Jesus’ initial ministry in Galilee, starting with his miracles in Capernaum, brought excited crowds to him looking for healing for themselves or those with them. Wherever he went, whether in Jewish or Gentile territory, crowds came to him.
In today’s gospel, the deaf man brought to him isn’t identified as either Jew or gentile. He’s just deaf and can’t speak. He has no name. What’s significant about this miracle is the way Jesus heals him. “He took him off by himself away from the crowd.” (Mark 7,33)
Jesus takes the man aside privately, he meets him personally, face to face– and is deeply touched– “groans”–at the deaf man’s plight. He touches the man, putting his finger in his ears and his spittle on his tongue. When the deaf man speaks, Jesus says to him and his friends not to tell anyone. One reason may be that Jesus doesn’t want to be typed simply as a healer. But they went and proclaimed it anyway.
Still, why did he take him off “by himself away from the crowd?” A reminder that God does not look on us as a crowd, but knows each of us? We’re not statistics, part of a list. God meets each of us face to face.
And that’s a reminder to treat others that way too. Each has a face of their own and a story that’s unique. That’s hard to do. It’s easier to deal with people as statistics, numbers, people next in line.
For Jesus people were not statistics, one of a crowd, next in line. That’s not God’s way.
The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death.
What a rabble-rouser, this Jesus! Picking grain on the sabbath, and then healing a man with a withered hand—in the synagogue, of all places! How dare he lecture the authorities on “doing good on the sabbath”! Such were the thoughts fomenting among the Pharisees. Buried alive under the letter of the law, their hearts turned stone cold when confronted with their twisted ethic of prioritizing an animal on the sabbath over a human being (Matthew 12:11).
When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place.
There was no point in contending or debating. The hearts of the Pharisees were dead set against him. Another word from him would only add kindling to the fire.
Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.
People were suffering, and so the work of healing and mercy must go on. Jesus acted according to his nature; he could not do otherwise. Love must prevail over all obstacles, even the threat of death. The nature of divine love, however, is unassuming: it acts but seeks no credit. Goodness is as natural, abundant, pervasive, and invisible as the air everyone breathes. What need was there for any special recognition?
This was to fulfill what had been spoken through Isaiah the prophet: Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved in whom I delight; I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. He will not contend or cry out, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.
The Spirit-filled servant prophesied by Isaiah flowed as gently as water over hard and sharp rocks, but just as invincibly—smoothing them over time and conquering them by love. Uncontentious and without fanfare, the lamb of God came to lead the weak and frail to victory in the valley of humility.
Hosea, a prophetic instrument of God, had the unusual vocation of illustrating with his own life God’s undying love for his people. Directed to take an unfaithful woman for his wife who bore children with names denoting the consequences of infidelity, Hosea’s family became a mirror for Israel. The overarching symbol of a “marriage” between God and humanity in the Old and New Testaments was inaugurated by Hosea.
After being banished from the lush garden of Eden, Adam and his progeny ran in every direction after worldly enticements—that which was “a delight to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6)—in the futile attempt to restore the immortal joy for which they were made. The carnival of sights, sounds, scents, tastes and textures of the city of Cain overwhelmed the spirit and sent the inner compass spinning.
Thus says the LORD: I will allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak to her heart.
One does not fight fire with fire, but with its opposite, water. From the city of the world into the desert, Adam needed to be starved of the sensations and idols of the world in order to recover his divine sonship and origin. What “allure” did the desert and the wilderness have for a worldling? None, unless the still, small voice stifled by the clamor of the senses received a hearing from the inner spirit. Usually, only desperation after exhausting the decaying fruit of the city propelled surrender and retreat.
Layer after layer of artificiality and unnatural conventions encrusted the human heart over many generations, yet the still, small voice was never completely silenced. The fundamental yearning for life, a voice above the din, was never destroyed.
The synagogue official, Jairus, in desperation set aside the rumors and prejudices of the religious authorities against Jesus and sought his healing power for his daughter. The woman who suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years, and who was considered ceremonially unclean, broke with religious convention in search of the fundamental good, the fullness of life. Risking severe censure by reaching out to touch Jesus’ tassel, her faith and hope in the bearer of life trumped manmade rules. At the official’s house, Jesus walked into the unnatural fuss and commotion of professional mourners—flute players and wailing women—who “ridiculed him” for declaring the girl “not dead but sleeping.” The still, small voice calling out for life had been wrapped and mummified by a thousand artificial bandages.
Life himself took the little girl by the hand and lifted her from the throes of death and mourning. In raising her up, Jesus showed himself to be the life-giving voice in the desert calling humanity back to the Father.
I will espouse you to me forever: I will espouse you in right and in justice, in love and in mercy; I will espouse you in fidelity, and you shall know the LORD.
