[Homily. Assumption Chapel. 31 August 2022.]
Our Gospel for today is from the 4th chapter of St. Luke. Jesus has just made his first public appearance in a synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth.
He declared that in the Spirit of the Lord, he was the one anointed to bring good tidings to the poor, liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind. He earned the awe and acceptance of some, but the ire and rejection of others. Declaring that God’s saving grace was being brought not only to them, the “chosen people,” but to gentiles like the widow of Zarapath and to Naaman, the Syrian, the Jews in the synagogue were “filled with fury.” They drove him out of town and wanted to throw him down a precipice to his death. But his time had not yet come. He passed through the midst of them and went away.
He Taught with Authority
In Capernaum, he taught in the synagogue on the Sabbath; he astonished people because he taught with authority. The authority came not only from his command of the Scriptures and the certainty with which he spoke of his Father, but also from the “signs” of extraordinary authority that we see in our Gospel passage for today. Jesus was a healer.
He liberated a man from a demon that had long tormented him. He entered into the home of Simon where his mother-in-law was suffering from a severe fever; he cured her. “At sunset, all who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him. He laid his hands on each of them and cured them” (Lk 5:40). Because he understood the suffering of people who were ill, he cured them to free them of pain. Because he wanted people to know who he was and who his Father was, he healed them so that in his action they could more intimately experience the compassion of his Father.
Our Lord cured those they brought to him. But the next day he left Capernaum, saying, “To other towns I must proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Lk 4:43). There may have been other persons to be cured who would have been brought to the healer from other towns and villages of Galilee, but his priority was to move on and proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom. Healing was not to distract from his message, but to support it.
Invitation to Bring Our Sick to Jesus
Our Gospel for today is an invitation to bring our sick, our paralyzed, our persons with withered arms, or our loved ones and friends suffering from epilepsy or leprosy, or from cardiovascular illnesses, diabetes, dementia and cancer to Jesus. We bring them to Jesus whether or not we have access to doctors, nurses, caregivers and hospitals. Sometimes, we may find it difficult to approach Jesus. Sometimes, he may seem so far away. So we work creatively, and like the friends of the paralytic in the Gospel of Luke even lower our sick down through a roof to get them to him (cf. Lk. 5:17-39).
Very often, we have personally experienced how Jesus heals: In the little manifestations of grace that often come with prayer. How a dreaded positive in a diagnostic test becomes negative. How a feared operation finally goes well. How he brings resources together from unlikely sources to make an operation for a loved one possible.
He Heals, But Not in the Way We Expect
But sometimes, we also experience how Jesus heals without healing. We pray and we pray and we pray, but our loved one remains sick, and we find ourselves overwhelmed by the great mystery of suffering. Yet, even in prolonged sickness, in irreversible weakening, or ongoing pain, we know that the Lord is not absent. He is healing – just not in the way we demand, or just not in the way we expect. He is healing not only the patient, but ourselves, helping both to say, “Father, if you are willing, take this chalice away from me, still: not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:32). Or, we experience how, before a person is healed, the Lord first says – or must say – “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or, like he said to the paralytic lowered down from the opened rooftop: “This is my good news for you: Your sins are forgiven you” (Lk 5:19). Sometimes, the healing without healing takes place in the patient’s peace in the Lord’s forgiveness and the hope of eventually coming “to a better place.” At other times it is in the wide-eyed and free acceptance of the illness as a special participation in the passion and death of the Lord that is the sick person’s way of discipleship. “If anyone wishes to come after me,” Jesus said, “he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). This is not easy. It is suffering that happens in silence. At its profoundest, it is suffering that is accepted in love. In union with the God-Man on the Cross.
Jesus healed the sick of Capernaum. But he left Capernaum with many ill unhealed because he needed to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of his Father to other towns and villages. After his death and resurrection, he left this world with his Kingdom not fully established, also to be able to send us his Spirit to remind us always of what he had said and meant – like when he taught, “Seek first the Kingdom of God!” That is a Spirit of healing and of joy, but also a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of fortitude in adversity and of enduring love in agony. It is the Spirit that leads the sick and the suffering to a deeper surrender to the Kingdom of God through union with the King on the Cross.