Sunday, 5 February 2012
5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, Shaftesbury
Mk 1:29-39; Job 7:1-4.6-7
Today’s account of the healing of a mother-in-law reminds me of the old joke about St Peter, which you may or may not have heard, but it goes like this:
Why did Peter betray Jesus? Because he never forgave Jesus for healing his mother-in-law!
I offer that as a little segue into a consideration of the Lord Jesus’s healing work in general. It is, of course, one of the characteristic parts of what the Lord came to do that He healed the sick. As we heard in that passage, He healed not only Peter’s mother-in-law but also the vast multitudes who came “crowding round the door”.
This simple fact tells us a major part of the answer to the problem of suffering, namely, that the Lord God seeks our wholeness, our healing (even though He does sometimes permit suffering).
Our first reading from Job had the despondent poetry of the suffering prophet. Part of what the Messiah came to reveal as the answer the problem of suffering is to reveal that God seeks our healing.
This fact, however, does not illustrate ALL that Jesus came to do. We know that there must have been many sick people in Galilee that He never got around to healing. And we know from this passage that He indicated that there was something more important that He had to get on and do: to preach, “for that is why I have come” (Mk 1:38).
Preaching might seem a much less important thing for Him to be doing than healing, UNLESS we realise what He came to preach, and the DEEPER healing of SOUL that His preaching aimed at.
We say in the new translation of the Mass, shortly before going up to receive Holy Communion, “only say the word and my SOUL shall be healed”. We pray at other times, many times, for healing of the body. But at that pivotal moment we pray for the healing of the soul –the soul that directs and governs our body, the soul that must be healed if we are to have a healing that will last into eternity and not just for our few years on this earth.
And what does my soul need healing from? From sin, healed by forgiveness. From distress and worry, healed by the presence of the Lord Himself whose presence is strength for our weakness.
It is the presence of God Himself that brings this deepest healing, and that brings me to the point about WHAT it was that Jesus came to preach.
His preaching was not just about a message but about a person, about Himself.
His message was that God cares, that God has come, and has come in His very person. Come in the person of the Messiah, and come to remain with us in both the Spirit the Christ would send and in the Sacraments He would establish in His Church.
That message was a message He could only reveal gradually, it would not have made sense to start out by saying “I am God” –it only made sense in the context of His ministry, and especially of His death and resurrection.
Because it was a gradual revelation it is often referred to as “the messianic secret”. A secret He often told others not to make know until after He rose from the dead (e.g. Mk 8:30 and 9:9) –so that often, as we’re used to hearing in the gospels, after He healed someone He would command them not to make Him known, and as we heard an example today, after He drove the demons out He commanded the demons not to make Him known.
And yet, ultimately, He did come to make Himself known.
He came to make Himself known because this is what He came to preach:
God has come among us,
He cares for us and comes to heal us by His very presence, a presence which brings strength and consolation.
That, more than the temporary healing of the body, is what He came to do for Peter’s mother-in-law, and for every one of us.
“only say the word, and my soul shall be healed”