This year begun unluckily in our parish. Deacon Vincent broke his foot on 1 January immediately after coming back from his holiday. Fr Colin came back from holiday with the flu. For the last two weeks I have had a serious problem with my back. At the same time I heard about many bad things happening to my friends. It seems like disasters always happen in January… Looking at today’s gospel, we might be tempted to doubt the existence of God. We listen to a story about people being cured by Jesus just like that, but our own experience is often completely different.
As I said in my sermon on the Epiphany, a few weeks ago, the gospels are not intended to be a historical report. The authors wanted to show Jesus as a particular type of person. Saint Mark, the author of today’s gospel, wrote for pagans; he wanted to present Jesus as the powerful and merciful son of God. The most important message in today’s gospel is the sympathy of Jesus for people, who were sick in many different ways.
When I was 24 years old I had the first and most serious attack of an illness which follows me to this day. I developed a terrible pain in my back. I couldn’t stand up straight. My ability to walk was very, very limited. I spent almost three months lying on the floor in my flat. For a long time I asked God why this should happen to me. One day, when I was praying with the psalms, I had a sudden and intense awareness of the love of God. It was a strong and utterly convincing experience. Nevertheless, physically, nothing changed immediately. I spent a further few weeks in pain on my floor till I was completely recovered.
When Jesus became a man, his goal was the healing of human nature. He cured bodily illnesses, but only as a sign of the coming kingdom of God. Being healthy is a very important part of our lives, but being physically healthy is nothing, if an individual’s soul is sick. Ask yourself: “how many people, healed by Jesus, are still alive?”. Absolutely none; all of them in due course died. Even though their bodies had been healed by the Son of God, eventually they had to meet their death. The real question concerns not their bodies, but their souls: are they alive forever in heaven?
Maybe it sounds stupid, but over the last two weeks, when I was feeling bad, not able to walk without a stick I was grateful to God. Not because I like suffering; that would be stupid. The positive thing about being sick is that it helps me to understand people, who are constantly disabled, sick or suffering. It helps me to sympathize with them and to help them as best as I can. My temporary disability had another important effect. It reminded me that I need other people’s help. For a man, living alone, with a dog, it’s easy to forget that. It’s refreshing to be reminded, that human life is a mutual exchange of gifts. The driving power behind that sympathy is love.