“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. The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up.” (James 5:14-15)
What is the purpose of Anointing of the Sick? It is easy to assume that it is simply intended to cure our bodies of sickness. However, this month we will look to the biblical roots of Anointing of the Sick to better understand the purpose of this Sacrament. As the Letter of James tells us, anointing is a prayer of faith that saves us.
As theologian Lizette Larson-Miller has pointed out, Jesus’s healing ministry is a sign of the Kingdom of God. “Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness.” (Mat 9:35)
Jesus does not simply heal illnesses; He restores people back to wholeness by forgiving sins and bringing them back into the fullness of communal life. Therefore, it is not merely an individual that Jesus is healing. Rather, He is healing the life of the community.
In the Gospel of John, we see a beautiful example of Jesus’s healing ministry. (John 5:17-26) Some men lower a paralyzed man through a roof in order to get him to Jesus. “When He saw their faith, He said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” It is important to note that Jesus recognizes their faith, and then forgives their sins. He does not begin by healing the man’s body.
Only after Jesus is criticized for boldly forgiving sins (a task only God can do), does Jesus turn His attention to the man’s disability. “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on Earth to forgive sins . . .” Jesus heals the man so that all may know He has come to save through faith.
In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see another example of the healing power of faith. (Mat 9:20-22, Lk 8:43-48, Mar 5:24-34) In the story of Jesus healing the woman with a hemorrhage, neither Jesus’s words nor His hands are the source of health. The woman was brave enough to reach out and touch Jesus without Him knowing. As she touches His garment, Jesus is aware that “power had gone forth from Him” and she is healed. Upon finding out who touched Him, Jesus says, “Your faith has made you well.”
In this story, Jesus did not perform a miracle on a passive person who needed help. Rather, the healing power of Jesus is available to all who seek it through faith. Her faith draws healing power out of Him. Jesus’s power is not hoarded and administered only through His precious touch. Faith that bravely reaches out to Jesus is the source of life. So, it is with Anointing of the Sick that the healing love of God is not kept hidden away in a precious oil to be administered by powerful people. Rather, this beautiful sacrament is an act of faith. Over and over, Jesus reminds those He has healed that it is their faith that has saved them and made them whole.
I would like to conclude by turning our attention to the story of Jesus healing the blind man. (John 9) Using His own saliva, Jesus creates mud and anoints the man’s eyes, telling him to “wash in the pool of Siloam (which means ‘Sent’).” When the man washes his eyes, he is able to see. Jesus tells His disciples that this man is not guilty of sin. Rather, this healing is done “so that God’s works might be revealed in Him.”
After being healed, the man tells his story, trying to help others see the power of Jesus. In this story, Jesus sends the healed man as a sign of God’s saving power. Again, healing is intimately connected to faith. Jesus heals, so that the world might be saved through faith.
When we are anointed by God, we are being sent. When the Church celebrates the Anointing of the Sick, those who are brave enough to reach for Jesus out of faith become a sign of God’s Kingdom for the rest of us.
We are sent out to attest to the saving power of God. In this Sacrament, sick people are not passive recipients who accept healing grace. Rather, they are faithful worshipers who become the presence of healing grace for all who see them. In Anointing of the Sick, our bodies may or may not heal, but through faith we are able to recognize, embrace, and pass on the saving power of God’s love.