mp3 Audio: Take_Your_Medicine_and_be_Healed.mp3
This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services
Gospel Reading: Matthew 15:21-28
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
There were twelve very sick men. They were still able to walk around, but they an illness which was so severe [that] they knew their life was in danger. They didn’t want to go to just any clinic. They went to the absolute best hospital that was available. [This hospital had] the best doctors, the best medications, the best staff, the best reputation. And they were admitted. There were still twelve beds that were available. They were admitted, they were allowed in. They were to be given care at this fine hospital, and they were very, very happy about this. They were very proud of it, for they knew that there were literally hundreds of people outside that hospital who had not been able to come inside.
Some of them had conversations with one another. They said, “This really is a good hospital. They recognize our value. They recognize how good we are. They recognize that if anybody is going to receive treatment and have their health taken care of, it should be us.” They were very pleased with themselves, and they kept having these conversations one with another. Some of them would look out the window and kind of turn up their noses at the riffraff outside, those undesirable, unworthy people who did not have an entry into this hospital.
The doctor on duty came around and carefully checked out each one of these twelve men, made notes on their charts and gave appropriate prescriptions for medication for each one of these men. Finally, in the due amount of time, the nurses came around to give them their medication. When the first nurse walked into the first room, she said, “Sir, here is the medicine that you’ve been prescribed.”
He just kind of went, “Ha ha ha. I don’t need to take that. I don’t need to take that medicine.”
She said, “Sir, you need to take your medicine.”
He said, “No. You don’t understand. I’m already in. I’ve already been admitted to this hospital.”
She said, “I know, Sir, but you need to take your medicine.”
He said, “You’re not listening to me. I’m not one of those riffraff outside. I understand. They need medicine. I get that. I am already in the hospital. I’ve already been admitted. I’ve already got a room. I’ve got this bed. And you work here! I mean, you should know this is the best hospital around.”
She said, “Well, yes, of course. That’s why I work here.”
He said, “Well, it’s the best hospital around, and I’ve already been admitted to it. I’m already in the hospital. I don’t need that medicine.”
She said, “Sir, you have to take your medication, or you’re not going to get better.”
He got angry, and he started yelling at her, and finally he just threw her out of the room.
So she went to the next man. This poor nurse went to each one of these twelve men, and each one of them treated her the same way. They threw her out. They got angry with her for suggesting they needed to take medication. They all said, “We don’t need your medicine. We’re already in! This is the best hospital. We’re in it. We’ve been admitted. Now leave me alone.”
Of course, in the due amount of time, all twelve of these men died. Being in the best hospital did not heal them. Being admitted to the best hospital did not get rid of their disease because they refused to take the medication.
Meanwhile, downstairs in the ER, one of the riffraff came in, one of the people who had not been admitted to a bed in the hospital. The doctor on duty checked the person out and said, “This is a very serious case. We need to deal with this right away.” He wrote out a prescription. And because these twelve men had not taken their prescriptions, there was still some of this medicine available. They got some of that medication. They brought it down. They gave it to this person in the ER. That person lived. The person was healed. The person did not die.
This is sort of similar to what we are dealing with in today’s Gospel. This foreign pagan woman who lives outside Israel in the accursed region of Tyre and Sidon (read throughout the Old Testament Scriptures and see the curses that God gives to Tyre and Sidon). . . When Jesus speaks of Tyre and Sidon, he speaks of those cities in the same breath as he speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah. [It was a] wicked, pagan, Canaanite area [of] people who were not part of Israel, people who are not part of God’s people, people who did not have the Mosaic Law. They didn’t have the Temple. They didn’t have the true faith that God had set up on earth.
It’s interesting how often in Scripture and in history and even today, there are people who are among God’s people – they’re already in, they’re admitted, and because they are already in, they think they’re already healed. They think they don’t need to take their medicine, and they die just like those twelve men in that hospital.
You had twelve tribes of Israel. They were in! They were God’s people. They had the best Doctor in the world – God Himself. They had the right worship. They had the right God. They had the right temple. They had the right liturgy. They had Scriptures. They were in! And so many of them died because they refused to take their medicine.
