Summary: Jesus diagnoses our illnesses as primarily spiritual and/or connective; the fatal illness He diagnoses is the one which cannot see God at work.
We all know people for whom illness is a way of life. It is not just incidental, it is every day. Every day is spent dealing with sickness or pain. Every day is invested in physicians, treatments, medications, therapies. People who struggle just to stay alive, or to manage pain. Their lives are dominated by disease. There are things they cannot do because of illness. There are things they must do to deal with the illness. There are costs they must pay because of illness. Illness is a way of life.
As bad as that is, it must be infinitely worse to be sick and not to know what is wrong. It must be terrible to struggle with not knowing what is happening. The tests are inconclusive, the symptoms are strange, nothing adds up, and the doctors don’t know what the diagnosis is. That has to be tough.
When we are sick, we want a physician who can diagnose that illness correctly. It’s not easy to get it right. Getting the diagnosis right takes a practiced eye and sometimes just an inspired hunch. One of you told me that when you were in the hospital, every morning there would be a parade of young people in white coats coming in to stare at you. Invariably the leader of the pack would lift up your sheets, point to certain rather private spots, and ask the others what the diagnosis might be. Their answers were varied and sometimes way off! It’s not easy to get the right diagnosis. But if you are sick, you want the physician who can diagnose your illness correctly. You would not be interested in the doctor who would shrug his shoulders and say, “Who knows? Let’s just leave it alone and see what happens.” Nor would you feel so good if you went to the drugstore and the pharmacist said, “Well, these pink pills are pretty, let’s use them. And I’ve got a special deal, just for you, on these green ones.” No, that wouldn’t get it. If we are sick, we want the real deal. We want the right diagnosis.
Or do we? Or do we? Maybe not always. I’ve known people who didn’t want to hear the truth. If their physician was about to tell them they had cancer, they just wouldn’t hear it. If they were hospitalized because of congestive heart failure, they called it something else. If they were found to be diabetic, they proceeded to eat as if there were no tomorrow. We don’t always want to hear the physician’s diagnosis, because treatment means change and change is painful. The diagnosis might force us to a new way of life, and we don’t want that.
So when the Great Physician Jesus comes to diagnose our spiritual illnesses, sometimes we don’t want to hear Him either.
Chapters eight and nine of Matthew’s Gospel are filled with accounts of the healing work of Jesus. Time and again He confronts the illnesses of humanity and He heals. He heals, however, with a very special touch. It is more than just taking care of sickness. This Jesus deals with the whole person. He deals with mind and body and spirit. Some respond and get well. But others resist. Some are healed; others refused to be healed.
Jesus diagnoses the illness of some of us as an illness born of unresolved spiritual issues. Jesus is able to see beyond fevered brows and disoriented minds and twisted limbs to a spiritual illness that is every bit as serious as the physical illness. Jesus diagnoses some of us with unresolved spiritual issues.
The first story in Chapter 9 concerns a paralyzed man lying on a bed. His friends have brought him, hoping that Jesus can do something that no one else has been able to do. Their friend cannot walk; just why no one knew. Since they didn’t know where his illness came from, they couldn’t make it go away either.
Now what does the Great Physician do? What is His approach? Does He say, “Let me have a look at those legs”? Does He prescribe some drug or assign some exercise? No, Jesus starts at an entirely different place: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” Jesus connected physical illnesses and spiritual diseases. There is a spiritual as well as a physical basis for much that ails us.
Paralysis. I read once about a man who was an accountant in a business firm. His arm began to give him a lot of trouble. He found it harder and harder to do his bookkeeping work. His doctors found no muscular problems, no nerve damage, nothing. But he just could not operate. He went to see his pastor, almost in desperation. The pastor began to ask him about what was happening in the workplace. As they talked, finally the accountant blurted out the truth: that he had been embezzling funds. He had cooked the books over several months’ time, taking thousands of dollars. Here was the problem. His guilt, his dishonesty, his spiritual sickness, created his physical sickness. His body just rebelled against him. Paralysis.