The health care ministry of the Church’s ordained and commissioned ministers, as well as that of the Christian faithful who are devoted to work of health care, continues and extends the health care ministry of Jesus Christ. In this series of reflections, we consider the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, how that ministry is continued in his Church, and how we can participate in Jesus’ ongoing work of healing.
Previously, we examined the healings Jesus preformed in his earthly lifetime, which were such a prominent part of his public ministry. Jesus cured the sick, drove out demons, reversed disability, and even raised the dead. It’s hard to overstate just how much of Jesus’ public ministry was about healing. And yet, important as these bodily healings were to Jesus’ ministry, they always pointed to something deeper: the healing of the spirit. In his gospel, Saint Matthew quotes Jesus as saying, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do” (Matt 9:2). This statement of Jesus’ has nothing to do with physical healing. The context is the call of Matthew himself. Jesus was at table in Matthew’s house in company with many other tax collectors and sinners. The Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax-collectors and sinners?” (Matt 9:11). It is this question that prompts Jesus to speak about the sick needing a physician. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees demonstrate that, as much as his ministry was about healing the physically diseased, for Jesus, being a physician was even more about the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls.
The same truth is manifested when Jesus performs physical healings. In the passage immediately preceding the one we just looked at, Jesus heals a paralytic who was brought to him on a stretcher. Upon seeing him and the faith of those who carried him, Jesus says, “Courage, child, your sins are forgiven” (Matt 9:2). Then, when some of the scribes accuse him of blaspheming, Jesus says, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” he said to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home” (Matt 9:5-6). The paralytic, we are then told, “rose and went home” (Matt 9:7). In this incident, Jesus’ healing of this person’s bodily paralysis is used to demonstrate his power to heal a deeper spiritual affliction. Jesus’ primary purpose was to forgive this person’s sin. The healing of the paralytic’s body – a wonderful thing in itself – is used to manifest Jesus’ power to heal his soul.
There are many more examples of this in the gospels. Too many even to mention here. One that is particularly enlightening (pardon the pun) is Jesus’ healing of the man born blind in the Gospel of John. The narrative is quite long, taking up the whole of the ninth chapter. It begins with Jesus passing by a man who was blind from birth. In response to his disciple’s question about whether the blindness was because of the man’s sin or that of his parents, Jesus says it is neither. Rather, “It is so that the works of God might be made visible through him” (John 9:3). Jesus proceeds to heal the man’s blindness by covering his eyes with moist clay and telling him to wash in the pool. As the story goes on, the man is repeatedly questioned by the Pharisees about who it was who opened his eyes. By the end, the man comes to believe in Jesus and even to worship him. The narrative closes with Jesus declaring, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind” (John 9:39). When the Pharisees ask if they are the blind of whom Jesus speaks, he answers, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains” (John 9:41). Clearly, the blindness of which Jesus speaks is lack of faith. Jesus, who earlier in this chapter called himself “the light of the world” (John 9:5), accomplishes the works of God in the man born blind not only by giving him the light of bodily vision, but more so by giving him the light of faith.
Jesus’ health care ministry was about healing the souls of the sick people he encountered even more that it was about healing their bodies. The health care ministry of the Church is the same. The Church is certainly concerned with bodily healing. Thousands of hospitals, clinics and medical missions give ample proof of that. Still, the Church’s mission is the mission of the Divine Physician. It is, first and foremost, about the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls.