Updated: Feb 7
We see the clear example of God’s great mercy in the gospel of Mark today. Jesus begins with preaching at the synagogue where he cures the demoniac. From there he goes into the house of Simon and Andrew, and heals Simon’s mother in-law. There is news about him and they bring him all who are possessed.
The gospel reports that he heals many who are sick. The crowd even pursues the Lord to the deserted place searching desperately for his healing. One significant thing in this passage is the detailed account of how Jesus heals Simon’s mother in-law. Pope Francis once said to priests, “be shepherds with the smell of sheep.” This means, to be truly caring for the people. Hence, Mark captures Jesus’ actions in being one with the people specifically with the healing of Simon’s mother in-law. Mark gives us step by step details in this miracle, “He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.” Jesus comes very very close. He is the shepherd who knows his sheep starting first with those in his inner circle.
How do we relate the New Testament model with the lamentations of Job in the first reading? Isn’t Job’s grief similar to the lamentations of our time? Job asks, “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” Often times people get angry and ask, if God is really good, why does He allow bad things to happen to good people? Or worse, why does he punish good people with bad things? But how many people stop to ask the question, where do good things come from? We might also need to ask, why is God merciful to everyone, the good and the bad alike? Maybe we need to see more of the goodness of God in creation since every good thing comes from God.
Just as Christ cares for the sick and cures those possessed by demons in the gospel today, so too God supplies us with life, talents, opportunities, family, friendships, sacraments, knowledge and the guidance of his church. These are great things and they all come from God. Job’s response to his friends explains that God is patient with our sinfulness and selfishness. He never gives up on us, even when we give up on ourselves. Is there a greater unmerited good than that?
We live in times that invite us to look to the light of Christ, to find his mercy and see the goodness around us. Luke reminds us of the reason for the search for Jesus, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power and he went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed of the devil” (Acts 10:38). And the gospel says, “The whole town was gathered at the door. He cured many who were sick with various diseases, and he drove out many demons, not permitting them to speak because they knew him.” The entire town is looking for Him.
Understanding the commanding power of Jesus and the impact of his presence is what our time needs. It’s as if our time has stopped searching for Jesus in the midst of our troubles. It is as if we have stopped relying on Him with the all terrible consequences that go with it: confusion, irrational fear, suspicion, loneliness, depression, lack of charity, impatience, anger, and wickedness. All of these signal that God is absent, that not everyone is looking for Him. We seem to rely more on our own strength or on the CDC, perhaps only a little on Jesus. Our times need to look for Jesus. He cures every form of disease and iniquity.
If we consider further the healing of Simon’s mother in-law and the cure that Jesus performs in this passage, we identify a greater problem arising as a result of our loss of focus on Him. Jesus approaches Simon’s mother in-law as he does with everyone whom he cures; provides compassion and empathy; touches her, holds her hand; and lifts her up. What a way to heal! Sadly, not only that we have been overwhelmed by COVID and the high mortality rate as a result, we have unfortunately lost empathy and compassion by the way we treat one another. We are all culpable in this, one way or the other. At the last adoration we had here in the parish on Thursday night, one of our former parishioners who has moved to Pennsylvania
was visiting. She saw me, moved toward me, and greeted me expecting a hug. This wonderful lady had her face mask on and so did I. But she noticed my initial hesitation and said, “Fr., don’t I deserve a hug?” I hugged her reluctantly and she felt the coldness. It was a dry hug indeed. I am sure she was saying in her heart, “That’s not Fr. Vin.” By the time adoration ended that night, I felt bad inside. I was doubting if I truly represented Christ.
Yes, we are being careful and maintaining guidelines for COVID but it looks like compassion and healing have been trashed. Do you ever consider how lonely our patients are in the hospitals today? The sick are taken into hospitals like prisoners forced behind bars. Their family members and friends are shut out. Sick persons are denied access to anyone, even a priest who can give them Last Rites. They rarely hear comforting words. Their need to have loved ones around to provide comfort at such a time is not met and they die alone. The most agonizing form of death is the feeling of dying alone, isolated and lonely.
Christ’s ministry today reminds us of the need to bring back compassion for effective healing and recovery. He reminds that we must in turn be compassionate to others. During this time, I’m sure some of us have had the opportunity to feel guilty like I did by the way we have treated someone because of COVID. Jesus looks at Simon’s mother-in-law who has fever. Jesus does not see fever, He sees a person. He is able to show compassion, to reach out to her because she is a person. Jesus identifies with her and cures her. One symptom of COVID is fever. Fever scares us. But what do we see when we look at others, when we think about the sick? Do we see the person or does our mind immediately jump to COVID? Whereas we have to apply caution in order to avoid being sick or spreading sickness, we must also be like Christ, reaching out with warm hearts. We must not be emotionally and spiritually distant and cold. Let us show compassion. Just be present in a human and dignifying way. Only then will COVID fever be cast out.