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THE FIFTH SUNDAY OF ORDINARY TIME B (2018)
MIRACLES OF HEALING (MK 1:29FF.)
This Sunday initiates a set of Sunday readings from the Bible concerning Jesus as healer and the sicknesses he healed.
The Biblical Setting
The Old Testament provides the background to Jewish realism on this subject. From the Book of Job we read of the classical case of suffering that pushes even the best people to the very limit of their endurance. How it is coped with determines the greatness of humanity. Personal relationships are typical in the practical day to day exchange with God and with fellow human beings. Anthropological and philosophical speculation are not of primary interest. The Bible does not describe people as much given to introspection. It is basically about the way people are and what they should do to honour the will of God. They live in family and community and qualitative living determines their fate. Salvation is a word that carries a lot of meanings- it is not just about the soul of a dead person surviving physical death and getting into heaven, having outlived the trials and tribulations of earthly existence. In the Old Testament it has to do with health, wealth and peaceful relationships under God. This idea continues in the New Testament, but now it is living with and in Christ as a child of God in this life and forever.
So people are nearly always engaged relationally. For instance, sickness is assessed as a personal and social concern. Sickness invokes a wider compass than pure concern for the individual sick person. It is understood in the world as a shared network of communal experiences. God created the world and chose the people Israel with its responsibilities in a specific land. The communitarian aspect is nearly always accentuated and can nearly always be presumed as present for them.
Healing the Mother-in-Law of Simon
The healing of Simon’s mother-in-law reveals the mind and heart of Jesus. Our Gospel shows him as utterly sympathetic. He was not asked to heal her. He just did. There was no fuss but the message went out. After healing her he healed any and all who were sick, by laying hands on them. Demons recognized him as the Son of God. When people tried to keep him just for themselves he said: I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose. His whole missionary programme is thus set out. The kingdom of God is present as he overcomes all forms of alienation, moral, mental and physical. He brings about the order in the world that is consonant with God's will. God wants people’s happiness. This is the context in which we find the first recollection in St. Mark of Jesus the Healer.
To do and to suffer is the lot of human kind. Jesus knew this well. He was brought up in a devout home and took part in the social and liturgical life of his people. These were closely interconnected. He knew what people prayed for and he knew why they prayed. The miracles that came to be accomplished through his personal intervention were in fact all in the context of prayer. There was no magic, no breaking of the laws of nature, no gimmicks or cheating, no theatrical performances. People were sick and were cured. Those asking for the cure themselves or other people asking it for them expressed total dependence on God. When cured they gave thanks and expectedly went on to live a life consonant with fidelity to God's commandments. Those who witnessed the miracles were amazed and all spread the message and gave praise to God. Healing was in the context of faith expressed and faith acknowledged. There is no hesitation about the way Jesus did things. Before his day the Old Testament prophets like Moses and Elijah worked miracles. They did so as faithful servants of God. Jesus often went further including a reference to Himself such as forgiving sin. This was taken as blasphemous.
It is impossible to think of New Testament miracles without the act of faith. In what lies its great importance? It is an act of personal commitment and trust in the living awesome salvific presence of God, and especially in his Son Jesus. It is the sign of humility on the part of a person who is in need, believing that a world of love and sympathy comes through Jesus. It involves gratitude. The person in need is humble of heart (Mt 11:25-27). And very interestingly this self description of Jesus comes when he is giving thanks, namely praying to the Father, and at the same time revealing his own identity. Thanks and supplication are a fundamental part of his prayer. In the parable the publican's prayer was heard because he was humble, admitting his guilt and total dependence on the mercy of God (Lk 18:9-14).
So faith is trust in God and in Jesus. It acknowledges with simplicity of heart that the believer needs everything, and that as believer he or she should be grateful for everything. Miracles- or wonders- as the Bible calls them, attest belief in a creator God who sent his Son into the world not to condemn it but to save it. God so loved the world that this should happen (Jn 3:6).
Are we not praying for things all the time? Our whole life is a network of needs that we know we cannot deal with without help. This is not just sickness, but relationships, jobs, exams, just about everything. We live life as a mystery; we live it with the act of faith. To live differently is just silly: we have to trust other folk all the time, that they tell the truth, that they honour their promises, that they drive carefully. There is no end to trust. The Christian act of faith is profoundly realistic. Simon’s mother-in-law got on with life as usual after her cure. Was that not typical too of others who were cured? We are at peace when we do no doubt this. A peaceful Sunday to you all. Amen.
Rev Richard J. Taylor
Boarbank Hall, Cumbria, UK