Many of the Jews became very angry one time when Jesus was talking to them. They were talking about being in, about being among God’s people, and Jesus hearkened back to the Prophet Elijah in the Old Testament. He said there were many widows in Israel, but Elijah went to the Widow of Zarephath in the region of Sidon. (Remember, we talked about Sidon? That’s the area from which the lady of Zarephath was from – right in between Tyre and Sidon.)
ELIJAH AND THE WIDOW
Elijah goes to her [and] asks for something to eat. She said, “I have almost nothing left. There is a great famine. There is a great drought. All I have left is just a little bit of flour, a little bit of oil. There’s just barely enough left that I am going to make just a tiny bit of bread so that my son and I can have our last meal and then die.”
Can you imagine it getting down to the point that you only have enough food left for you and your children to have one more meal and then that’s it? There’s not grocery store. There’s no food in your garden. There’s no more food in your house. Any of the wild game has already been shot in that area, and captured, and eaten. People are starving all around you. Now it’s you and your family. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve already tried everything, and your pantry is empty. Your fridge is empty. You have nothing.
To this woman in such a desperate straight, Elijah makes what seems like such an audacious request. He says, “Okay. Make that for you and your son, but first, use some of it to make me some bread.” Now in today’s progressive culture, I am sure that there are a lot of women that if faced with such a request would quickly do the “z-snap” as fast as they could and tell him where he could take his request. But this woman was more spiritual than that, a little more sensitive than that, a little more tuned in to God than that.
This man of God heard her plight; he understood her sorrow. He knew that it was just her and her son and that they had almost nothing left, and even then, he asked her to give. He didn’t come to her with more food or money or anything. He came to her, and he asked her to give even in the midst of her poverty. But he also brought her a great promise from the Lord. He said, “For it has been revealed to me by the Lord that until the day that this famine is over that the oil in your container will never dry up, and the flour in your container will never go empty.”
He promised her an unbelievable miracle, and she believed it. And in obedience to the prophet’s words, she went to her little jar of flour. It wasn’t suddenly full and running over. It wasn’t suddenly full and running over. It looked the same as before. She saw no difference. She went to her jar of oil, just a little bit left, and it wasn’t full and running over. She saw no difference. But in obedience to this prophet of God, she dips into that flour, she dips into that oil, and instead of making food for her and her hungry son, first, in a labor of love and trust, she makes a little loaf of bread. She lets it rise. She cooks it, and she brings that fresh, hot loaf of bread not to herself or to her boy, but to the man of God, and he eats it.
Then she goes, and the little bit of flour still looks the same. [She] dips into it [and] dips into the oil, and she makes a couple loaves of bread for her and her son. It should all be gone. She goes back, and she looks, and there is still a little bit of flour and a little bit of oil. The level hasn’t gone down. There is not very much in there, but it doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get used up. So for the next three years, every day, she dips out a little bit if flour and a little bit of oil, and she makes some bread for herself, her son, and for this prophet of God.
Then something worse than famine, worse than hunger, worse than fear happens: Her son gets sick, and he dies. She is weeping. She is grieving. She is calling out to God and to His prophet. And Elijah goes in, and in prayer to God, the boy is raised from the dead, brought back to life. [This is] miracle #2. The grace of God saving the lives of this woman from the area of Sidon, this area of Tyre and Sidon! He sends mercy to this woman and her boy.
THE WOMAN FROM THE AREA OF TYRE AND SIDON
And here in the New Testament we have a woman from the same area, the same region, from the area of Tyre and Sidon. And she, no doubt, had heard the reports. The name of Jesus was not new to that area. Elsewhere in the Gospels, we read that, at times, Jesus would go, and preach, and heal people, and crowds would come from all over, not just from Jerusalem, but from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, and he would heal people. Then of course, they would go back home, and they would talk about what they had seen and experienced. So this woman, no doubt, had heard of Jesus.
In this particular case, Jesus and His disciples had gone to that area trying not to be found. They needed some peace. They needed some rest. They needed some time away from the crowds. So he wasn’t outside preaching, and teaching, and healing. It says in Scripture that they were staying in a house. They were trying not to be found. But this one woman got word: “Jesus is in town. He’s come to where I am. He’s over here in Tyre and Sidon, this area over here. Really?” She left her demon-possessed, sick child at home, and she went out and she sought Jesus. As we know, ultimately Jesus has compassion on her and on her boy, and He heals him.
