A quick glance through the Gospels show us that Christ was always involved in healing of one kind or another. Almost the entire three years of his public ministry was taken up with the task and he then sent out his disciples to teach and to heal. The Acts of the Apostles, which is the account of the early Church, is filled to overflowing with stories of miracles and healings. It is obvious that those early Christian communities took him at his word, that they had his authority and continued this kind of ministry.
Somewhere, quite early, all that seemed to stop and a form of religion that was more based on practice than knowing the power of God seemed to take over. So all of us here would have grown up with a religion that was based on adherence to rules and regulations, that demanded unquestioning acceptance and that was more into the love of power than the power of love. Jesus had spoken of a day coming when people would have a form of religion but would deny its power and that’s what we here have all grown up with. People going to church simply to fulfill a duty but with no expectation of being changed and touched by the word of God and going home from church as troubled and miserable as when they came in. In the highly unlikely event of a miracle happening or of someone being healed most people and perhaps even more so the priests would have been scandalized and shocked out of their tree.
Where did it all go wrong we might well ask and how did we ever get to the stage where healing was viewed with suspicion? The word healing went out of the Church’s vocabulary as far back as the year 340AD. That was the time when the Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire and when those early Christian communities moved out of the catacombs and into the basilicas. Slowly worldly wealth, power and privilege and the need for regulation and order took over and the power of God got lost. Healing then got sidelined into one of the seven sacraments and even then it was Extreme Unction; something that was administered to help someone who was dying rather than someone who was alive but in need of healing. Strange to say the word healing did not reappear again until this generation, just after the Second Vatican Council. It has even been pinpointed to 1973 when Pope John23rds prayer for a new Pentecost began to be fulfilled with the Charismatic Renewal. This was when prayer groups began to spring up all over the world and spread like wildfire. Healing was an integral part of that renewal movement as more and more people opened their hearts to the Holy Spirit. Up to that time the Holy Spirit had become the forgotten Paraclete and Christianity was mostly about will power but with little or no awareness of the power of God.
The Gospel of today captures something of the essence of how Jesus healed and also provides some insight as to where we find ourselves at present. Jesus enters the synagogue and there we are told he notices a man with a withered hand. The story just gives us the skeleton and its up to us to put on the flesh. Where would he have seen this man, not out in the front I should imagine, but hiding in the shadows. His hand may well have been a problem for him all his life, making him feel different and even unproductive. It may have caused him shame and even been a source of ridicule at a young age. Teenagers can be very cruel to each other especially if they can find something to pick on. The bottom line is that Jesus noticed this man where he sees so many of his people today, hiding in the shadows. We hide in the shadows because we carry so many areas in our lives that need healing and forgiveness. To always carry guilt and never feel good enough was almost bred into us and so we find it difficult to step forward and reclaim our power. Taking part in Church activities and giving of our time and talents is difficult for so many simple because we don’t feel good enough or fear of what others may think of us. So many of these fears are based on past hurts. Someone shamed us back there so the fear is that we might feel ashamed again. Someone laughed at us and so we might be laughed at again. We made a mistake in the past and so the fear of making another just cripples us from moving forward.
The man with the withered hand likely most had it conveniently tucked up his sleeve just in case someone would notice. Just as Jesus noticed this man so he notices us hiding in the shadows and he also notices what we have tucked up our sleeve that we don’t want noticed.
How does he bring healing to this man? He calls him to come out into the center. This would have demanded a lot of courage from this individual who had spent his life out of the limelight. In calling him out front he is in effect saying Son, stop beating yourself up as if you’re inferior, believe in yourself, you are no less than anyone else here, and neither are you any better, but you have a right to be up front and come into the place where all your gifts and talents can be recognized and used for the good of others.
Next he invited him to do something that must have terrified him; to stretch out his withered hand, to lay bare in the sight of everyone that which he had been so ashamed of all his life. Then it was that as he did so that his hand was cured. Having the courage to name an area of my life that is causing me grief or shame is itself to open the door for healing to come in.
For so long we worked on the assumption that if something was out of sight then it was out of mind whereas now we realize that those very areas that we refuse to acknowledge and try to confine to the basement of our lives are the very ones that control us and trip us up. So we are a sick as our secrets and our dysfunctional behavior so often results not from any malice but from unresolved hurts. Its our spontaneous unrehearsed reactions that always show us what we least want to see but most need to know about ourselves if we truly want to become whole. While we relate in the present we always react from the past. In our reactions we always re-enact our old issues or hurts and feel again what we didn’t allow ourselves to feel back then. That’s why our reactions never tell us the truth of the situation we might be dealing with, someone else may see the same situation very differently, but they are always giving us information about ourselves and where we need healing.
A lady who in her early 20’s had her hand crushed when the car she was in turned over and it was dragged along the road. The medics managed to avoid amputation but it was permanently disfigured. Years later while going through a healing process she discovered that she had the gift of healing herself and that healing energy was flowing through the hand that had been injured. The Risen Christ appeared after his Resurrection still with his wounds. However the wounds that crucified him were now sources of healing. The same can be true for us. Even our wounds find their place in the Divine economy and nothing gets wasted