”We have to protect the health of the nation but let’s do it as one nation and not make the North of England the sacrificial lamb.” Andy Burnham, Metro Mayor of Manchester.
Today is the feast day of St Luke, the Evangelist and ‘beloved Physician’ (Col. 4: 14) who was probably a Gentile and the author of both the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles. Without Luke’s Gospel, there would not be the detailed description of events surrounding the birth of Jesus nor the oldest Christian hymns, the Benedictus, Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis. The parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son would be unknown without Luke’s writing and he’s often symbolised by an ox with wings holding the Gospel because that book begins with Zechariah sacrificing animals in the Temple, anticipating Jesus’ own later sacrifice. Luke also went with Paul on his second and third missionary journeys to Philippi and Jerusalem – his role as a doctor also means that many hospitals bear his name today as the work of healing goes on.
Healing, wellbeing and mental health are controversial matters at the moment, as the numbers of those developing Covid-19 or affected by it continue to rise the world over and opinions vary so much about how this should be handled. The individual, social and economic cost is also having a huge impact with the Manchester Evening News referring this week to the “melodrama, melancholy and madness” being caused by the divisions being created by it. How can healing and health prevail in these circumstances when so much has to be sacrificed by so many and resources may be scarce?
The reading from Luke’s Gospel today shows that this was so in the time of Jesus, too. Jesus says that “the harvest is great but the workers are few” and commissions 72 followers to go ahead of him without purse, bag or sandals. That may be controversial for us today when so much is costed but then, Pharisees and other religious people would take with them their own provisions and money so that their food could be ritually pure. Caring more for their own welfare than those around them created division, whereas Jesus suggests that his followers should bring peace with them and stay with those who offer them hospitality, eating and drinking the same things. They are not to move around but remain in the same house, so that they can heal the sick and tell them of God’s kingdom as well as worldly priorities.
That’s amazing! The followers are to heal the sick themselves, not wait for Jesus or someone else to do it. In those days, leprosy and other infectious diseases would be feared as much as Covid-19 and those infected would have to be isolated from their families and friends just as today. Healing the sick is difficult and possibly dangerous work to do and Jesus recognises that when he tells them that he’s sending them out as lambs – not yet even fully grown sheep – amongst wolves. In the face of so much personal challenge, it’s perhaps surprising that 72 people can be found for this work – and yet, they go.
Today, doing what we can ourselves to bring about healing may sound like folly when the risk and consequences of Coronavirus can be so severe and professional treatment of it is essential. But there’s much else being overlooked too and, in the face of so much criticism, division and expense, perhaps there are things we can safely do that might enable peace of mind, provide some mental health support or help to bring healing to those around us as well as ourselves. That may be something as simple as ringing someone up for a chat, writing a letter or fetching a prescription. It’s also said that laughter is the best medicine – why not share a joke, recommend a humourous film on TV or even sparkle with Strictly’s return!
If we’ve a mind to, there’s a lot that could be done as well as much to concern us. Compared to those places in the world battling Covid-19 in situations where even food, clean water or medicines can’t be guaranteed, aren’t we more fortunate than we sometimes realise? If we can find the will, is there a safe way of showing that?
With my prayers,
Guardian of St.Melangell’s Shrine Church
Diocesan prayer of the week
Healing God, in these difficult times you have brought to the forefront of our minds and hearts all those who work in medicine and healthcare. May our praise and thanks to those on whom we depend not remain mere words and gestures, but inspire us to be generous in resourcing the protection of the frail, the loving care of the sick, the support of the distressed, and the advancement of life-saving knowledge; for all that builds up wholeness of mind and body, as well as spirit, is part of your work in the world. Amen.
Canon Carol Wardman