He does it at a distance. So many times in Scripture, we see Jesus touching somebody and healing them – touching the hem of His garment, and they’re healed. But there’s at least a couple of times in Scripture where we see somebody having great faith in Christ, recognizing that Jesus doesn’t even have to physically walk over to where you are to bring healing, but as the Lord of the universe, He can simply speak and healing will come to you at any point wherever you are over great distances.
As far as I can find, there are only two places in the New Testament where, instead of saying faith or “O ye of little faith,” only two places could I find where Jesus said, “You have great faith.” He’s praising them. He’s honoring them. He’s saying, “You have great faith, a big faith.” Ironically, both times, he doesn’t say it to Jews. He doesn’t say it to those who are called God’s people. Both times that Jesus says, “Oh you have great faith,” he says it to Gentiles.
SPEAK THE WORD ONLY: THE ROMAN CENTURION
In the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel, a Roman Centurion: He wasn’t born Jewish. He wasn’t part of the people of God. He wasn’t in. He wasn’t brought up in the right religion. He didn’t know the Christian Scriptures. But he had faith in this Jesus. He had faith in Christ, and he asked Christ to heal his servant. Jesus said, “Okay, I’ll come to your house and heal him.” And then, in great faith [the centurion] spoke those immortal words, this Gentile, Roman Centurion, said,
We remember that in our liturgy saying very similarly, “Speak the word only and my soul shall be healed.” We look up to the Roman centurion’s faith, and we in the Church try to emulate it.
He recognized, in humility, that he didn’t deserve for Jesus to come to his house. He recognized that Jesus didn’t even need to come to his house, because he had faith in the great power of Christ to simply speak and have the healing take place miles and miles away. And Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, I have not found so great a faith, not in all of Israel.”
The second Gentile whom Jesus says has great faith is the woman from today’s Gospel reading: this Syrophonoecian woman, this Canaanite woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon. Now, we all know that Tyre and Sidon has been cursed in Scripture. We all know that this is not Jerusalem; this is not Israel; these are not God’s people. They’re not the ones who are in. Oh, but the ones who are in refuse to take the medicine! The ones who are in refuse to accept God Himself in human flesh. But those who are outside, those who are foreigners, those whom God’s people considered outcasts and unworthy of salvation, they receive healing when they come to Him in faith.
THE PROPER ORDER
Now, Jesus says there needs to be a proper ordering of things: First you must feed the children before you feed the little dogs [cf. Mark 7:27]. The idea in Greek here is not the strays that are running out in the street, but the little puppies, the little dogs that run around in your house and are your family pets.
First, you feed your children. Now what is implied there? “First you feed the children, but later, I’m going to feed you too.” Jesus wasn’t saying no. He wasn’t saying, “I’m only going to feed the Jews. I’m only going to heal them. And Gentiles, I’m going to have nothing to do with.” He simply says there’s a proper order to things, for salvation comes first unto the Jew and then unto the Gentile as we read in the first chapter of Romans.
She doesn’t argue with Him, she doesn’t disagree with Him, but like the centurion, she has humility. She recognizes that she isn’t worthy to receive this great miracle. She doesn’t claim that she is worthy. She agrees with what He says that He must come to His own people first, to those whom He called His own people. He came first to them, and He was healing them, and He was showing the Gospel to them.
But in her great faith, she realizes that, even as He was doing things in their proper order, that He is so powerful that without breaking the rest, breaking that time of rest that He had set up for His disciples in this house away from the crowds, without leaving that house and walking publicly, and going all the way to her house, and drawing lots of attention to Himself, without leaving behind anything that He was doing as He was going about the proper order of things, that He could still heal her daughter.
[This is] very similar to the idea that the centurion had: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof, but speak the word only and my servant shall be healed.” She doesn’t tell Him, “Well, I am just as good as any Jew. If you are going to heal them, then you owe it to me to heal my child.”