Jesus’ fame as a healer spread far and wide in Palestine, attracting not only lepers but foreigners like the Roman centurion. Jews did not associate with either group; one was “unclean,” the other was “Gentile.” Both were sources of defilement.
Jesus tore down walls of division by his compassion towards all people regardless of race, gender, physical and psychological condition, or social status. He must have felt an affinity for the centurion who showed such an unusual compassion for his servant, for under Roman law slaves were classified with tools and chattel. An infirm slave was considered disposable. As the noble centurion reached across social boundaries to help his fellow man, Jesus transcended racial boundaries and offered to go to his Gentile home—a transgression of Jewish law— and heal his servant.
The centurion said in reply, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man subject to authority, with soldiers subject to me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come here,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The centurion’s declaration of faith astounded Jesus. The Roman did not know Christ as the Son of God, but ascribed divine power and authority to him, intuiting by his spirit that Jesus could heal at a distance.
When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I say to you, many will come from the east and the west, and will recline with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the banquet in the Kingdom of heaven, but the children of the Kingdom will be driven out into the outer darkness, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.” And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour his servant was healed.
The racially exclusive court of heaven suddenly widened to include Gentiles in Jesus’ vision of the eternal Kingdom. The presumed heirs may find themselves disinherited, Jesus warned. Heaven is not a national birthright, but the universal communion of the faithful.
After the leper and the centurion, Jesus returned to Peter’s house where he was staying and healed a third person of marginalized status in Israel—a woman. Peter’s mother-in-law immediately began to serve him as soon as she was healed of her fever.
Jesus’ love knew no bounds as he healed every disease and infirmity. God had truly come in the flesh to reveal the secret of heaven: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves” (John 14:11).
As wonderful as miracles are, Jesus wanted above all to lead his people to faith in his Father: “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will not believe,” Jesus admonished (John 4:48). He stood immovably silent in the presence of the sensation-seeking Herod (Luke 23:8-9).
The healing of body, soul and spirit in this world is a sign of the world to come when all divisions in the Body of Christ will be healed and brought to union and communion in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit—the miracle of miracles.
A great persecution broke out in Jerusalem after the stoning death of the deacon Stephen, today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles says. Followers of Jesus, mostly Greek-speaking Jews, were scattered through Judea and Samaria. The apostles– Galileans–seem unaffected by it and remain in Jerusalem.
Persecution leads to new growth, Luke’s account says. The mystery of the cross seems to lead to death, but it brings new life. Individuals experience that mystery, but the church, the world, creation itself, also experience this mystery.
Philip, one of the Hellenic deacons, brings the gospel to the city of Samaria, and “there was great joy in that city.” Philip, a new voice, joins Peter and the other apostles; he preaches the word and “proclaimed the Christ to them.” That’s another theme found in Luke’s writings: new voices proclaim the good news.
Like Jesus, Philip performs signs and wonders. Possessed people are freed; “many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.” Like Jesus, Philip healed people.
The healing ministry is a ministry of the church we may forget or minimize today, but it’s not forgotten in the Acts of the Apostles or the gospels. They’re clear about its importance; it flows from the resurrection of Jesus, who came to raise up our mortal bodies and make them like his own.
In healing, the church reaches out to people in the body, a body that’s fragile from birth till death, a body that needs care and healing. Following Jesus, the church take on a mission to raise up the body, to say it’s valuable no matter how it appears.
Pope Francis defined the church as “ a field hospital,” reaching out to humanity broken in mind and body.
Last summer I visited the Shrine of the American Jesuit Martyrs at Auriesville, New York. I went into the large circular Indian Chapel to pray and light a candle, only few people around.
In came a couple with their son Andrew and his grandparents who came up to the altar to pray. Andrew, a four year old child, was suffering from a serious brain disease which the doctors could not identify. He would go into seizures and flail around and cry out for help and then it would go on for a while and stop. They wanted me to pray over this child and anoint him with sacred oil of the sick, which I did, and he seemed to calm for a while but it did little to help him.
I could see on the faces of the parents and grandparents the pain they were suffering for this child; they have been to the Mayo clinic, Mass General, Johns Hopkins , Baltimore and they keep trying for a cure and spending everything they have to help this child.
In the Gospel from Mark for today the man possessed was a member of a family; very possible family members put him in chains and restraints so that he would not harm himself, but he broke the chains. A spirit spoke to Jesus. “What have you to do with me Jesus, Son of the most high God, do not torment me.”
Jesus calls out “Unclean spirit come out of the man; what is your name?” “LEGION” he says, “and there are many of us…..send us into the swine” which Jesus does and 2000 swine rush over the cliff and drown.
The healed man wants to follow Jesus, but Jesus tells him to go home and be with his family and proclaim the good news about what has happened to them. Jesus notices the man’s family and wants them to be healed as well, for they have suffered much with this man.
