Msgr. Joseph A. Pellegrino
Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Jesus Heals
It is important that we know his name. His name is Vinicio Riva. Knowing his name keeps us from focusing on his ailment. He is not a disease. He is a person. So, who is Vinicio Riva? Vinicio is a 53 year old man from the Northern Italian town of Vincenza who suffers from a non-infectious genetic disease, neurofibromatosis type 1. It has left him completely covered from head to toe with growths, swellings and itchy sores. Vinicio’s condition, has resulted in many people pushing him to the fringe of society. He has been told not to sit by people on a bus. He can only do the most menial work. Vinicio traveled with members of his family and others from North Italy to Rome. They secured tickets to the Papal audience. When the Swiss Guard saw him, they ushered him to the front row. Pope Francis came in, gave his talk, then went down to greet some of the infirm. He saw Vinicio and walked over to him. The Pope then kissed the sores on this poor man’s face. Vinicio, the outcast, has now become a celebrity. More than that, his value has been affirmed by the Pope himself. And Jesus heals.
Scores of people pushed against Jesus. They wanted to be healed. Jesus knew that sickness was not part of the Father’s plan. These people were suffering the result of man’s choosing death over life, choosing to push God aside in favor of the material world. They were innocent as individuals, but they all suffered from mankind’s guilt. Jesus’ heart went out to them. He hurt for them. He healed them.
One of the Lord’s new disciples, Simon Peter, had sickness in his family. His mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. That might not seem like much to us, but in those days the infection that caused the fever would often kill the person . Jesus raised her up; the fever left her, and she served the Lord.
Here are two more scenes from the Gospels, two of many that I could present. A man is sitting under a tree, a fig tree. His name is Nathaniel. Perhaps, he is contemplating the world and his own insignificance. Perhaps he is suffering from his lack of self-worth. Then Jesus calls him. Nathaniel becomes someone, a disciple, then an apostle. He goes to Jesus and proclaims him to be the Son of God. Jesus has healed him.
Young people and all of us who have bouts of suffering from low self-esteem, we need to go to Jesus. He sees us for whom we are, a daughter, a son of God. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. With our eyes focused on the Lord, we are healed of our own self doubts.
The second scene from the Gospel is the one about Zacchaeus. You know his story. Zacchaeus was that diminutive tax collector, scorned by Jewish society. He heard a commotion. Jesus was walking down the road with his disciples. Hundreds of people were crowding around him. To get a better look, Zacchaeus climbed a tree. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, saw how the tax collector’s sins were destroying him, and, with all those people around, all those people who wanted a second of His attention, Jesus announced that he would stay that night in Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus renounced his former life and promised to repay all he had defrauded. Jesus healed.
What sins do we have that Jesus will not heal? Pope Francis reminds us that God refuses to run out of mercy. It is we who shut his mercy off from our lives. Jesus heals.
We depend on the expertise of our medical people. Doctors and dentists, nurses and all those in the medical field spend many years learning their professions. Then they spend a great deal of time developing their skills. We sometimes take them for granted. They are not just medical people. They are the healing hands of Christ. But doctors are limited in what they can do. That brings me to this scene. Parents sit by their child’s bed in the hospital. Nothing in life could be worse. Their child is dying. They are praying for a cure. But through it all, they place their complete trust in Jesus. And they know that no matter what happens, their child will remain in Jesus’ hands. In this way, Jesus heals them.
Many of us have also been very sick. We have wondered if this is it. Will this ailment take us, now or eventually? The human part of us is afraid. But the spiritual part of us reminds us that the One who sweat blood as his death approached knows how we feel. And we also trust in Him. And Jesus heals.
Jesus heals. He heals the pain not just of the people of the past, but the pain of the people of today. Some receive physical healing immediately. Others receive healing in stages. Some receive a clear miracle. All who call out to the Lord are healed. Some are healed physically. Some are healed emotionally, able to accept their condition in life. All receive spiritual healing as they unite their pain to the Cross of Christ.
We who carry Christ within us, carry within us the one who heals. If we believe in Him, if we trust in Him, then we
refuse to join Job's cry of despair. We recognize that Christ is present when we need Him the most, healing our internal and our external turmoil. We need to remember, we are not alone. Jesus is always with us. He is there to protect us from the doubts and despair that plagued Job. He is there to give us the courage to walk with Him over the threshold to a new life.
In essence, we are all Vinicio Riva. We may not have his external scars, but we all have scars. Jesus sees our scars. He is not repulsed by them. He embraces our scars in an infinitely greater way than Pope Francis embraced Vinicio’s scars. He embraces us. He heals us.