We continue the “Tuned for Praise” series with three hymns on healing.
This is the first of those three reflections.
Read: Luke 5:17-26
Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus. (Luke 5: 18-19, NRSV)
I once knew a woman whose spirit had been twisted by a bitter divorce. Decades later she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Faithful friends gathered around her to pray for her healing. Much to everyone’s surprise, God answered those prayers by healing her spirit instead of her body. She eventually died of the colon cancer, but she lived her last months suffused with gratitude and joy. It was, by any measure, a miracle.
It’s hard not to think of that woman when I read this story from Luke. It is also found in Mark 2 and Matthew 9, but in all the versions, the friends play an important role. Their determination to get their friend to Jesus is nothing short of heroic. This in itself is an answer to prayer. Not everyone is blessed with friends like these, after all. Their intervention serves as an inspiration to all of us who aspire to bring those we love to the throne of grace.
But this brings us to the matter of the man on the stretcher. The narrator describes him as “paralyzed,” but Jesus’ first instinct is to heal his spirit and not his body. “Friend, your sins are forgiven you,” he says when the man interrupts the lesson plan by descending from the ceiling. Granted, people of that day assumed that physical illness was directly related to physical infirmity—i.e.—they assumed that he must have done something to deserve this. But I wonder if Jesus’ words reflect a more complicated triage of the man’s needs. We have no way of knowing, of course, but the story leaves room to wonder if the man’s need for spiritual healing is even more pressing than his need for physical healing.
In any case, the Pharisees blow a gasket and accuse Jesus of blasphemy. “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” they fume.
It’s at this point that Jesus tells the man to get up and go home. He does—which gives the Pharisees even more to think about.
To listen to some people, praying for healing is as simple as walking up to the Divine Vending Machine, putting your faith in the slot, and waiting for God to deliver according to what button you press. There are many problems with this approach, not the least of which is what happens when God does not deliver. When that happens, we conclude that the problem is either God’s (not enough power) or ours (not enough faith).
Maybe that’s why I appreciate the words to John L. Bell’s hymn so much. “We cannot measure how you heal,” it acknowledges, “or answer every sufferer’s prayer; yet we believe your grace responds where faith and doubt unite to care.” God’s love and response are what we can count on, even though God may respond in ways we do not expect.
As you listen to this recording of Bell’s hymn, open your own spirit to all of the ways God heals. And whether you find yourself carrying someone else’s stretcher or yourself being lowered down in front of Jesus, remember that we cannot measure how God heals.
Listen: We Cannot Measure How You Heal – The words to this hymn are by John L. Bell; the tune is a traditional Scottish folk song, YE BANKS AND BRAES. The recording is by the Cathedral Singers.
Pray: “Lord, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul—to disentangle peace from pain, and make your broken people whole.”
From v. 3 of John L. Bell’s “We Cannot Measure How You Heal”
Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series
Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.