No she doesn’t talk back to the Lord. She’s not haughty. She doesn’t even disagree with Him calling her a dog! She doesn’t disagree with Him calling the Jews children and the Gentiles little dogs. In faith, she simply says, “Yes, Master, but even the little dogs are able to eat up the crumbs under the master’s table” [c.f. Mark 7:28, Matthew 15:27].
“Lord, I know I am not worthy of the feast, but healing my child, having mercy on me in the midst of my anguish, healing my family. . . Lord, I know you are so powerful that even one single crumb that falls down to the floor – that’s enough to heal me. I don’t presume to be worthy of the feast. You know what? I don’t even need the feast. You are so awesome that if I get just one little crumb that falls down to the ground while You are feeding the children, if I get just one little crumb, that’s going to be powerful enough to heal my child.”
And He says, “Oh, woman, you have great faith.” You see, with His words, with His waiting, He had tested her, and her faith shone like the sun. Finally, He praises her, and He says, “Woman, you have great faith. Be it unto you even as you will” [Matthew 15:28].
Indeed, she did have great faith. She didn’t stay there and plead with Him begging Him to follow her to her house to heal her child. She believed that He had the power, simply with what He said, to heal her child. So she leaves. She had been so persistent before, but now that He has said that, she believes Him, and she walks away. She goes home to find her child healed.
TAKE YOUR MEDICINE
The Roman Centurion, this Canaanite woman from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, they were not in. They were not in Israel. They were not the people of God. They had not been admitted inside the hospital. They just showed up at the ER, and they had faith in the doctor. And when the medicine was prescribed, they were willing to take it. That medicine is Christ.
The Jews had the right religion. They had the right Scriptures. They had the right God. They had the right liturgy. They had the right genealogy and history. They had the right traditions. But when Christ shows up in the flesh, they reject him, and they die in their sins.
But any of those Jews which did accept Him, which did take the prescription, which did take their medicine, which feasted on the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ in faith – their souls were healed. And not only them, but all of us in the world who are Gentiles: Formerly we were foreigners. We were outcasts. We were outside the faith. We were not part of the people of God. We were no better than any other pagan on the planet. But in faith, we come to Christ, and we say, “We want whatever You have. Whatever medicine You have for us, we’re going to take it.” We feast on the Body and the Blood of Jesus Christ in faith, which the early Church called “the medicine of immortality. Saint Ignatius called the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality.”
It is not just the Eucharist, but it is all the Lord gives us: It is baptism. It is chrismation, ordination, marriage, the sacrament of healing. It is Lent. It is fasting. It is prayer. It is controlling our tongues. It is not only uprooting our outward actions which are sinful, but it is uprooting every sinful thought from the heart, every selfish inclination, every bit of anger, every bit of pride, every bit of whining and complaining. All these are prescriptions from the Lord that He gives us so that we might live.
Indeed, the Orthodox Church is the New Israel. The Orthodox Church is the people of God. The Orthodox Church is the hospital, and it’s the best hospital you can be in! If you’ve been baptized and chrismated into the Orthodox Church, and you’ve taken Communion, then you are admitted into the hospital. You’re in the best hospital you can possibly be in for your soul. And if you do not take your medicine, you will die.
God doesn’t bring us into the Church so that we can live like the world and go to heaven anyway. God doesn’t bring us into the hospital so we can stay sick and live anyway. God brings us into the hospital so that we can take our medicine and be healed.
I have a nurse in the room. Denise, all medicine is delicious isn’t it? It’s not, is it? Some medicine tastes absolutely horrible. It’s bitter going down! Some medicine, you can’t take by your mouth, but you have to have this big, fat needle stuck right into your back. That feels good, doesn’t it? Then they inject the medication. There are other ways you can receive medicine which are also not pleasant. So you choose: “Do I take the medicine even though it is not pleasant because the doctor has prescribed it so that I might live, or do I say, ‘That medicine doesn’t feel good; it doesn’t taste good; I don’t like it,” and then die?” Die, even as you are sitting in the best hospital around?
