The Healing Master
Near the end of Christ’s first ministerial tour on the Galilean area, after He had healed the madman in the synagogue and Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever, the Lord and his apostles boarded a ship and sailed from Capernaum, southeast to a place called Gennesaret or as Gaderes by Mark, in the mostly gentile region of Decapolis – meaning “The Ten Towns”. It was on this voyage that the Lord calmed the raging tempest and chastised his friends for their lack of faith. On the shores of Gennesaret, He cast the legion of devilish spirits from the madman and into the herd of swine.
After witnessing or hearing of this miracle, the pagans of the area believed Jesus to be the commander of devils and begged Him to return whence He came. As Christ headed back to the ship, the man once possessed approached and asked the Savior if he could travel with the group. The Lord, however, had another mission for this man who had been for so long tormented. He commanded that the man return to the cities and publish the truth of the miracle wrought by the Son of God. The scriptures describe the results of that mission call:
“And he departed, and began to publish in Decapolis how great things Jesus had done for him: and all [men] did marvel.” (Mark 5:20)
This story is a great example of how one person, motivated by the spirit, can do great things to build the kingdom of heaven on earth, but it is only a preface to the text that will be the foundation of this sermon.
Upon returning to Capernaum, the Lord was immediately greeted by a Pharisee known as Jairus who fell at the Savior’s feet and begged him to heal his daughter who lay, by appearances, dead.
Christ responded by immediately walking with Jairus toward his home accompanied by a large group of people who “thronged” the Lord, or surrounded him closely, as he walked. During this journey a woman who had suffered for 12 years with an issue of blood, saw an opportunity.
She had consulted physicians who gladly took everything she had for payment while doing nothing to solve her problem. Having heard of Jesus and His miracles, the woman pressed forward and fought her way through the crowd where she touched the hem of Christ’s robe because she had sensed that by doing nothing more, she would be healed. She made the contact and she was healed. She might have simply slipped back out of the group and thanked God privately for the wonderful blessing had not the Lord turned and asked “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5:30)
The apostles were a little perplexed by the questions. They said, in effect, “Lord, don’t you see this huge mob of people all around you? They are all touching your clothes!” The Savior then turned and looked directly at the woman. Thinking she was in trouble and afraid, she gathered the courage to come before Him, kneel before Him and confess that she was the guilty party and why she had done it.
The Lord then taught a profound lesson. He told her that is was her faith in Him that had healed her. Not His infinite power, not the priesthood. Not even the Father, but the simple faith of a troubled woman. He then told her, in Mark’s version of the incident, to go in peace and remain whole of her plague.
This incident was also noted by both Matthew and Luke, but only Mark indicates that she was both immediately relieved of the malady because of her faith and then followed that faith healing by a permanent blessing of health by His power and priesthood.
Today I want to focus less on the miracles and more something I think might be missed by some as it was by me for years. And that is the proximity of those recipients of the miracles to the Lord.
The Gerasene demoniac was healed only after he came near the Savior, Jairus fell at the Lord’s feet and the woman made her way near enough to His that she could touch His clothes.
Too often, I think, we make the mistake of believing that faith is a feeling or even an emotion when, in fact, faith in Christ is a driving force of energy designed to not only bless the faithful but also the faithless.
The gentiles of Gennesaret who marveled at the story told by the man freed from the demons – a man they had known and cast out from their midst to living in the rocks near the shore of the sea – were blessed by the faith of one man who, even when overcome by legions of demons, ran to worship the Lord and then obediently did His bidding to return to his people and tell the miraculous story.
Can there be any doubt that the woman healed after touching the hem of the Lord’s garment, while reluctant to face Him, would have broadcast her miracle to all who would listen?
Immediately after the woman was healed and sent on her way, a servant of Jairus came and informed him that his daughter had died and that there was no longer any need to trouble the Master.
How often have many of us, during the dark times when we have lost hope, determine that there is no longer any need to trouble the Master because we are too far gone, too dead to the things of God? Worse yet, how many times have we made that judgment aloud or in our hearts about others who wander on crooked paths?
But Jairus remained at the side of Christ to hear the comforting words “Be not afraid, only believe.” (Mark 5:36)
Our Savior and our Father are both keenly aware of our human tendency toward fear and they are just as aware of how quickly simple faith can remove the fear. It is also our proximity to the Savior that strengthens faith just as our faith weakens when we distance ourselves from Him.
