Healing and miracles have been a mystery to men of all times. To some the phenomenon is frightening, while others find it exhilarating. Perhaps it is more often frightening because of the possibility of deception and evil. When God gave Moses power to perform signs, the magicians and diviners of Pharaoh were able to repeat some of those signs.
In pagan times fantastic prodigies were reported during the Helenistic period and many miracles were performed by Jewish rabbis and the prophets of old.
Elias stopped the rain from falling for three and a half years, Elisha called forth bears to consume forty-two children, who mocked him and called him "bald head."
God has always worked wonders through His prophets to increase the faith of His chosen people or to correct their disobedience. However, His Enemy can and has imitated some of those miracles to deceive the faithful.
Jesus warned us of this when He said, "False Christs and false prophets will arise and produce signs and portents to deceive the elect, if that were possible. You therefore must be on your guard." (Mk. 13:23) Jesus asks us to be cautious but not unbelieving. He was deeply hurt one day when the father of an epileptic demoniac said, "'If you can do anything, have pity on us and help us.' 'If you can?' retorted Jesus. 'Everything is possible to anyone who has faith.' Immediately the father of the boy cried out, 'I do have faith. Help the little faith I have!'" (Mk. 9:23) How different was the cry of the leper as he shouted, "'Sir, if you want to, you can heal me.' Jesus stretched out His hand and said, 'Of course I want to! Be cured!'" (Matt. 8:1)
The difference between these two men was that one wondered if Jesus could heal and the other wondered if Jesus would heal. The father of the demoniac was looking for anyone to heal his son. He tried the Apostles, but to no avail. To him, Jesus was merely another possibility. The man had no belief that before him stood the Son of God. No wonder Jesus said, "You faithless generation... how much longer must I put up with you." (Mark 9:19) The leper, however, believed Jesus was the Son of God, but his humility made him only request that he be healed. It is strange that the one with little faith demanded a healing, while the leper, who really believed Jesus was divine, humbly asked and waited. Faith gave the leper the awareness that humility was in order. Scripture informs us that the leper "bowed low in front of Jesus" as he made his request.
This act of humility was the spirit Jesus desired before His power reached out and touched those in need. The deeper the faith, the greater the humility. The centurion, who asked Jesus to heal his servant said, "Sir, I am not worthy to have you under my roof. Just give the word and my servant shall be cured." (Matt. 8:8) No wonder Jesus said, "I tell you solemnly, nowhere in Israel have I found faith like this." This beautiful act of trust and self-abandonment on the part of the centurion touched the Heart of Jesus. This man believed Jesus was the Son of God, one so powerful that an act of His Will could accomplish the miraculous. The man humbly waited, "Just give the word," he said and all would be well.
Jesus was also astounded at the faith of the Canaanite woman. She shouted after Him to the dismay of His Apostles, pleading for the deliverance of her possessed daughter. At first Jesus "answered her not a word" as He reminded His Apostles that He was sent only to the House of Israel. The woman, however, was undaunted. She knelt at His feet in an attitude of humble supplication. "'lord,' she said, 'help me.' He replied, 'It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the house-dogs.'" By this time any proud person would have walked away, indignant and insulted. Not so, this pagan. She merely accepted her lowly position and answered, "Ah, yes, sir: but even the house-dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master's table." Then Jesus answered her. "Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted." (Matt. 15:21-28)
Two pagans were able to manifest a humble submission to the Will and Power of Jesus whom they believed to be Divine. In both cases, Jesus held them up as examples of faith. Their need and helplessness no longer permitted them to rely upon their own strength as they humbly waited for His power to make their loved ones whole. Neither one had asked anything for himself, only for others.
The miracles Jesus worked were not so much acts of mercy as signs of His Sonship. They were directed towards increasing the faith of both recipient and onlooker. They were symbolic of the messianic age, the coming of the kingdom and the power of the Spirit. When these ends were not accomplished, Jesus worked no miracles. It was for this reason He worked so few in His home town. The Nazarenes' knowledge of His hidden life in their village blocked their minds to the point where any faith in His Divinity was impossible. Their hearts were so hardened, they tried to capture Him as a madman when His miracles were made known to them. They knew Him only as the carpenter's son and the signs of His Divine Sonship were not acceptable. They did not respect His role as Messiah and Savior. Like the father of the demoniac, they did not believe He could perform miracles, and so they refused to ask if He would cure their sick. This stubbornness of heart prevented them from that humble patience that asks and waits upon His Will-a Will that ever seeks the good of those He loves.
