God’s Healing Hand
The first chapter of Mark’s Gospel ends with Jesus healing a victim of leprosy. The lepers of biblical times had to shout “unclean” to warn people away from them. They were forced to live in isolated places. This immediately calls to mind today’s victims of the COVID-19 corona virus. They, too, are isolated from society and we are warned to stay away from them. So even if Jesus were standing here among us, they could not approach him. And so it was with the leper in the Gospel, but somehow he managed to break through the taboos, and there he is, at Jesus’ feet begging: “If you want to, you can cure me.” Jesus also breaks through a major taboo and touches the leper saying: “Of course I want to! Be cured!” He was cured of the leprosy at once.
But Jesus did not cure all lepers of all time, so we ask: Why all this suffering, especially of innocent children or helpless people? Of course, much suffering can be blamed on our inconsiderate treatment of one another. All suffering caused by war can be put at humanity’s doorstep. Many natural disasters as well come from how we have violated the ecosystem. But putting these aside, the big question remains: Why so much suffering if God is so good?
Suffering is part of the reality of being limited. But God comes to us in Jesus, and Jesus himself suffers along with us. The verb used in the Gospel of the leper to show Jesus’ emotion is a strong word meaning that was deeply moved interiorly with a gut feeling of disgust for the disease and compassion for the victim. He is overcome with com-passion, meaning that he suffers with the victim. He is our companion and our strength in our sufferings.
Jesus raises the sick, touches lepers, welcomes children, gives support and encouragement, blessing and companionship to all. But his healing does not directly extend to the whole world, to all people of all times. It works through us in various ways. For example, medical science and various technologies have brought us great health and happiness, and thanks to them we now have vaccines to help us out of this corona virus situation. But there are still many physical and spiritual miseries that we must take care of. We are the hands and feet, the eyes and smiles of Jesus in our world today. I felt this when I spent six weeks in a hospital some years ago and felt the hand of God working for me through the professional knowhow and the compassionate hands of the doctors and nurses, of the cleaning and maintenance staff.
Christian charity is a response to immediate needs: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick, help the homeless. They do not need explanations. They need our presence, our nearness, and whatever help we can give. We can give them our time and our respect so as to take them seriously and encourage them in their struggle with sadness and grief. We may have to bear with their irritability and frustration, their anxiety for the future, their frustrated hopes. It may not be easy to listen, but if we put ourselves in their place and listen to what they say (or do not say), we may help them come to terms with themselves and strive for interior peace They may eventually come to believe in the bigger healing Jesus brought about through his own suffering and death—the assurance and healing hope of resurrection to eternal life!
Those limited miracles that Jesus performed point beyond death to the compassionate Father of mercy, who shares our suffering when Jesus suffers with us and for us to give us eternal life. Eternal life does not mean some future afterlife floating around on fluffy clouds. Eternal life means that God is with us here and now, giving us his Son in the Eucharist and filling us with his Spirit to guide us. God loves us so much that he made himself able to live and rejoice with us, to share our suffering and death so as to show us the way to eternal life. And now he asks us to be associated with him in healing the many wounds of the world.
At the beginning of Lent the priest sprinkles ashes on our head and says: “Repent and believe the gospel.” Surrounded by so much corona sickness and death, we realize our need for the helping hand of the Lord to raise us up and truly believe the Good News of the Gospel.
By Fr. Robert Chiesa SJ