by Fr. Jack McArdle
Whenever we think of the results of original sin, we speak of so much more than just sin. We must also speak of a sinful condition that leaves us with human brokenness, and the many results of that original Fall. As humans, we are made of clay, 'and onto clay we shall return'. God breathed his Spirit into the clay, and we became alive. As a result of original sin, that creation of God became polluted, and another spirit predominated. The only way back for us for re-creation. Jesus came to remove what was evil, and to restore what was good. 'I came that you should have life, and have it more abundantly'. He came to lead us back from alienation, from death, from sickness, into friendship, to life, and to health.
Jesus himself was God's healing Word, he was God's healing touch. The Father reached out to us through him, to make us whole again. What God created was good. As Jesus explained about the weeds among the wheat, 'an enemy has done this.' It is just not possible for us to re-create ourselves, to lift ourselves out of the quicksand of our sinful condition. In himself, Jesus took on our human condition, so that 'he who was without sin became sin,.....and through his wounds we are healed.' The absence of well-being within our spirits was reflected in the outward condition of our bodies. Blindness can be so much more than a physical handicap. There is a deafness of heart, and a crippling spirit that can choke the spark of life within. Jesus came as a human being. Therefore, it was through the human in us that he would heal. As he healed the eyes of the body, he would also open the eyes of the soul. He would heal both body and soul. He would heal totally, or not at all. I couldn't imagine him healing a blind man, and then have that man go down thr road full of hatred for his brother. That could not be called healing in any true sense of that word. 'And the man followed Jesus down the road, praising and glorifying God.'
Jesus did not go around healing anybody. He went around with the power to heal, and the person on the roadside had to make a decision. God doesn't give me anything, He offers me everything. Bartimeus, the blind man, had a choice. He sensed the excitement, and he asked what was happening. He was told that 'Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.' The choice facing Bartimeus was to stop Jesus and be healed, or die a blind man. Jesus was passing by, and he would have kept on going, if Bartimeus allowed that happen. He did not allow that happen, however. He seized the moment of grace, and he cried out with all his heart 'Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me'. The people around him tried to silence him, but he shouted all the louder 'Son of David, have mercy on me'. It is not possible for a human being to fall on his knees, cry out to God, and not be heard. Jesus stopped, and called Bartimeus to come to him. In a way this was strange. Bartimeus was blind, and Jesus might well have been expected to go over to him. No, the onus is still on Bartimeus, the initiative is still his. Bartimeus flung off his old cloak, and ran towards Jesus. Then another strange thing happened. Jesus spoke to him, and asked 'What do you want me to do for you?' Now it must have been obvious to everyone present that the man was blind. Surely he wanted to see again. Perhaps, but he had to say so himself. Of course, God knows what's wrong with us, and yet Jesus says 'Ask and you will receive.' And so Bartimeus was brought to the final requirement for being healed, i.e., he told Jesus exactly what was wrong, and he asked Jesus to heal him.
In a general way, it could be said that there were three conditions needed for a miracle in the gospel. The first was the total failure of all the efforts and attempts of the persons themselves to solve their own problems. The little woman in the crowd had spent every penny she had over the previous twelve years, and was still not any better. The man at the pool had been there for thirty-three years, and he still was waiting for a healing. Peter had fished all night and caught nothing. I'm sure he tried every method, and he probably rowed to every corner of the lake, before conceding defeat. It is reasonable to presume that Jairus had done everything possible for his daughter, and it was only when he realised that all his best was just not enough, that he came to Jesus. It is obvious that the Centurion held his servant in very high regard, and was prepared to go to any lengths to ensure his well-being. From the story it would seem that he himself ran off to meet Jesus, leaving the others looking after the servant. When the miracle happened, it was they who came running to the Centurion to announce the good news.