Today, we too must realize that Faith asks, humbly waits and then accepts the results without hesitation, without doubts. Faith Is the asking, for we acknowledge by our request that Jesus is Lord. However, Hope gives us the assurance that whatever answer we receive—be it yes or no—that reply is in our best interest. It is here that Love accepts with joy whatever God's Will requires of us.
This is the faith admired, praised and expected by Jesus from His chosen people, and certainly from those He has redeemed. The prayer of the Christian is always answered, for his prayer is in faith and that faith gives him the humble detachment so necessary to move the mountains of doubt. He never questions God's love when His answer is "no." The Faith of the Christian sees God's Love in every event of His life. He is not preoccupied with himself or His past. When he sins, he asks forgiveness and knows God's mercy forgives and forgets. Unlike the people before and during the time of Jesus, he does not see sickness and suffering as the result of sin or the Enemy. This concept is Old Testament thinking, not New Testament.
The Apostles were imbued with the punishment concept before Pentecost. But we see a change after Pentecost. Though some sins cause social diseases and other illnesses stem from long term resentments, we cannot attribute all sickness to sin or evil. "To those who love God all things work for their good."
One day "as Jesus went along, He saw a man who had been blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, for him to have been born blind? 'Neither he nor his parents sinned.' Jesus answered, 'he was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him."' (Jn. 9:1-4) Jesus is telling us that no-one's sin was the cause of this man's affliction. The Father permitted this man to be born blind through natural causes or some malformation before birth. What appeared as an evil, God saw and said, "Let it be." God saw good both in the blindness and in the healing His Son would one day perform.
To think the Father struck this man blind from birth for the express purpose of providing someone for His Son to heal is a monstrous assumption. The blindness was just as much a sign of God's love as the healing. How much evil passed this man by during his life because of this blindness!! Was not this blindness a preparation for his soul to accept Jesus as Lord?
This man did not have any faith. He did not know Jesus, nor had he ever heard of Him. The gospel narrative is very lengthy in its emphasis on this fact. When people asked him how he was healed, he answered them by saying, "The man called Jesus" healed him. They asked where this man was, but Jesus had disappeared. Only after the man was expelled from the synagogue did he encounter Jesus, who had heard of his excommunication and sought him out. Only then was Faith enlivened.
"Do you believe in the Son of Man?" Jesus asked. The former blind man looked puzzled and answered, "Tell me who he is so that I may believe in him." Jesus said, "You are looking at him: he is speaking to you." Now it is that the man receives the most important sight of all—spiritual sight. His physical eyes saw a man, but now he was given the opportunity to see God in that man. His cure had prepared his body to see men, but his soul was raised above that level and he now saw God. "Lord, I believe," he answered Jesus, "and he worshipped Him." (Jn. 9:35,39) The miracle was complete. The purpose of healing had come full circle. The man of no faith was healed so the man of new faith would be a witness to others of the power of Jesus. It is indeed strange that the Pharisees, who saw, ended up blind and the man born blind could see! Which of them suffered from evil? Certainly not the man born blind!
There were others whom Jesus healed who had no faith. The man in the Temple with the withered hand was no doubt planted there to test Jesus. Knowing His compassion, the Pharisees intended to trick Him into healing on the Sabbath. After Jesus confronted them with their hypocrisy, He said to the man "Stretch out your hand," and his hand was healed. Neither the man healed nor those who brought the man had any faith. It does not take much imagination to believe that at least the man healed left with deep Faith in Jesus.
Perhaps the most classic example of healing without Faith was the sick man at the Pool of Bethsaida. The particular incident also gives us two other insights. First, this man was the only one healed out of great crowds of people. Second, this man was already sitting at the Pool waiting for healing five or six years before Jesus was born! Scripture tells us he had this illness for thirty-eight years. Jesus was probably around thirty-two at this time. No, Jesus did not heal everyone. There were times, Scripture says, when He healed all; other times many, and this particular time—one person was healed. One also wonders about the man Peter and John healed at the Gate Beautiful after Pentecost. How many times did Jesus pass him as He went into the Temple and did not heal him? This man who had been miraculously cured was over forty years old." (Acts 4:22) Again, a man much older than Jesus—a man Jesus saw time and time again and did not heal. In fact, there is not one recorded healing during His entire hidden life of thirty-years. He was God-man the moment of His Incarnation—so he had power. He was infinite holiness, so He was compassion personified. Why then did He not heal during these thirty years? It was evidently not the Father's Will or time and since we know God is love, we can assure ourselves that no pain or suffering is wasted. The God-man, who asked His Apostles to pick up the scraps of bread and fish lest they be wasted, will be even more careful that nothing we suffer for Him and with Him will be lost. Jesus was careful whom He healed because a healthy body is often used to sin and not to glorify God. Perhaps this is why Peter tells us in his Epistle that one who has bodily suffering has broken with sin and is thereby ruled by the Will of God. (1 Peter 4:12)
As soon as Jesus had healed the sick man at the Pool, the man picked up his mat and walked away. Jesus disappeared into the crowd leaving the man without the faintest idea who healed him. Later, Jesus met him in the temple and said, "Now you are well again, be sure not to sin any more." Jesus did not say the man's sickness was the result of sin. He only impressed upon him that he had just received a great favor from God, his life had to change-a real conversion was in order. Loss of his soul would bee greater disaster than his previous disease.
