God’s healing mercy

Gospel commentary Mt 2:1-12

Few things were more repugnant in Jesus’ day than leprosy. There was no cure. It was contagious. Caused by a slow-growing bacteria, leprosy affects the nerves, skin and eyes. It leads to the crippling of the hands and feet, paralysis and blindness.

In addition to the painful and debilitating physical realities, a leper was forced into becoming a social and religious outcast. A Jew with leprosy had to present himself to the priest who would declare him unclean. He had to ring a bell when he ran into people and cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” Lepers were banished from society and forced to dwell on the outskirts of town. They also were considered sinners and were banned from entering the local synagogue or the Temple in Jerusalem. It could not get much worse.

In the Gospel today, a leper casts aside these cultural mores and boldly approaches Jesus in public. He draws near to Jesus, falls to his knees and says: “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Jesus is moved with pity at the presence of this suffering soul. He stretches out His hand, touches him and immediately the leper becomes clean.

The casting out of demons and the healing of the blind, the lame and others variously afflicted comprised a major element of Jesus’ ministry. These acts of Jesus manifest the reality that the kingdom of God has dawned upon the earth. They are a clear indication of His divinity. They demonstrate Jesus’ power over Satan, sin and death. These healings proclaim that Jesus came to set humanity free from captivity to evil. Finally, they also point to a much deeper reality — Jesus came to heal every human being from the most repugnant disease of all — sin. Jesus came with a bottomless jar of healing balm, His loving mercy.

We can’t spend too much time exploring this element of Jesus’ ministry before we ask the question, why does Jesus not heal physically and immediately every sick person walking the earth? One outstanding reason is that the suffering that results from various physical ailments is often the only way that God can break through our stubborn pride that tempts us to think we are self-made and self-saved — that we do not need God. Suffering is, for some people, the only medicine that can heal them of the great sin of believing that they are not God’s children and are not radically dependent upon Him for life, purpose and love. Suffering helps us to grasp that we are not Lord of our own lives. 

On a different note, God chooses to allow some of His children to be united particularly to Jesus by being joined to the suffering He endured during His public ministry, most especially His passion. When these faith-filled children intentionally unite their pain and misery to the supreme act of suffering that Jesus endured in the garden and on the cross, they complete the suffering of Christ and help Him redeem the world. They choose in love to unite themselves to the passion of Jesus because love hates to see the beloved suffer and they want to share His suffering. Many, if not most, of the saints came to this beautiful level of faith and bore witness that our faith is a profound source of strength and hope.

The leper’s response to Jesus’ extraordinary gift of healing is to publicize the whole miraculous event. You get a sense that he simply could not hold back his joy. The proper response to God’s healing work in our lives is to proclaim joyfully His marvels and spend oneself in humble service to God and neighbor.

How are you responding to God’s healing and mercy in your life today?

Fr. Peterson is director of mission and development for the Youth Apostles.

 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018