Faith, Courage, and the Cure

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Two stories intertwined. Mt 9:18-26 First an official tells Jesus of his daughter’s death with the request that Jesus comes quickly so that he might lay His hands on her. The second, the story of the hemorrhaging woman who quietly hopes to touch His cloak that she might be healed. The final returns to the little girl’s funeral procession. Add the detail that Jesus turns to the hemorrhaging woman and says “Courage woman, your faith has saved you.”

The details of this story, or these stories is rich, and it is easy to get lost in details. With all of those details, where does one start their investigation? This time around, I think those words spoken by Jesus might be the ideal place. Courage and Faith are the keys to the story. If courage and faith healed the bleeding woman, might they not be the clue to what the little girl’s father needs?

While Jesus was speaking, an official came forward,
knelt down before him, and said,
“My daughter has just died.
But come, lay your hand on her, and she will live.”
Jesus rose and followed him, and so did his disciples.

With the father and his little girl, the reader must first decide who needs to be cured. The obvious one is the little girl, she is the one the father seeks help for. Shouldn’t one also question the father’s health too? The loss of a loved one can take its toll on someone’s health. Faith and Courage. The father had faith in Jesus, might he also need a little courage. Like the bleeding woman, Jesus understood her request even though it was silent. The Lord answered the father’s plea even before it became audible. Jesus entered into creation to heal the sick, his nativity was the cure set into motion.

If God the Father loved the world so much that He sent His only Son, how much suffering awaited the innocent little girl in death. On the cross Jesus conquers death, and in His tomb He descends into the depths of hell to set those captives free. The little girl’s father has faith in Jesus and that is why he approached Him. The courage in one’s faith during a person’s darkest time is a challenge. Jesus is merciful, he visits the girl and a death ritual is taken place. The death ritual is cultural, it has its origins in man and not the divine. It reinforces man’s thoughts of life and death, God and man, heaven and hell. Rituals reinforce man’s thoughts, they do not correct those thoughts. If man believes something that is not true, ritual reinforces those beliefs. A lie gains strength. Enter Jesus, the cure.

A woman suffering hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him
and touched the tassel on his cloak.
She said to herself, “If only I can touch his cloak, I shall be cured.”
Jesus turned around and saw her, and said,
“Courage, daughter! Your faith has saved you.”

Now comes a comparison between the death of an innocent little girl, and a hemorrhaging woman. Jesus, in the story, dismisses those practicing the death ritual. Their ideas on life and death and heaven and hell are wrong. Their ritual does nothing to bring about healing, instead it makes those involved deathly ill. It is especially damaging to the father. Heaven was a distant star, so distant that the father would be left terribly alone. Fearful and uncertain of his daughters future. To reach that distant star required the fulfillment of certain prescriptions, and if not fulfilled what awaited his daughter? Enter the hemorrhaging woman and her fate. She for certain was destined for the depths of hell, and sentenced there for nothing of her own doing. So certain was her condemnation that no one dare touch her, no one except Jesus. He cures her as he cures the little girl. Faith and courage. Faith in a God of love and mercy, and the courage to follow HIM.

Jesus in His mission leads people back to His Father. He restores the understanding between God and man, and redefines a relationship between heaven and hell. His preaching is not one of life and death, but one of everlasting life. He does not preach eternal condemnation, but of a merciful forgiveness. In His gospel the bleeding woman is not sentenced to an eternity in hell, she is granted the opportunity to enter Gods kingdom no matter what her earthly affliction might be. The little girl’s father is granted the certainty that his daughter is loved whatever her state in life might be. God is a loving God, and a merciful God. He also is assured that his daughter is no further away than a prayer. He too has been cured.

