Today we honour the memory of Saint Blase, who was Bishop of Sebaste in Armenia. By order of the Roman Emperor Licinius he suffered martyrdom in 324 by being strangled. We don’t know much at all about Saint Blase but his cult became very popular because many cures were attributed to him. Since the sixth century Christians have had their throats blessed on this his feast day.
I heard on the news this morning that more than a few A&E Departments at our major hospitals will run out of money sooner than later. And yet in a recent poll more than 60% of the population thought that the NHS should receive all the financial help the nation could give it. Health care is an important issue for many people today, especially as it’s free at the point of delivery. Naturally we want to be taken care of, we want to be cured of our various illnesses and complaints; and money, for some, should be no object in their desire to get the best health care possible. After all, how can you put a price on human life? If I need a heart transplant, I should have one. How about a kidney or a new liver? Some people feel we must prolong life at any cost. But to what end? What is the purpose of living longer?
We’ve just heard how Our Lord cures a woman who has suffered from haemorrhages for many years, and she has spent all her money on doctors’ fees. Our Lord not only cures her but tells her that her faith has saved her. Our Lord tells her this because now her life will be focused on faith in the One who cured her, and she can bring that faith to her whole life.
From time immemorial religious people of every persuasion have prayed to their gods to bring them cure from illness, to make it rain and to pass their exams or their driving test. Trying to manipulate the divine will didn’t start with us Christians.
Our Lord asks us today: what happens the next time you get what you want? Do you know why you touched me? Why you prayed to me? Do you understand what I have done for you? We might ask whether, in the words of T S Eliot we have had the experience but missed the meaning. Cures are simply physical realities with no spiritual meaning in themselves. We forget that scores of people who have no faith at all are saved from illness every day. But when faith enters the picture, then the quality of our lives can change in ways that go far beyond a merely physical cure. Either recovery or continued illness can bring knowledge of God, which is, in the end, the only thing worth living for.
Faith and trust in the Author of Life remain long after the scars of illness fade away. No health care programme, for all its benefits, can promise that.