Oil Change


Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. (James 5:14-15)

Personally, I’ve never seen the oil trick work, at least in a bona fide in your face supernatural bango bango sort of way. I’ve seen a lot of foreheads greased up, but, unless you count a long, slow recuperation (which would most likely have happened even without the extra virgin sauce), I can’t say the anointing with oil thing has all that great a track record in my neck of the religious woods. Most people just end up looking like they’ve got gland problems.

Maybe we’ve got the oil formula wrong. Some people like the perfumed option—with Frankenstein or myrrh added—but the fancy stuff doesn’t seem to work any better than the plain oil. And does it have to be olive oil? How about grape seed oil, which wouldn’t smoke if somebody had a high fever? Or maybe Canola oil for those with cholesterol issues? Or WD-40 for stiff joints and arthritis? Why not just use SAE 30 and call it good? Might we get better healing performance with a synthetic?

Then again, maybe it’s the ritual itself we’re not doing right. Do we have to say “In the name of the Lord” out loud or is it more of a Jesus vibe you throw in there? Maybe you have to do the actual anointing in a certain way. For example, do you need to use the index finger? Does it have to be the right or left hand? Are you supposed to draw a cross with the oil or can you just dollop or doodle? Maybe you don’t need to use your hands at all. If you were in a hurry maybe you could use a can of Pam and just spray it on. You might not get a healing out of it, but at least the person wouldn’t stick around.

But why the oil in the first place? If, as James says, it’s “the prayer offered in faith” that gets the job done, why add the oil at all? Extra flavor? Keep the person moist? Get a better tan? Lube up the divine conduit? Or is it symbolic of the Holy Spirit who is unlikely to show up in person? Maybe it’s just to give us something to do while were waiting, kind of like sending somebody to boil water when a woman’s in labor?

But maybe it’s not the oil part we’re faulty on after all. Maybe it’s the prayer part that we’re screwing up. That “offered in faith” clause is a royal pain in the butt, if you ask me. It puts all the pressure for healing on us, which sucks since it’s God who’s supposed to be doing the healing. He never has to take the hit for dereliction of duty. If no healing happens, it’s always our problem. How nice for God. No pressure. No performance. No blame. Just a bunch of confused, disappointed people with an oil slick on their hands (and foreheads).

James seems pretty confident that his little oil ritual will work. Of course, this is the same guy who says “a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” It’s obvious he’s a little iffy in the grace department so I suppose we should assume a little fuzziness in other areas too. Look, I’m not saying you shouldn’t fling a little oil on a sick person—especially if it’s a nice babe in a bikini—but it may be a good idea to advise the patient to make a doctor’s appointment afterward to get some real medicine—if only to avoid a malpractice lawsuit.


One Response

  1. Our new pastor (from Scotland) started a monthly healing service about four months ago. At one about two months ago a lady, who had never been to our church before and was just visiting because a friend was being baptized, was healed quite dramatically.

    She had been in a car accident 14 years prior and had not been able to move her neck/head. She had to turn her upper body to look to the side. She went up for healing and a few minutes later was on the platform moving her head from side to side like she was trying to re-enact a scene from a Linda Blair movie. It was very cool. Instantaneous healing. We’ve had some other quite remarkable healings as well, including one with a prayer cloth sent to another city. The person opened it and was immediately healed from what was anticipated to be a terminal illness. Fun stuff.

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