We’re called to pray and bless all those who come to us and are suffering, We don’t always know how. God willing, may we help someone who is suffering now.
Recently I sent the blessed oil of St. Charles Houben, a Passionist healing saint, to that family I met. I ask you to pray that the fullness of God’s healing may be upon Andrew, his mom and dad and grandparents. They are wonderful people and deserve our love.
Peter and the other disciples confidently walk among the needy, bringing them life and healing in the name of the Risen Jesus. “Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.” (Acts 5, 15) Healing is a sign of the resurrection.
Our readings from The Acts of the Apostles for the next few days are about the cure of a crippled man in the temple. (Acts 3, 1-4, 37) Peter and John meet the man begging at the temple gate. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, get up and walk,” Peter says, and the man got up and “went into the temple with them, walking and jumping and praising God.”
Jesus began his ministry in Galilee with dramatic healings like that. Peter’s mother in law was among the first he healed on the momentous day he came to Capernaum. (Mark 1, 29-32) Wonder and excitement quickly spread, people flocked to him, but soon opponents began to question and finally try to stop the Nazorean.
His followers continue his healing mission after his resurrection. “In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean” Peter and the rest move others to believe and join them by signs of healing; they also face the reaction Jesus faced when he healed. They face opposition.
An important witness of God’s presence in the early church, is healing still important in our age which trusts so much in modern medicine and the latest drugs and treatments? Pope Francis recently called the church a “field hospital.”A reminder that the church must never abandon it’s mission to be a healing church, witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus, praying for and caring for and sustaining those in need.
The Acts of the Apostles is a template for looking at our church today as well as the church of the past.
These Sundays at Mass we’re looking at the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry vividly described in Mark’s gospel. Jesus came from the Jordan River where he was baptized with Peter and his brother Andrew, and James and his brother John, fishermen from Capernaum.
He was invited to stay in Peter’s house in that town, which today you can see if you’re fortunate to visit the Holy Land. Archeologists have uncovered the town of Capernaum in recent years and you can see the remnants of its old houses made of black basalt, the foundations of the synagogue where Jesus prayed; and beyond the town are the low mountains where he taught. It’s a fascinating place.
Peter’s house was the center of his ministry there, it seems. Mark describes what happened after Jesus cured Peter’s mother in law: “When it was evening after sunset they brought to him all who were ill and possessed by demons, and he cured them. The whole town was gathered at the door.”
In recent times, Franciscan archeologists have identified Peter’s house among the closely packed houses of the town, and a shrine church is built over it now.
So many people crowded around that house that Jesus had to escape to the surrounding hills to pray. Afterwards he told his disciples that he had to visit other towns and places in Galilee.
Probably the leper approached him as he was going to one of those other towns. Our first reading from the Book of Leviticus gives a succinct account of how lepers were treated in those days. They were separated from family and hometowns and sent to live apart in abominable conditions. People were afraid to go near them.
Rembrandt has a wonderful sketch of the lepers approaching Jesus.(above) It looks like Peter, who is behind him, is hiding in back of the Lord afraid to catch anything from the poor creatures who approach begging for help and healing.
Are we too afraid of people like the lepers, people suffering so much, people suffering from unexplained suffering, that we think we’re going to be overwhelmed by their suffering? We hide from the sufferings of the world. “None of that near me,” we say. But Jesus leads us to the leper. Let’s see suffering with him.
In Mark’s gospel, after his baptism and gathering disciples, Jesus immediately begins a ministry of healing. After curing the man in the synagogue convulsed by an unclean spirit, Jesus goes on to cure Simon’s mother-in-law, and then the whole town comes to the door of Peter’s house with their sick.
The healing he brings is not just for bodily life on earth; his healing is a sign of the kingdom that is to come, ‘where Christ will raise our mortal bodies and make them like his own in glory.”
Above, all, we look for that healing, that ultimate healing that takes away our fears before death and helps us make our way to the life promised us.
Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic priest and political activist, died a few days ago. David Brooks in his column in the New York Times yesterday wrote about the priest’s bravery in face of death.“ Some years ago, Neuhaus had a near death experience that gave him a certain grace before that reality we all must face…
When he wrote about his experience later, his great theme was the way death has a backward influence back onto life: ‘We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already under way.’
“It also made him almost indifferent about when his life would end,” Brooks writes. “People would tell him to fight for life and he would enjoy their attention, but the matter wasn’t really in his hands, and everything was ready anyway.
In his final column for First Things, a magazine he edited, he wrote.
“Be assured that I neither fear to die nor refuse to live. If it is to die, all that has been is but a slight intimation of what is to be. If it is to live, there is much I hope to do in the interim.”
We are having an Anointing of the Sick today here in our chapel. May the Lord bring his healing to our house.