TRINITY 16    27 September, 2009    James 5.13-20    Mark 9.38-50

James 5.14 ‘Are any among you sick?   They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.’

James 5.16 ‘Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.’  

Often when someone is healed through the Church’s ministry, he or she becomes a believer.

One of my sisters had breast cancer many years ago. She was anointed with the sacrament of Holy Unction and had an operation. She had been confirmed but rarely went to church but after her healing she became a faithful communicant. The continent of Africa has seen a huge growth in the number of Christians not least because the hundreds of Zionist churches flourish through healings.  

Experience has shown me that when the Holy Anointing is given the healing given is often surprising and unexpected. So often the gift of faith is received. This should not amaze us for the sacramental seal of the Holy Spirit must give the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  

The presbyters of the Church as St James names them, that is the priests, must zealously minister to the sick and regard this duty as one of the most important functions committed to them at ordination. Emergencies must take precedence over time off and days out. In the case of the dying the priest must even delay celebrating Mass in order to help the sick brother or sister in the hour of death.  

Today’s Gospel began with a story which shows Jesus to be tolerant. Anyone who performs a healing in the name of Jesus is approved. The healing ministry isn’t restricted to episcopally-ordained priests.  

However, the evangelist goes on to give words of Jesus preserved by oral tradition, which are extremely horrifying and condemnatory. ‘If any of you puts a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, if your hand causes you to stumble, if your foot causes you to stumble, if your eye causes you to stumble’ you are in danger of being thrown into hell unless you take drastic action.  

This terrible warning is expressed in the Rite for the ordination of Priests when the bishop before the examination of those to be ordained, says to them:

‘The Church and Congregation whom you must serve is Christ’s spouse and his body. If it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault and the horrible punishment that will ensue.’ The modern ordinal tones down the warning of the 1662 ordinal but the old words remain true and they apply to all disciples of Jesus, not just to the clergy.  

When I was a curate I was sent to a man in hospital who was dying of cancer. He had not attended church for about fifty years although he had been a server in his youth. He stopped going to church because he was accused of stealing money from the collection plate. He carried a huge sense of grievance because he had not taken the money. Mercifully at his end he was reconciled.  

We are warned by Jesus to take care not to cause someone to fall from the faith and not to fall away ourselves by our own fault. If we do, the consequence, unless we take drastic action, will be to cut ourselves off from God for ever. 

We can escape by the mercy of God if, when we realise that we have gone wrong, we seek healing through confession and repentance. We need to turn to the Church confessing our sins and asking for prayers; prayers, as St James says, that are righteous and effective.   

Crispin Harrison CR