God does not give us Lent to torture us. He doesn’t give us daily family prayers to leave a bitter taste in our mouth. God doesn’t give us Scripture to read because He wants us to be bored. God has invited us to be healed. He has invited us to have life! When Jesus died on the Cross and rose again, He paid your insurance policy in full. All your medical bills are paid. All you have to do is take the prescription. You have to take your medicine.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.
NOTES AND REFERENCES
 The story of Elijah and the Widow of Zarapheth is found in 3Kingdoms (1Kings in Masoretic Text Bibles) chapter 17.
 This prayer is used by the Western Rite Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Anglicans.
In Western Rite usage at Christ the King, Omaha, this prayer is used just before Holy Communion:
Three times, the priest says: “Lord I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” and the people respond “but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.”
Then the people, together with the priest, recite the pre-Communion prayers of Saint John Chrysostom:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who didst come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. Moreover, I believe that this is truly Thy most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine Own precious Blood, wherefore, I pray Thee: have mercy on me and forgive my transgressions voluntary and involuntary, in word and in deed, in knowledge and in ignorance, and vouchsafe me to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries unto the remission of sins and life everlasting. Amen.
Of Thy Mystical Supper, O Son of God, receive me today as a communicant; for I will not speak of the Mystery to Thine enemies, nor will I give Thee a kiss as did Judas, but like the thief do I confess Thee: remember me O Lord in Thy Kingdom.
Let not the communion of Thy holy Mysteries be unto me for judgement or condemnation, O Lord, but for healing of soul and body.
It should be noted that there are several liturgies in use by the Western Rite Orthodox Churches of the Antiochian and Russian Orthodox Church, and that this prayer is used in various places:
- As presented above with the pre-Communion prayers.
- In the Ambrosian Mass after the Peace is given, and before the priest communes.
- In the Gregorian Mass of the Antiochian Orthodox Church, this prayer is optional, and is omitted from the general usage text.
- In the Gallican Mass, which is a facsimile liturgy with significant Byzantine insertions, in use among the ROCOR Western Rite by only one parish of record, this prayer is not found.
- In the Sarum Mass, this prayer is not found in the common text.
- In the Gregorian Liturgy authorized for use by the ROCOR Western Rite as of 2015 and the Moscow Patriarchate in the early 1900’s, this prayer is said by the priest immediately after the Agnus Dei and immediately before communing the faithful. The priest and the faithful repeat the prayer thrice while striking their breast.
One Anglican priest describes it thus:
Just before Holy Communion, the celebrant raises the host and proclaims to the congregation: “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.” The people respond with [this prayer]
That response is adapted from the centurion’s prayer in Matthew 8:8. The centurion asked Jesus to cure his servant at home. When Jesus said he would come to the centurion’s home, the man responded that he was not worthy to have Jesus visit his house. Besides, if Jesus would stay there and “only say the word,” then the servant would be healed. Jesus did; the servant was cured. Jesus praised the great faith of this gentile centurion.
By substituting the word “I” for “servant,” the Church has adapted this prayer into a preparation for receiving Holy Communion.
How do you know when you are worthy to receive the Eucharist? Strictly speaking, no one is ever worthy. Jesus’ healing makes us less unworthy.
In this prayer before Holy Communion, worthy means that the person has confessed any mortal sins and is properly disposed to receive this sacrament. “Only say the word” is a way of acknowledging that all healing and grace ultimately come from God.
(Fr. Dale Hall, Franciscan Friar, Anglican Mission Chattanooga, TN, April 17, 2016, Interview with Maria Powell).
In the Western Rite Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer is frequently used.
 The Greek word here is κυναρίοις, which is translated as “house dog,” a diminutive of κύων, dog. Diminutive forms connoting familiarity, this dog would necessarily be a dog with which one is familiar, a pet.
 The Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Ephesians, chapter 20: “Assemble yourselves together in common, every one of you severally, man by man, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who after the flesh was of David’s race, who is Son of Man and Son of God, to the end that ye may obey the bishop and presbytery without distraction of mind; breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote that we should not die but live forever in Jesus Christ.”
This homily was preached on by Father Joseph Gleason on Sunday, March 8, 2015 at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois.
Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services provides full service secretarial support (including homily transcription, editing, and publishing services) for Orthodox clergy and parish communities.