Jun 27, 2015

13th Sunday: "Just have faith"

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each time we prayed with earnest faith for the healing of a loved one, that person would indeed be healed?  There would be no need for the enormous cost of health care since all we would need to do is ask God to heal the sick and they would be healed.   “God the Doctor” would come to our rescue each time any kind of misfortune or affliction would show its ugly head. 

Goodbye cancer; goodbye diabetes; goodbye leukemia and tuberculosis; goodbye the common cold and any other type of illness.  

Yet is this somewhat simplistic attitude the way to interpret such healing stories by Jesus as we hear in the Gospel this Sunday?  I think for the vast majority of us who believe that God hears our prayers, particularly on behalf of the suffering, it seems that God has chosen to work in and through us.  How often have you heard said, or maybe stated yourself, “I’m so glad that I live in this time when health care is able to do so many good things.” The average length of life has increased exponentially over the last 100 years.  Many parts of the world, however, still suffer from inadequate care, however. Still, we imagine health care in the early 1900’s and offer a prayer of gratitude for the amazing progress today. 

The point of all this is to call for deeper trust in a God who does not rejoice in suffering but remains fully in control of everything.  The book of Wisdom today in Chapter 1, our first reading, reaffirms this: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living . . . for God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.” Still, death and violence prevail all around us.  Pope Francis recently commented on the violence in today’s world and said it is as if we are in World War III.  A chilling thought.

The synagogue official who came to Jesus in today’s Gospel from Mark 5 is stunning in its simplicity. It is surprising that a man of his stature in the community would admit that Jesus had such power over illness and potential death. Serious illness and death was common in the ancient world in which about 60% of children never lived beyond their teen years so the plea of this official is not unusual but it is striking for its expression of faith.

You can almost hear the tone of voice in which this official named Jarius comes forward.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and pleads with desperation likely with tears in his eyes: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”  It is a moving act of profound faith in the power he felt Jesus had and we can undoubtedly assume Jesus was deeply touched.  But deeper still, not only was this an opportunity to return this child and her family to good social status but also a moment to encourage faith in others.  

Surrounded by the din of wailers, customary in the face of death, Jesus disregards the understanding that Jarius’ daughter has died and questions their “commotion and weeping.” The girl is merely asleep and not dead.  It seems a kind of insensitive statement on the part of Jesus.

Yet, these miracle stories foreshadow and greater reality about who Jesus is for us. “Do not be afraid; just have faith,” Jesus says to Jarius.  Is this about his daughter’s situation only or about something more? Fear can bring doubt and overwhelm us. Jesus brings peace and trust. Time and again in the healing stories of Jesus we see him remind the person healed that it is by their faith that God has worked this good for them but the bigger question of who Jesus truly is pleads to be answered.

In the encounter with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus who had died, (Jn 11), Jesus says to Mary: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me even if he dies, will live . . . Do you believe this?” (Jn 11: 25).  While he raised Lazarus in a very dramatic manner he also stated his nature and purpose.  Can we believe in that?  That Jesus is ultimately the hope of humankind and that through him we see God’s power over sin and its consequence of death. 

Again, we are reminded through the book of Wisdom today that God did not create death.  This was not in his plan.  Yet we live constantly with the mystery of suffering and violence.  True faith is not to expect that God will think only of me and my needs, wants, and desires however sincere our prayer and the cause may be.  Instantly healed, which is extremely rare, or more normally not we must walk as loyal disciples of Christ Jesus and proclaim him as resurrection and life. In the face of suffering and death Christ calls us to trust and loyalty. 

Healing stories assure us that God does not take pleasure in suffering and that he does have power to heal – body and spirit.  My loved one may not improve yet my faith may certainly increase as I witness the compassion of others.  For example those who serve selflessly in Hospice care. 

I may be overwhelmed by the care of others in hospital visits, promise of prayers, generous offers to drive one to doctor appointments or offer food during a time of recovery.  I may have received cards and flowers with generous thoughts of concern for my health or that of another.  I may be touched by the compassion of nurses and doctors who patiently explain every step of the treatment or prescribe some medication that really does the trick.  Aren’t these miracles of healing through which our compassionate Lord reaches out?  It not only changes me but it changes those around me. Such models of mercy may not be present if a healing were instantaneous. Yet we know that a miracle is a miracle because they happen rarely. 

God wants to change us to be more compassionate and merciful like him.  In this way our faith in him is increased and we are more likely moved to reach out to others in desperation after his example.  I think it is, as tough as it may seem at times, miraculous.

Our sickness, therefore, may be more intense than physical.  Moral sickness, caught in habits of sin, or to be simply indifferent to the way Christ shows us, is in desperate need of healing.  To turn fear into peace of mind and doubt into trusting faith is a true miracle of grace. 

Our Eucharist reminds us that Jesus has provided food for the journey through life.  His presence under the signs of bread and wine create a union with him and others so that we never walk alone.  We pray for the sick and suffering, surely, and hope that they may be healed in whatever manner God chooses best.  We pray that we are not the cause of suffering for others but we know that the Church provides a way to be healed through faith and our sacramental life. 

Be not afraid; just have faith.”