The (hidden) healing prayer

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It’s the first day after Pentecost, and that is said to put one into a frame of mind. It is to jar ones memory into thinking of the Holy Spirit. The gospel reading on this first day after Pentecost describes a man bringing his possessed son to the disciples for a healing. Mk 9:14-29. Their healing fails, and in desperation the Father brings his son to Jesus. He begs for help. Jesus indeed does cure the son, but this is what caught my eye. I might have missed this if it were not for yesterday’s feast. The father asks Jesus “If you can do anything” to help his son. Jesus replies “If YOU can do anything!” A few small words buried in the narrative, Jesus requires that the man do something to heal his son. Jesus can cure his boy, but only if one condition is met. There must be faith. Faith in God, and faith in all that God can do. The man declares his faith, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” He asks, he begs, and therefore he prays. With those petitions, his son is saved. His prayers are answered. With all of the detail that is given in that narrative it is easy to miss a couple of lines, but those lines are of extreme importance. They underscore the importance of faith and prayer, they describe a God that listens.

But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him,
“‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”

When the healing had been completed, the Apostles question why they were not successful. The answer is that prayer was required to drive away the demon. I wonder then what did those apostles do, what did they invoke to bring about a cure? I have my suspicion, but I turn my thoughts to a time they were successful. It was after the passion of Christ when a beggar asks Peter for some coin. He replies he has no money, but he will give what he does have: “In the name of Jesus Christ get up and walk.” That was an example of the strength the Apostles gained after the resurrection. It was when their faith was certain. Today though they are mere novices, Jesus tells them the healing required prayer. It required faith filled prayer, not incantations, not rhetoric, and not rituals. They could not simply go through the motions, they had to believe. It required the strength of conviction that the Holy Spirit so often delivers. I can hint too that there is an apostle’s prayer hidden in this healing narrative. They did ask “Jesus, what did we do wrong?” and He answered their call. He answered their prayer, no matter how simple the words. “Good God, what did I do wrong” Come Holy Spirit.

Monday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time

Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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How does someone approach these three readings of today? In the first Isaiah declares himself unfit for prophesy, yet becomes one of the greatest prophets. In the second Paul addresses the church at Corinth, and tells his biography. He was initially a great persecutor of Christians, but eventually becomes known as the Apostle to the Gentiles. In the third a tired fisherman named Peter is obedient to a carpenters son, and takes his boat out even though head not caught anything all day. Without first considering the writing of Isaiah, or the letter of Paul; what do we know about the turning point in their lives? For Isaiah, he accepted being a prophet. For Paul, he accepted the call of Christ. For Isaiah, being a prophet placed him in honor but what were the risks. What happened to a prophet when their prophecy did not turn true? What if they were declared a false prophet? For that the fate was death. Isaiah questioned his worthiness, and he also feared the task. Yet he did what God had asked him to do. He left the safety of comfort and sailed into deep unchartered waters. He didn’t do what was easy, he did what was required.

Is 6:1-2a, 3-8

The same is true with Paul. Paul was a vigorous persecutor of Christians, and he was a devout and well educated Pharisee. When on the road to Damascus, Christ appeared and said Paul why are you persecuting me; Paul left the religion he knew and followed the course of the Christians. Not an easy thing to do, Paul could have had a comfortable existence following the Judaism he knew. Instead, he followed Christ. He placed himself before that persecution he once practiced on Christians. In listening to Christ, he placed himself in the danger from the Pharisees and faced uncertainty with the Christians. Would they reject one that was so cruel to them? Paul did not take an easy course, a point he makes in that letter to the Corinthians.

1 Cor 15:1-11

The same is true of Peter when Jesus asks him to fish in those deep waters. The sea is a dangerous place, and he placed himself at great risk going into those waters even though he was certain there were no fish. Yet he was obedient, and reaped an abundant catch. Charting a course into deep waters is common for those early disciples, Jesus often asks they place themselves far from comfort. He asks them to take risks, and challenges them to go where they would prefer to avoid. Yet the follow his command and reap a great reward. When I think of those disciples leaving the safety of those shores, I think of that storm at sea. I think of them landing on a shoreline haunted by demons. I also see  them witnessing Christ overcome the stormy waters, and gaining victory over those demons. I see the strength the gain when facing those challenges. I also look at these readings and the calendar today. Ash Wednesday is three days away, and for forty days Christ asks that His disciples leave the comfort of the shore, and travel to deep and uncomfortable and challenging and treacherous waters. The Lenten season should be something profound, and should go deep into a persons soul. It should visit our uncomfortable sickness, and brokenness, and sins so that we might be healed like those demons far across the sea.

