Spirituality & Disease: Perennial Lessons from Sermon on the Mount

It is time to turn our attention to the importance of spirituality on the journey to better health. The Magna Carta of the spiritual life is the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon’s application to many aspects of life is worth a lifetime of consideration. I would like to focus on one small facet of wisdom, the counsel of forgiving one’s enemies. This tenant is perhaps the most challenging of Christ’s commands, but also potentially, the most beneficial to the individual as well.

Scripture Strategies

Before beginning to exegete any Scripture passage, a few basic considerations are in order. The first and primary one is to determine the literal context of the passage. The intent of the author is pivotal in correct understanding. Some passages are poetry, some are historical, some verses are in the form of parables. The next task to consider is how does the text fit in with the larger cannon of Scripture. Though the Bible is a collection of books, much like a library, it is not random. There is a single author, the Holy Spirit, who impacts a unifying wholeness to the Bible. Additionally, Scripture was written for a people, the Church. The People of God is the audience. Selection of the various books in the Bible hinged on the suitability for use in public worship. The Gospel of John and Revelations were included, difficult books at times to decipher. The Gospel of Peter and the Gospel of Barnabas were excluded. The Church is the arbiter of the canon.

With these preliminary considerations in place, let us turn our attention to the Sermon on The MountMat 5:43-48[1]. What does Jesus mean by ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? Love is willing the good of the other. It is a sincere gift of self. It is an act of the will, not a warm and fuzzy feeling of warmth and rainbows. It also does not mean not setting boundaries around destructive persons. We are to will our own good too. Love your neighbor as yourself. So to love ourselves well means to acknowledge at times that some people need to be kept at a distance. Forgiving does not remove the guilt of the other person. It does not cover the injustice with platitudes. Forgiveness is a conscious act to not remain in bondage to the wrong. Forgiveness is freedom.

But this distance is not gossiping, nor is it one of continued angst against the person interiorly. If one finds they are ruminating on past wrongs, this is the moment for forgiveness. Offering a small prayer for their well being, refusing to engage in negative defamation chatter, and then turning the mind to a more pleasant topic is the act of forgiveness. Sometimes this will take a person 70 x 7 times. Most often, it will also take the person being in a supportive community to act on this suggestion.

Turning the will to forgiveness of enemies eventually reduces the chronic stress of that situation, and this is an excellent move towards overall improvement in health. Chronic stress is a leading cause of a host of serious health problems.[2]Most often, chronic stress arises from past wrongs. Many a doctor has told me, their healing has been impaired by the patient’s inability to forgive. Their medicines and therapies cannot heal a damaged spirit. Only the Lord can do that.

The Lord, looking with compassion on the crowd of people who followed him, his disciples, wants to give them true freedom. Freedom is directed towards a goal to be sons and daughters of God. Jesus talks of yourheavenly Father. He is not giving an impossible task, just a hard one, one that requires at times supernatural helps from the Holy Spirit within a community of Christ followers. Seeing good examples of other Christians, both now and from the past, gives concrete examples of how to forgive. The ability to forgive not only allows us to mature as sons and daughters of the Father. Forgiveness also makes our health better today.

                  [1]Matthew 5:43-48,“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

            [2]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2568977/accessed May 30, 2018

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