully limited version of Christ to assume that those things are only the stuff of heaven.
Altogether then, the word from Luke 5 seems to say that it is limiting to Christ Jesus to expect only healing or only salvation from him. It just won’t do to compartmentalize him that way. So, maybe we don’t need to consider “Savior” and “Healer” two distinct functions of the Christ that he wields when the situation calls for it. Maybe we need to consider it all part of the wholeness of him, inseparable from one another in him, and inseparable from him.
That being the case, if you were going to name your Jewish child after this complex idea of sozo, a really perfect word-parallel in the Hebrew would be to use yeshua. Surprise, surprise. Seems like one angel Gabriel mentioned a name like that, to a pregnant Jewish virgin. Hmmm. Sozo, healing/saving, isn’t just about an action performed, or an event at the hands of God, it is God in Christ Jesus. It isn’t a what but a who.
It can have wild and excellent implications. It meant that when Jesus walked the earth, from birth to death, and beyond, something serious had come to earth. Something had started to move.
To be continued… [Part 2]