The Power of Healing
(Job 7:1-4, 6-7; 1Cor.9:16-19, 22-23; Mk.1:29-39)
Today’s first reading is about Job, a good man with a big family who has it all. But he loses everything: his family, his wealth, his health. He becomes so miserable he thinks he’ll never be happy again.
Job’s story reminds us that suffering is universal. Everyone suffers in some way. Everyone. It’s just the nature, timing and depth of the suffering that varies.
What can we do about it?
In Mark’s Gospel today, Peter’s mother-in-law is in Capernaum and she has a fever. There were swamps nearby, so she might have had malaria. But Jesus is in town and Peter asks Him to heal her. He does, but after she’s healed, she doesn’t sit around. She gets up and looks after Jesus and the other guests.
Word then spreads, and most of the town arrives at Peter’s door. They all want help and healing, too. Early the next day, Jesus goes somewhere quiet to pray. But his disciples soon track him down because even more people want His help.
Instead of rushing back, though, Jesus says, ‘Let’s go elsewhere, to the neighbouring towns, so that I can preach there too, for that’s why I came.’
Now, this surprises some people. Why didn’t Jesus go back? Isn’t His mission to help people?
Yes, Jesus’ mission is to help people. But Jesus does more than cure people. He heals them, too. There’s a difference.
In 1997, the American writer Ram Dass had a massive stroke, and it taught him the difference between a cure and healing. He once wrote, ‘While cures aim at returning our bodies to what they were in the past, healing uses what is present to move us more deeply into soul awareness, and in some cases physical improvement. Although I’ve not been cured of the physical effects of my stroke, I’ve certainly undergone profound healings of body and mind.’
‘In other words,’ he says, ‘healing, which refers to the soul, can happen without cure, which refers to the body. In fact, it’s often in the uncured sickness that the healing begins.’ [i]
What he’s saying is that cures seek to fix a specific problem, like a headache. Cures work from outside in, trying to eliminate the physical presence of that problem. But that’s all they do. They don’t address the causes.
Your headache might be gone, but the cause is still there. Other issues may also be present.
That’s where healing comes in.
Healing works from the inside out, and it begins with the soul. It works with everything inside us: our hearts, our minds, our bodies; transforming us, making us whole and helping us to function more effectively.
As human beings, even when we’re baptised, we all live in flawed ‘earthen vessels’ (2Cor.4:7). We’re all subject to sin, suffering, disease and death. The only way to overcome these burdens is through the mercy of God.
Jesus is always with us, and most especially when we’re sick and suffering. He stands with us, offering us His peace and love, His strength and healing. But before we can receive these blessings, we need to open up our hearts to accept them.
There in Capernaum, Peter’s mother-in-law did open up her heart to Jesus, and she’s not only cured – she’s healed. We know this from the way she jumps up and starts caring for her guests. Now she’s living life to the full.
That’s what Jesus wants for us. Lives focussed not so much on ourselves, but on those around us. That’s true healing. It’s personal transformation, and sometimes it comes without a cure.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t rush back to that town. He goes to spread the good news to others, so that they too might be healed and then live lives of loving service to others.
Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights campaigner, understood this. Rather like Job in our first reading, he suffered greatly through his life.
He once said, ‘As my sufferings mounted, I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation – either to react with bitterness or to seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.’ [ii] In other words, he decided to allow himself to heal from the inside out.
That’s what Jesus wants us to do.
We don’t have to be bitter about our illness or suffering. We don’t have to be miserable like Job. We all have the choice to accept Christ’s healing touch, to allow ourselves to be creatively transformed, from the inside out.
And like Peter’s mother, when we are transformed we must share that healing with others.