I find it totally absorbing, insightful, and fascinating to 'watch' Jesus healing. It tells so much about him, and it explains so much of what he brought to his mission. He is obviously not going to do for us something we can easily do for ourselves. (Like the old man, whose beard went on fire, and he prayed it might start raining!). In our own day, I see the Lord continuing his healing ministry at the hands of the medical and the caring profession. However, there comes a line where the human runs out of resources, and God himself has to intervene directly. That, I think, is what we call a miracle. Only God can work miracles. We ourselves, of course, can have a very real say in providing the conditions for the miracle. Our contribution is called FAITH. Let us look at faith for a few minutes, and try to grasp the concept, and look at the reality. Faith is a response to love. There are people I cannot trust, because I have no reason to believe that they care too much about me, or about my welfare. Convince me that they love me, and that they have my best interests at heart, and then, and only then, should you ask me to trust them. Trust and lack of trust plays a major role in our lives. Someone who is struggling with an addiction or a compulsion can well end up not being able to trust themselves. They have damaged themselves, and everybody and everything belonging to them, so much over the years, that, of all the people on this earth, the one they can have trust least is themselves. Nowadays, we speak of subliminal effects, and what happens when a message is repeated again and again into the brain. My reason for saying that is, that it might be so much easier for us to grasp the whole concept of faith if we had an inner voice that kept repeating GOD IS LOVE. That simple, but profound, truth is the backdrop to the whole gospel story. In simple English, if I can grasp and accept that basic simple truth, I'm right. Jesus said that no one knows the Father except the Son, and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 'Lord Jesus, please reveal the Father's love to me'. The saint is not the person who loves God, but the one who is totally convinced that God loves her.
Faith is the proper response to love. Jesus really loves me, therefore, I trust him to do what's best for me, and I can turn to him with total confidence and expectation. Once again, we find ourselves with the two components of salvation, i.e., what Jesus has done, and how I am prepared to avail of that. Many of the people in the gospel fill me with amazement. We speak today about the importance of being Christian, and how central it is that we live and move in the Spirit, if we are to be open to the truths of the gospel. Many of these people, however, were pagans, illiterate, outcasts, 'nobodies'. And yet from their hearts came a cry that caused God to stop, and listen. I can only reflect on what I think may have happened here. They had run out of human resources, they were totally bereft of everything, and, when I'm on the broad of my back, there's only way to look, and that's up. Even before healing them, the very presence of Jesus generated some new sense of aliveness and of hope. They had every reason in the world to be in the depths of despair, without a hope or without a prayer. And yet, once they saw Jesus, a whole new hope was awakened in them. I repeat the word hope here very deliberately, because when I let go of that, I have crossed that line of no return, and there's no way back. Hope is always the mark of the Christian, and Peter tells us to 'always have an explanation to give those who ask you the reason for the hope that you have.' Because the Spirit the Father gives us will never leave us, it is relatively easy for the Christian to hold on to the hope that 'all is well, all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.' The only way I can figure out many of the situations in the gospel is by reflecting what it must have felt like to be in the presence of Jesus, and to try to imagine what was going on in the hearts of those who stopped him. The leper had nowhere to go, no way to turn, no place to hide. He was beaten, mentally as well as physically. It might have been years since he saw love in another's eyes, or a smile on another's face. His world was one of darkness and hopelessness. And then one day Jesus walked into his world, into his darkness. I can only imagine what that was like. I am not sure whether my eyes would be riveted on the leper or on Jesus. On reflection, I think I would look at Jesus first, because whatever came from him, through his look, and through his very presence, was what sparked whatever happened in the leper. The extremes had meet. Without a positive and a negative, there would be no power in a wall-socket. We have many instances in the gospel where there is special reference to how Jesus looked at people. For example, when he met Peter, he looked at him before he spoke. He would look at Peter on a later occasion, when Peter had denied him. The look hadn't changed. It was still a look of love. Peter melted before that look, and the acceptance and love that it held, and 'going outside, he wept bitterly.' Jesus looked across the city of Jerusalem and he cried, because ' salvation was within your grasp, and you would not accept it. So often I would have gathered you, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not.'
In several instances in the gospel, faith is a journey. Jesus said 'If you love me, you will obey me, and then you can ask the Father for anything in my name, and you will receive it.' The ten lepers were not healed when he sent them on their journey of faith. They obeyed him, and 'on the way they were healed'. The centurion was sent on his journey, and, as he made his way home, his servants came to tell him that the sick one was well again. Jesus travelled with Jairus, and, even when word came that his daughter was dead, Jesus simply said 'Just trust me.' In many ways, faith is a journey. It is a journey from the head to the heart, to the feet. In my head I may know that Jesus is God. That, however, is not faith. Even Satan knows that. That is no more than knowledge, or mental assent. When faith reaches my feet, like Peter, I am prepared to step over the side of the boat. When Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was able to walk on water. When his attention moved back to himself and his surroundings, he panicked, and began to sink.