Lk 5:1-11

Thursday of the First Week of Ordinary Time

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Todays gospel doesn’t seem to be an overcomplicated one, its message appears to be very easily grasped.Mk 1:40-45 In this reading a leper tells Jesus He can rid him of the disease if he so desires, and Jesus does reach out and cures him. It is a simple call and response. The leper cries out and Jesus responds. It is a reminder for Christians to be responsive to those in need, it is a reminder for Christians to reach out to those in need. Jesus leads by example. A lesson can also be seen in that lepers actions, the leper also reaches out and asks for relief if it is Gods will. The leper enters into a dialogue with Christ, and that is something to remember when in trouble. Cry out. These are simple lessons easily grasped , but so often ignored. I should add that at the period of time that this gospel story takes place few would have reached out to that leper. In that day the lepers infirmary was regarded to be of his own fault. He was not wounded, but a sinner. Jesus actions tells of Gods mercy, and of Gods desire for us to be made whole. It is an action of love, compassion , mercy, and forgiveness in the form of a simple extended hand.

 

 

Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time

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How do you approach Jesus’s miracle healings? How is a person to interpret them, do we view them as medical marvel or do we read more into them? I think everyone has their own approach but in today’s gospel reading it is the first reading from Isaiah that offers some insight. Isaiah is the Old Testament prophet that guides the Israelites through their exile, and Isaiah is also the one whose prophecy gives evidence of Jesus as the messiah. In the first reading Isaiah describes a messiah that heals. The blind see, the mute speak, and the deaf hear. Using that as a guide, the account of Jesus healing records an action of Jesus as Isaiah’s prophesy fulfilled. The fulfillment of those prophetic visions punctuate the gospel accounts.

Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared

In the gospel reading Jesus preforms this miracle in a specific location, and the writer spends time on describing that place. Collectively it is the Decapolis. The detail might (does) describe an historical fact, but what are the specifics of this region? Details add depth to the story, it sets a scene. The Decapolis is a region where Jesus devotes a large amount of His ministry to. It is a Roman stronghold, largely autonomous, and heavily populated with Gentiles. In that region a first century Jew would be in the minority, and groups such as the Pharisees would have a difficult time negotiating such a culture. For Jesus to perform a miracle there is no small event. The people that brought the deaf and dumb man to Jesus begged that Jesus lay His hands on him. I wonder why, and if they expected a response? By the sounds of those people’s cheers, Jesus restored more than a man’s senses. Jesus restored a people’s faith. It was not simply a body that was brought back to health, but also a relationship. Jesus is all about restoring a relationship. His mission is to restore a relationship between God and man.

They were exceedingly astonished and they said,
“He has done all things well.
He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The rest of the gospel account goes through the details of the healing. Jesus takes the man aside. He puts His finger into the man’s ear, and touches his tongue. Jesus makes physical contact with that individual, and what does that suggest? It tells that Jesus the Christ, and Christos means the messiah, was in close proximity to crippled man. All of those details point to a cure that required that a messiah be in close contact with the people he restored. To the people of that day, there would be little trouble having faith in a messiah that descended upon a cloud, or resided in a cloud, or who was visible through lightening, or fire, or water. A messiah that was born of a woman, and in a manger? Preposterous! A messiah the son of a laborer? Who could believe that? In the Old Testament God could take any form, to Moses God was revealed in a burning bush. To the Hebrews God resided in a cloud and a pillar of fire, and eventually took residence in the Temple. That was believable, but Jesus Christ, Son of man was a challenge. The healing tells of an action that required salvation to enter into creation. That is something worth noting. A healing of hearing, and speech, and perception. That physical presence is important. It is not simply “the Word” but also “the Body” The Mass has two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Body as the Eucharist. Does the Mass heal?

The final part of the healing concerns the senses. The two senses that were restored are closely related, hearing and speech. Hearing properly aids one in speaking clearly. Jesus took the person aside, away from the noise and commotion so that they could quite literally take hold of their senses. Jesus led the person to a place where they could regain their perspective and continue along the right path. Surprisingly that part of the miracle is quite common, though often not so dramatic. It is the good news of Jesus Christ.