To a nervous Israelite army, the Lord promised: “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, he [it is] that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
It was that same people who, when they were disobedient, distanced themselves from Jehovah by that disobedience and found themselves without faith and without victory. General Achan’s army is a good example of what occurs when people distance themselves from the safe harbor of obedience and faith.
The Lord had commanded Joshua to send a force of three thousand men to take the city of Ai which, of itself, was unimportant militarily but combined with the gentile armies of Bethel, it was a serious threat to Israel.
What should have been an easy victory, however, turned into a devastating defeat of Israel and this because of the actions of one man who, seeing something he wanted, took, in a previous battle, spoils of great value but things which the Lord had forbidden the army to take.
Achan was confronted by Joshua and he was forced to confess his sin. He was punished – rather severely, I might add – and Joshua, following the direction of the Lord, headed a large force himself and took the city of Ai.
As occurred with those who had followed Achan in the first battle and were killed, we too are occasionally harmed by the actions of others, for we cannot enjoy the blessings of agency while avoiding the consequences. Even in those trying times, however, if we remain proximate with the Savior, we can find peace in faith and have no fear.
King Lamoni and his brother Anti-Nephi-Lehi and all their righteous subjects had determined they would honor a covenant they had made with God to refuse to raise their arms against their brethren and they buried their weapons deep in the earth knowing a force of non-believing Lamanites, who had been stirred up by apostate Nephites, was about to attack.
In the 24th chapter of Alma we read:
“Now when the people saw that they were coming against them they went out to meet them, and prostrated themselves before them to the earth, and began to call on the name of the Lord; and thus they were in this attitude when the Lamanites began to fall upon them, and began to slay them with the sword.
And thus without meeting any resistance, they did slay a thousand and five of them; and we know that they are blessed, for they have gone to dwell with their God.” (verses 21-22)
So, the scriptures are replete with examples of the relationship between faith and both the spiritual and physical proximity to Christ; and with rare exception, the one who makes the initial step that closes the gap between him or herself and Christ, is the seeking man, woman or child. In the 88th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord instructs:
“And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near -- Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (D&C 88:62-63)
In this revelation referred to by Joseph Smith as the "Olive Leaf… plucked from the Tree of Paradise." (DHC 1:316), the Lord recognizes the fact that far too often we only call upon the Lord when we are in dire straits, distanced from Him by our own pride and human rebellions. Thus He commands us to call upon Him while He is near. He also instructs us in the process of bringing ourselves proximate with Him.
To come unto Christ and, as Moroni says, be perfected in Him, means to move in His direction, becoming more like Him, step by step. Delaying will not lessen the vast distance to be traveled. Procrastinating will not bring the emergence of new alternatives. All the anxiety and energy expended in milling about does not move us one inch forward on the path of discipleship. Unless we remove ourselves from what the prophet Joel described as the valley of decision, we cannot hope to move toward Christ and, in turn, hope for Him to move closer to us. We must choose either to resume or begin the journey and we must take the first step. I am convinced that the steps Christ takes in response, however, are not proportional to ours. I am convinced that He stands ready to run toward those who are doing no more than inching their way in His direction. He is eager to bridge the gap which, in all cases is one that can be narrowed by our faith and works but never bridged without the merciful grace of Christ through His infinite Atonement. When those Nephites who survived the devastation at the time of the crucifixion gathered themselves together and began to discuss Christ…just discuss the signs associated with His death! – Christ bridged the gap between time and space to succor them in person. I believe He can and will do the same for each of us. I know He has for me.
Last evening I was watching a news program in which several of the victims of the tragedy at Virginia Tech were profiled. I was moved to tears and then I began sobbing almost uncontrollably. I felt deep sorrow for the pain suffered by both the killer and his victims and the families that survived them all. I wondered what possibly could have happened to the young man that would have filled him with such vile hatred for everyone and I had no answers; but I did find comfort in the Savior’s invitation to come unto Him and to take His yoke. I also remembered His profound counsel to a suffering Joseph:
“…if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
Therefore, hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 122:7-9 – emphasis is mine)
What a promise! What a blessing!
I pray that we may all begin to move nearer and nearer the Savior and that, as we do, we move nearer and nearer each other that together we might have God with is forever and ever.