Faith can be both virtue and gift. As a virtue, it is something I can practise, just like kindness. It is like a grain of mustard seed, and if, nourished, nurtured, and developed, it can grow into a huge tree, 'in which the birds of air can find shelter'. Many others can find help and support in my faith. One man was unconscious, and he was lowered through the roof by his friends, right down to where Jesus was in the house. 'Jesus marvelled at their faith', and he healed the man. The couple and their guests at Cana benefited from the faith of Mary, as she approached Jesus. I learned to walk by walking, and to talk by talking. Similarly, if I exercise my faith, it will grow. In a way, I can come to know God in somewhat the same way I come to know any of those around me. By spending time with them, experiencing their presence, and becoming aware of their love and care, I also come to trust them. It is interesting to note that it was only to the apostles that, on more than one occasion, Jesus had to address the words, 'Why did you doubt, you of little faith'.
Faith is also a gift, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There is a slight difference here. In this case faith is a charism, which is a word used to speak of a gift that is given to be used in the service of others. It is another expression of love. The Canaanite woman was hardly able to made subtle distinctions in matters of faith, but she loved her daughter deeply, and her love included all the gifts, being in itself the greatest gift of all. The time came for Jesus to take leave of his apostles. He spoke of the Spirit that would come to lead them in his ways. He commissioned them to go and preach in his name. He then spoke those marvellous words, 'And these are the signs that shall accompany you. In my name you will cast out demons and speak new languages; you will pick up snakes, and if you drink anything poisoning, you will not be hurt. You will lay hands on the sick, and they will be healed.' All of this is the Gift of faith in action. In other words, if I go forth to do the work of the Lord, I should do so only in the conviction that wherever that may lead me, I will discover the necessary gift there. As needed, I will have access to the gifts of prophecy (speaking God's word), wisdom, discernment, knowledge, faith, miracles, etc. All of this goes with the job! It is part of the 'tool-kit' the Lord supplies to those who go forth in his name.
Faith begins with belief. You need your car serviced, you have never been in these parts before, and you ask me to recommend a garage. I suggest Mc Donald's, saying that they do a good job, and do not overcharge. You take me at my word, you believe, you act on that belief, and you bring your car to Mc Donald's. When you collect your car, you discover that they did a good job, and they did not overcharge. The next time you need your car serviced you act on faith, because now you know that it is the right thing to do. I'm sure many a person in the gospel came to Jesus on the word of another. They knew someone who was healed, they heard of someone who was healed. That was a good starting point. Something seemed to happen, however, once they came into the presence of Jesus. His presence touched something deep within, and the spark of faith was ignited. All this happened because of their own deep awareness of their own powerlessness, and their inability to solve or resolve their own situation. At the same time, and in that same place, there were religious leaders, and they were so full of their own self-righteousness that there was no room within for anything to happen. This is chilling to reflect on, when even Jesus was rendered powerless in the presence of such people. The openness has to come from us, before God can enter. The door of our heart has but one handle, and it is on the inside. The only limits to what the Lord can do in my life are the ones I myself can set.
To be in touch with my own brokenness, and my need for healing, it can help if I see myself as being everybody in the gospel. I have my own blindness, my own deafness, my own demons; I am crippled in many ways by life, and I am tossed around in my own storms; I can experience the rottenness of my own leprosy, and the burdens of life can leave me in a high degree of emotional fever. When I stand before the Lord, what do I bring, what do I say, what do I hear? 'Do you believe that I can do this? I believe, Lord, help my unbelief. Lord, increase my faith. Your faith healed you. As you believe be it done onto you. Oh woman, great is your faith. When the Son of Man comes will he find any faith on this earth? The sin of this world is unbelief in me.' What priceless material for reflection and contemplation. The gospel is now, and I am every person in the gospel. There is one very important question Jesus asked, to which I did not yet refer. He turned to the man at the pool, and he asked him 'Do you want to be healed?' That is a loaded question. Without any great reflection, I would probably reply 'Of course I want to be healed'. It's not as simple as that, however. The man had been sitting at the pool for thirty-eight years. One can get used to a way of living, after all that time. If he is healed, nothing is ever going to be the same again. Not only will he lose the pity of others, he will also have to let go of his own long-nourished self-pity. He may now have to work for a living. Is it possible that some years down the road he could regret that he was healed? We all are familiar with the prayer of Augustine 'Lord, make me chaste, but not yet'. The alcoholic may not want to give up alcohol. All he wants is some magic formula that will permit him continue the drinking, without the negative effects. To such a one Jesus could well ask 'Do you want to be healed?' It is important to remember that, should I approach Jesus in search of healing, the onus is not totally on him! I often think of God being on standby, waiting for me to get out of the way, and let him move in!
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'Jesus: The Man and the Message' copyright © 2004 Fr. Jack McArdle. All rights reserved.