“In communion with Him and with one another, let us discover once again where and for whom the Lord is calling us today to serve in His name.”
– Sr. Mary Sujita (9th Superior General of the Sisters of Notre Dame)
The readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time cycle B (Mark 1:29-39) can be found here.
The scripture scholars understand the healings and exorcisms written in the Gospels through the discipline of “Form Criticism.” Scholars will tell you that the formulaic structures of these stories indicate use in liturgical settings, such as synagogue worship services. These stories of healing and exorcism fit well with the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur, and perhaps they were written and used for just this purpose.
Mark Allan Powell tells us in his book Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee that “the healings and exorcisms were experienced as an incursion of otherworldly power. Historically, we must acknowledge that Jesus presented himself as a person through whom such power could and did operate, and that those around him experienced him as a channel of such power. The fact that the power was said to operate for healing is also significant, for it indicates what sort of spirit person Jesus was.”
What sort of spirit people are we?
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw a man casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him; for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon after to speak evil of me. For he that is not against us is for us.
– Mark 9:38-40
In the healing traditions of the Catholic Church we have something called Extreme Unction. The words may sound strange to you, but you know them by another name; Last Rites, or Anointing of the Sick.
Richard Rohr called Extreme Unction a “sin management system” because we tended to use the anointing as the last chance to get things right with God. Healing does not have to be a last ditch effort. We are called to heal and in the process transform ourselves and our communities.
Extreme Unction may be as close as we get to experiencing the healing touch of Jesus, and it is sad that it only comes at the end of our lives.
Megan McKenna, in her book Tasting the Word of God: Commentaries on the daily lectionaries, tells us that “the disciples have seen Jesus heal, and now they are sent out to the villages with the authority to heal and cast out any spirit that hinders people from living as the children of God, imitating his own work.”
Megan also reminds us that “as believers, this is our work, our calling together – some for a lifetime, others for a time of apprenticeship and learning, others to encourage and sustain those on the road for the Lord.”
So, this is our work as believers, and if we are going to imitate Jesus and heal people, we are going to get our hands dirty. This is not something we can add to a list of prayer intentions or names of people we pray for during hourly adoration. No, if we are going to imitate Jesus we need to recognize those people in our lives that need healing and offer the compassion of Jesus.
Another item to note; Jesus did not heal only those who were Jews. There was no litmus test for people to be deserving of healing. Jesus didn’t even require people to believe in God before they were healed. If we are going to imitate Jesus we are called to heal Atheists as well as Christians.
A man asked Rabbi Hillel to teach him the entire Torah, the five books of Moses, while standing on one foot. And Hillel did.
What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That’s the whole Torah, he said. All the rest is commentary. Now go and study.
– Modern Lessons From Hillel
If you ask, how do I heal those around me, the answer begins with compassion. We need to eliminate our emphasis on being right and replace it with compassion for others.
If you take one thing from this homily it should be to search your heart and ask yourself what is painful to you, then never bring that pain to somebody else. That is the sort of spirit people we are called to be.
It will not be easy because we have created lepers and outcasts in our society and we are encouraged to treat those people with injustice, inequality and lack of respect. Some of our religious leaders have institutionalized injustice, inequality and lack of respect, but we can always turn to Jesus for our example.
I pray that when you hear words of violence, hatred, or disdain for others that you will remember instead those stories of Jesus healing the sick and respond with compassion.