Wednesday, June 24, 2009

22. Humility and Health (Mt 8:1-17)

“I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of mine towards souls of sinners. Let the sinner not be afraid to approach me. The flames of mercy are burning me – clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls. Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at my insides.”

- Words of Jesus to St Faustina Kowalska

Matthew 8:1-17

After he had come down from the mountain large crowds followed him. A leper now came up and bowed low in front of him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘if you want to, you can cure me.’ Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him and said, ‘Of course I want to! Be cured!’ And his leprosy was cured at once. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Mind you do not tell anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest and make the offering prescribed by Moses, as evidence for them..

When he went into Capernaum a centurion came up and pleaded with him. ‘Sir,’ he said ‘my servant is lying at home paralysed, and in great pain.’ ‘I will come myself and cure him’ said Jesus. The centurion replied, ‘Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be cured. For I am under authority myself, and have soldiers under me; and I say to one man: Go, and he goes; to another: Come here, and he comes; to my servant: Do this, and he does it.’ When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this. And I tell you that many will come from east and west to take their places with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the kingdom of heaven; but the subjects of the kingdom will be turned out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.’ And to the centurion Jesus said, ‘Go back, then; you have believed, so let this be done for you’. And the servant was cured at that moment.

And going into Peter’s house Jesus found Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. That evening they brought him many who were possessed by devils. He cast out the spirits with a word and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfil the prophecy of Isaiah: He took our sicknesses away and carried our diseases for us.

Christ the Lord 

Jesus has power over sickness, one of the most visible results of the evil introduced into the world by original sin. These three miracles show that this power, which Christ wields in love, extends to every strata of sickness.

Leprosy was one of the most feared (and most frequently encountered) diseases in ancient times. This bacterial skin infection started small, almost imperceptibly, but it soon spread, rotting the victim’s extremities (fingers, nose, lips, etc.) and issuing a thoroughly repugnant odor. Lepers were excluded from society and left to die a slow, painful, humiliating death. The gradual but incurable descent into death was an eloquent symbol of sin’s effect on a person’s soul.

The Centurion’s servant suffered from some kind of paralysis, a sickness that went deeper than leprosy’s skin-deep infection. Peter’s mother-in-law suffered from a fever, a sickness that went deeper yet, its cause frequently unknown, often inciting the invalid to slip into delirium, or even to lose consciousness altogether.

Citizens of the third millennium, so familiar with advanced medicine, can still identify with the desperate feeling of helplessness in the face of illness that comes across so clearly in these encounters. And yet, Jesus cures them all. Not everyone is helpless in the face of evil, sickness, and impending death. The One who just finished teaching us the path to true happiness now proves that he isn’t helpless at all; rather, he is worthy of our trust – he is the Lord.

Christ the Teacher 

The Centurion’s faith impresses Christ so much that it inspires him to give an impromptu sermon, a sermon with a sobering lesson. In order to take our seats at the Messianic banquet (the biblical image for heaven – a huge banquet, a massive wedding reception), we must have faith in Jesus Christ, a faith as vibrant as the Centurion’s. But the Centurion only came to such a strong faith by traveling the uncomfortable path of humility – a path that those who are more familiar with Christ (the Centurion was a foreigner, remember, not part of the Jewish family) often try to bypass.

The Centurion was stationed in Galilee and obviously had become familiar with Jewish doctrine – that the Israelites were a people chosen by the one, true God, and that the Gentiles would receive salvation only through them, not because the Gentiles deserved it, but solely because of God’s mercy. He was in charge of a division of 100 soldiers, an officer in the world’s most powerful army, and a Roman ruler of a conquered people – yet in spite of so many reasons to be arrogant, he says to this poor carpenter from Nazareth: “I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof.” No wonder Christ was amazed.

The leper expressed this same humility and faith. He approached Jesus, did him homage, and then simply laid his need at Jesus’ feet: “Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.”

Entrance into Christ’s Kingdom passes through one door only, that of humble faith in Jesus Christ. Without stooping to admit our need for God, and our basic unworthiness to receive his grace, we simply can’t make it across the threshold.

Christ the Friend 

Lepers were forced by Jewish law to live completely separate from the rest of the community, primarily because of the highly contagious nature of the disease, but also because leprosy was commonly viewed to be a punishment inflicted by God for some hidden sin. They weren’t allowed to come within 100 yards of healthy people. And yet, this leper approached Jesus; he came right up to him. There must have been something about Christ that inspired confidence.

The leper sensed that Jesus would not be repulsed by his disgusting disease. And he was right. Jesus not only smiled and healed him, but he reached out and touched him – not for publicity’s sake (he urged the man to keep the miracle under wraps), but just to be close to him. Jesus wants to be close to us, to “take our sicknesses away” by walking by our side. He touches the mother-in-law’s hand; he offers to come to the Centurion’s house – the heart of Christ is the heart of a faithful, close, unconditional Friend.

Christ in My Life 

Sometimes I wish I could see your miracles firsthand. But many saw them and still didn’t believe. I believe in you. I don’t need to see any miracles. You have given me so much and shown me so much. One sunset is enough for me, Lord. You are goodness itself and the source of all that is good. I want to follow you, through sickness or health, and I want to help many others to follow you too…

Lord, at times I wish you would simply resolve all my problems right away. But in your wisdom you don’t. You know how necessary it is for me to learn how much I need you. Humility is so hard for me! How much peace there must be in a humble soul! You were humble, Lord; all that mattered to you was doing the Father’s will. Make me like you; Thy will be done…

You know all my hidden sins and infirmities. And yet you still reach out to touch me. This love dazzles and disorients me. Thank you, Jesus. Lord Jesus, strengthen and enlighten my heart that is so weak and dark…

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

To learn more, or purchase “The Better Part - A Christ Centered Resource for Personal Prayer,” click HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Dear Friends - If you wish to submit a question to Father John, please see the "How can submit a question" post for guidelines. Your comments and feedback are more than welcome!