23rd Sunday: Healing Love
We are loved. If there was any message that Jesus wanted His disciples, wanted us, to hear and understand, it is that we are loved. We are loved by God. We are loved by Jesus, the Eternal Image of the Father.
Usually, when we speak about the Lord’s love for us, we focus on the supreme act of love, His death on the cross. He took our sins upon Himself and let them die with Him so that we might have life with Him. “I’ll never know how much it cost to see my sins upon that cross,” we sing in “Here I am to worship.” The cross is the greatest act of God’s love for us. It is not the only way that we have experienced His love, though.
The first reading from Isaiah reminds us that the Messiah comes to heal all who are hurting. The eyes of the blind are opened, the ears of the deaf are cleared, the lame leap like stags and the tongues of the mute sing. Pain and suffering were never part of God’s plan for mankind. They resulted from man’s original sin, repeated every day in each of our lives. The sin was more than disobedience. The sin was the decision to place oneself over God. It was a decision away from the Lord of Life. Sin is always a decision in favor of death. God sent His Son to restore the world to its proper order, as Isaiah says, back to a time of no more tears, no more pain, no more death.
God sees where we are hurting and wants to heal us. That is the way love reacts when the loved one is in pain. Parents will do everything for their sick children because they love them so much. If the sickness is chronic, or even terminal, the parents will pray that they could be sick instead of their child.
The Lord is aware of those parts of us that are hurting. Maybe we are physically sick, we have a life threatening illness or one that is not life threatening but quite painful. Perhaps our sickness is psychological. Maybe we are fighting addictions, or low self esteem, or some other forces that are destroying us. Or perhaps we are fighting against our own tendencies to sin. The Lord is aware of whatever is afflicting us. He is aware and he is hurting for us, and with us.
Jesus healed the deaf man not just as a sign of the coming of the Messiah, as it certainly is, but as a sign of the love that God has for each of us. He heals us. The healing may be physical, or psychological, but it certainly is spiritual.
Sometimes we are down on ourselves. Our lives are not coming out the way we planned. We are not happy with ourselves. Do we really have a right to be negative about someone whom the Lord loves? Yes, there are times that we cannot understand why God loves us, but He does. He is God. His love, His mercy, His compassion are beyond our understanding.
He knows each of us better than we know ourselves. He sees how we are trying and how we are disappointed in ourselves when we fail. He sees each of us for whom we are, beneath the bravado, beneath the illusions we create for others and for ourselves. He sees whom we are beneath the material trappings of our lives. He sees beneath what the world has proclaimed as success, as prosperity. For true prosperity is found in the account of the soul, not in a bank account. So James tells the early Christians and us that we need to treat each other for whom they are not for what they have. We need to extend to others the dignity that is their God given right.
I heard a wonderful talk on justice a while back given by a young man named Joseph Summers. Joseph is a nurse and missionary, part of a Catholic missionary society founded by his parents. He travels throughout the world to the poorest people. In his talk, Joseph said that missionaries to the poor do not act just out of charity, they act out of justice. People have a right to dignity. It is not enough to say to the hungry man, “Eat well,” or to the freezing man, “Keep warm.” We have to do something about it. Nor is it just to draw distinctions between people as James warns in today’s Gospel. People have a right to be treated with dignity. This is justice.
It is how we extend the healing love of the Lord. God sees the goodness of every person. He sees His image and likeness in every person. He also sees how that image can be clouded, hidden behind a door of pain.
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we want to be forgiven by God, we need to forgive others. Healing is similar. If we want to be healed by God, we need to extend His healing hands to others.
And Jesus came and said, “Ephphatha, be opened!” He heals because He loves. He heals because He wants us to be the vehicles of His healing for others.