“A Harvest of Healing” (Luke 10:1-9)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, our family has certainly gotten familiar with doctors lately. Surgeons, anesthesiologists, audiologists, speech pathologists, interns, and so forth. Multiple appointments at Children's Hospital in Seattle over the past couple of months. Close to a 34-hour stay for our son's cleft palate surgery this past week. More post-operative appointments to come and future operations. Speech therapy. Things like that.
I know that many of you are quite familiar with doctors. You have had to deal with your own health issues or the health issues of family members. In spite of what you may feel about the state of the health care system in our country, doctors are a blessing from God. Our Great Physician uses the healing arts of earthly physicians to bring our bodies back to health and strength.
Today in our Church Year we commemorate someone who was a “doctor.” He is identified in Scripture as “the beloved physician.” That's how St. Paul describes St. Luke in Colossians 4. Paul knew Luke very well. Luke was a travelling companion of Paul during parts of Paul's missionary journeys, as we learn from the Book of Acts.
We don't know much else about St. Luke from the Scriptures. It's generally accepted that he is the author of the Gospel that bears his name, along with the Acts of the Apostles. That's why he is called Luke the Evangelist. “Evangel” is the Greek word for “gospel” or “good news. So all four writers of the Gospels in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – are called the Evangelists. Today in our circles that word is more generally applied to missionaries who are sent out to preach the Gospel.
One fourth century church writer (Epiphanius) says that Luke was one of the “seventy-two” whom the Lord Jesus sent out as recorded in Luke 10. Whether or not that is the case, it is clear from the introduction to his Gospel that St. Luke carefully searched out and interviewed eyewitnesses in order to record the events surrounding the birth, life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.
And just think what riches we would miss if the Great Physician had not used Dr. Luke to write his Gospel? We would not have the account of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary and announcing to her that she would be the mother of the Savior. And then, we would not have Mary's song of praise we call the Magnificat, where she sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” (Luke 1:46-47) And each Christmas we would hear only St. Matthew's brief account of the birth of Jesus, but never these familiar words,
“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:1-7)
And then we would also have missed out on the story of the shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. We would never have been able to sing the angelic song of praise in the liturgy, “Glory to God in the highest!” We would have missed out hearing about the infant Jesus brought to the temple, with Simeon taking the child in his arms and singing the Nunc Dimittis: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.” I could go on and talk about other things that Luke recorded for us that the Evangelists Matthew, Mark, and John do not. I could mention the parables Jesus told that we would never have heard were it not for St. Luke, like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, for example. It's a good thing the good doctor was used by our Good Lord to record for us these wonderful accounts and these wonderful words from the lips of Jesus.
And like any good doctor, Luke would have recognized the need for healing. He would have known that our bodies are diseased as a result of the fallen nature of this world. Not only are our bodies diseased, but we each carry the dis-ease of mind and heart. We are not at ease. We are anxious. We worry. We wish we could feel peaceful, but instead we wonder if things are going to be okay. We lack whole-hearted trust in God and his ability to take care of us. We wish we could have what the Hebrew language calls “shalom.” That word is normally translated as “peace,” but it's a loaded word that means more than just the absence of hostility. It refers to wholeness, completeness, contentment, health, well-being, perfect friendship with each other and with God.
Our hearts and minds are diseased. We are spiritually disabled. We are unable to do anything to change our sinful condition. Our sinful hearts make us unfit to be in the presence of a holy God. We do destructive things which damage and destroy our relationship with our loved ones and with our almighty God. Even if the diseases of our body never get healed, we most definitely need someone to come along and heal our souls.
In today's Gospel reading, Jesus sent out “laborers into the harvest.” It was to be a harvest of healing, both of the soul and the body. He appointed the 72 to proclaim the presence of the kingdom of God. Jesus sent them out ahead of him to the towns he intended to visit and told them, “Heal the sick … and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.'” The rule and reign of God was present in Jesus, God in the flesh, who had come to bring the “shalom” or the “peace” of God through his death and resurrection. Jesus died with the sin of the world – and that includes your sin and mine – placed upon him at the cross. Jesus rose to life again, proving his victory over sin and the effects of sin in the world … disease of the body, dis-ease of the mind and heart, and death which is the ultimate end of all our disabled bodies. In Jesus, there is a true harvest of healing.
Healing the sick was proof of the presence of the kingdom of God and the “shalom” that comes with that kingdom … wholeness, completeness, health, and well-being. Isaiah foretold the presence of the Messiah's kingdom in this way, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” (Is. 35:5-6)
Now that doesn't mean that all our diseases will be cured in this life. As so many of you well know, assorted ailments continue to plague us throughout our earthly existence. But the restoration of sick bodies that Jesus gave, and empowered the 72 to give, was a foretaste of the final restoration of creation when he comes again on the Last Day. The bodies of believers in Christ will be raised to eternal life, and the diseases and frailties that once plagued us will never again attack our bodies.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few,” Jesus said. “Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest.” Those instructions were not just for the 72. Those instructions are for us today, as well. There are still many who need to hear the message of peace given through Christ and the reconciliation he brings between God and man. There are many who are outside God's kingdom of grace. There are many who do not enjoy the peace of mind and heart that comes from knowing that Jesus forgives them of all their sins because of his shed blood on Calvary. And so we, too, can pray that God would send laborers into the harvest. We can pray that God would raise up men who will be trained for the pastoral ministry at the seminary. We can pray that God would raise up both men and women who have the desire to train for other church work vocations, such as deaconesses, Christian school teachers, Directors of Christian Education, Directors of Outreach, and so on. We can encourage young people in our congregation to consider being full-time laborers in God's harvest. And we can pray that God would make each one of us ready and willing to proclaim the nearness of the kingdom of God in Jesus in whatever station in life we find ourself. We can direct them to find the presence of Jesus in the means of grace … the Word of God, the waters of Baptism, and the body and blood of the Savior in the Sacrament of the Altar.
Today, as we remember and give thanks for Luke “the beloved physician,” we can give thanks for the divine healing God brings to our bodies through doctors and health care workers in our day. But above all, we give thanks that Dr. Luke was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write about the divine healing that Jesus brings to our souls through the forgiveness of sins.