Sunday, Feb. 4, is the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B). Mass Readings: Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalms 147:1-6; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23; Mark 1:29-39.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus starts a healing ministry that, more than 2,000 years later, hasn’t ended.
It begins with his healing of Simon’s mother-in-law, who has a fever, but it soon grows: “The whole town was gathered at the door,” and “he cured many who were sick with various diseases,” as well as performed exorcisms.
One gets the sense that Simon’s mother-in-law wasn’t just running a high temperature, but was incapacitated by her illness. Not only does she get better, she immediately begins waiting on Jesus and his friends.
That kind of healing, from absolutely sick to absolutely well, is understandably seen as a blessing . And it is precisely what Jesus tells his disciples to do.
In Matthew he says: “Cure the sick; raise the dead; cleanse lepers; drive out demons. Without cost, you have received; without cost, you are to give.”
Christians have taken that call seriously from the beginning.
St. Basil the Great is known as a Father of the Church — he was a great spiritual writer. But he was also a great hospital chief of staff. He created one of the first hospitals, which was praised for its “care and order.”
St. John Chrysostom is known for his beautiful sermons, but also for his beautiful hospital, “well-supplied with physicians and attendants for the sick and cooks.”
As the beautiful old movie Monsieur Vincent powerfully shows, it was St. Vincent de Paul’s Daughters of Charity who founded the first hospital system, with nuns serving as nurses. They brought their hospitals to America in 1809.
The healing of disease is good in itself — but it also points to a higher reality. Physical healing is a sign of the moral and spiritual healing we get from God. Without him, we are unwell spiritually — weak or dying. With him, we are restored to our full stature in Christ.
That’s why the Church pairs this Gospel with St. Paul’s declaration, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize.” Woe to us if we do not heal people spiritually.
But the Church also pairs this Gospel with a first reading from Job describing the difficulty of life on earth. “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?” asks Job. “He is a slave who longs for the shade.”
The life he is describing is the life of a sick person, especially one who does not get cured.
As the Church points out, “even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1508). This becomes a different sign for us.
If being made well physically is a sign of God’s power, being kept ill is a sign of human weakness — a reminder that we are to rely not on our own power, but God’s.
Even when we stay sick, we can take comfort in God. “Christ took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.” When we are well, we imitate his wholeness; when we are sick, we imitate his weakness.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence
at Benedictine College
in Atchison, Kansas..