Sunday, December 9, 2012

Healing, Prayer, and Community

I came across the verse James 5:16 in a devotional today:

"Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective."

(Now, it is perhaps a bit ironic that I am posting this reflection today, when just a couple days ago I was fiercely insisting to Tim that an undergraduate thesis can under no circumstances use a single Bible verse as its theological support.  But, lucky for you, this is not a thesis.)

When I read this verse, I focused on that first sentence: confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  

My first question was: who is the *you* that is healed?  It's not really a question of grammar, even when you go look at the Greek (which, being me, I did).  It's you in the plural, and these are somewhat general instructions begin given to a community.  

But who will be healed? The people who confess their sins?  The people who are sick and then prayed for?  Or is it the community as a whole?

Most of the church members and leaders I work with here in Nicaragua take very seriously the practice of praying for the sick.  Many have testimonies of miraculous healings, that they have experienced personally or witnessed.  I know this text is one of many that supports that practice, and I certainly pray often for people who are sick, if not quite in the same style as my Pentecostal sisters and brother.

What caught my attention this time, however, was the idea that maybe it's not only the prayer that leads to healing.  The letter of James is chock-full of imperatives, orders to these Christians on how they should conduct themselves.  This verse is no different; it starts with two imperatives: confess and pray.  Both confession and prayer will lead to healing.

What if this is about the healing of more than just the people who present as sick, and confess their specific sins?  Maybe this tells us something about how we are to live together.  Maybe confession is good, not just for the soul, but also for the community.

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