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The Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
February 4, 2024

Watch this homily! (Begins at 41:20)


    Today’s first reading gives us a little window onto Job whose name is a synonym for suffering, and whose story is a textbook study on the Problem of Evil. In a flash, the pious, upright Job went from powerful potentate to pariah: he lost everything: family, possessions, health, happiness, hope. “I shall not see happiness again,” he cried out in dark misery.

     But while Job may have lost hope, he never lost faith, although he came close. And God came close to him. In the midst of his misery God came close to him, clothed in splendor, wrapped in mystery, never justifying his actions to Job, and never really solving the riddle of his suffering, but in the end, healing him, restoring his prosperity, giving him length of days. So, Job’s lament was not the last word. God had the last word. God always does.

     In today’s reading from Mark’s gospel, it’s Jesus who has the last word in the face of human suffering. The story begins with Jesus leaving the synagogue after exorcising a demon from a poor, unfortunate fellow. I can picture that synagogue because we visited it on our Holy Land pilgrimage last year, and we visited Peter’s house, too. So, I can with some clarity see Jesus leaving the synagogue and arriving at the home of Peter and Andrew where he encountered yet more suffering: Peter’s mother-in-law in bed with a fever. He gently takes her by the hand and helps her up, and immediately she is well enough to wait on everyone.

     But that’s only the beginning. As evening comes on, a large group of people arrives at the house where Jesus is. The whole town gathers at the door, Mark tells us. True to form, Jesus takes time to heal each person no matter what the malady. That’s what Jesus invariably did when he encountered a sick person.

     But, we might ask, what about now? What about us? Where is Jesus when it comes to our illnesses, our sufferings? Is faith in Jesus all we need in order to be healed? We would be foolish to maintain that, wouldn’t we? There’s too much evidence to the contrary – unless, of course, we’re willing to take a deeper look at the meaning of healing. In the 57 years I’ve been a priest I can point to only a very few times when it seemed like a truly remarkable, hard-to-explain physical healing took place. But I can point to countless times when people were healed in ways even deeper even than physical: healed in their hearts, healed in their emotions, healed in the deepest part of their souls. And in each case, they came to view their physical suffering with new eyes as they began to know Jesus in new ways. Experiences like those have made me realize that healing has more than one meaning, and that Jesus actually heals in more than one way. He does.

     And that’s not all. Healing not only has more than one meaning, healing is seldom a one-way street. Healers often need healing themselves. I think that’s even true of Jesus. Does that sound strange to you - that Jesus could need healing? Strange as that may seem, I think it’s true.

     Look at Jesus in that gospel passage. He is beleaguered – pressed from every side by sick and needy and disturbed people, people hungry for one thing only: their own healing.  But Jesus has needs of his own. He has a need for quiet, for prayer, for the refreshment of his own spirit – so much so that he quietly steals away to a deserted place in the early hours of morning, taking for himself the only hours that people haven’t taken from him.

     Is the healer seeking healing for his own burdened spirit?  I think so. Jesus longs for time alone with his Father, time when his Father’s voice can anoint him, strengthen him, heal him so he can continue to offer healing to others. Healing, it seems, not only has more than one meaning; healing is also a two-way street.

     St. Paul gives further insight into healing in today’s reading from First Corinthians. When he writes that he has “become one with the weak to win over the weak,” Paul seems to be reaching deep inside himself, coming to terms with his own wounds and his own weaknesses so that those very wounds and weaknesses of his can be part of the gifts he brings to his ministry.

     Father Henri Nouwen, the popular twentieth century spiritual writer, wrote a whole book about this – a very popular book, “The Wounded Healer” - coining a now consecrated phrase and making the important point that the only healers truly capable of bringing healing to others are the wounded healers - the ones who honestly and humbly come to terms with their own shadows, their own broken hearts, their own broken promises.

     But none of this can be true of Jesus, the sinless One who had no shadows and broke no promises, can it? Maybe it can, because even though Jesus was sinless, he did, as St. Paul put it so graphically, “become sin for us.” He did. And in so doing, his own broken body and his lonely, shattered spirit became the path by which others would find healing. The path by which we would find healing. I see Jesus as the first Wounded Healer.

     My friends, it is his body broken for us that we now receive in the Eucharist for our healing, and it is our own broken bodies – and our broken spirits, too - that in God’s mysterious providence, can become instruments of healing for others. They can. With God’s grace they will!

Father Michael G. Ryan





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