In examining the cures Jesus performed in proportion to the number of sick in Israel, the surrounding area and the existing nations at the time of His Life among us, we find He healed a small proportion. Even when He fed the multitude it was only twice and then He was disappointed in their reaction. He sadly looked at the crowd as they followed Him to Capernaum and said, "You are not looking for me because you have seen signs, but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat."
(Jn. 6:26) Jesus wanted his miracles to be signs of His Sonship and the coming of the Spirit. They were destined to give and Increase Faith, not provide a Utopia upon this earth. His followers were to see signs and believe and not see signs for their own selfish purposes. His followers were to grow in Faith by adherence to the Father's Will and by carrying the cross His love placed upon them. They were not to use Him or His Name to advance their physical or material welfare. No wonder He said, "Many will say to me 'Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?' Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me you evil men!"
(Matt. 7:23) There were other miracles Jesus performed besides the healing of diseases and the deliverance of evil spirits. These too were performed with the same end in view—the Increase of Faith. The widow of Naim did not know Jesus, but His compassionate Heart wept for her loss. What an increase of Faith in Jesus as she saw her only son rise! The various miracles on the water, such as calming the storm and walking on the water, were done to increase the faith of His Apostles. He chided them at every incident for their lack of faith or their little faith. Even after the resurrection He was astonished at their incredulity. Yet, these are the men who healed the sick and delivered men of evil spirits.
He wanted His Apostles and His followers never to question that He was truly the Son of God. He wanted them to feel free to ask Him for anything, knowing that He had the power to accomplish the miraculous. But never for a moment did He wish anyone to demand anything from the Father. He gave us His example in the Garden of Olives. He asked for the impossible and accepted the Father's "No" with courage, love and trust.
It is because of the danger of presumption and the temptation to lose Hope that Holy Mother Church does not believe in "Faith Healing." "Faith Healing is an attempt to use Divine power as a natural curative agent that is hindered only by insufficient confidence on the part of the sufferer. A Catholic may not submit himself to faith healing which treats divine power as the automatic servant of calculated acts." (Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 4, pg. 215-216 McGraw Hill)
We can humbly pray for what we need, be it physical, material or temporal, knowing that our Father is God and is powerful enough to give us whatever we ask, provided it is for our good. Humility enables us to admit we do not always know in what that good consists.
Faith asks, knowing the Father hears us. Hope waits for His reply. Love accepts that reply with joy.
A prayer that does not contain these three elements is a frustrating, anxious prayer. A negative answer causes guilt and introspection, fear and a feeling of hopelessness. Jesus' insistence on doing the Father's Will as the road to holiness embraces every aspect of our lives. Nothing that happens to us is outside that Will, for that Will is directed by infinite Wisdom, who in turn loves us with an infinite love. In joy and sorrow, sickness and health, poverty or riches, success or failure, the Father's Will is the goal of the Christian's life. Like Jesus, he gives his entire self in humble submission to whatever the Father permits or ordains. He is free and at peace for he lives in the Father's Will and basks in the radiance of His Love. He does not excuse the Father's negative answers by focusing his attention upon himself or others as the cause of God's yes or no reply. God loves and constantly, hourly and moment to moment heals our souls by the power of His Spirit. He does this because He is good and we are sinners in need of His help. He is always providing grace and opportunities to heal our souls so the Spirit can transform them into perfect images of Jesus. (2 Cor. 3:18) Sometimes this healing is in sickness, sorrow, pain or tragedy and other times in health, joy, success and consolation. Whatever it is, God is at work. The sick who are not cu red after they ask the Father for healing, are loved by God in a special way. He trusts that their faith will not be shaken as they share a splinter of His Son's Cross. They witness to the power of His Spirit as He gives weak men the gifts of Fortitude to endure the Cross. They radiate Hope by their acceptance and their souls grow in the image of Jesus as He lovingly directs their feet to walk in His footsteps.
"Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." (Jn. 20:29)
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