The gospel reading today is taken from the Gospel of Mark and portrays Jesus summoning his twelve apostles and sending them out on mission, two by two. Throughout the preceding chapters of his Gospel, Mark has described the extraordinary healing ministry of Jesus himself. In the first chapter, Jesus begins by liberating a man stricken with “an evil spirit” that had caused him to convulse and be tormented with pain. Jesus drives out the demon and liberates this human being, restoring him to health and dignity. A string of healings follows in the village of Capernaum where Jesus would make his home base in the house of Peter and his family. Peter’s mother-in-law is healed and raised up to renew her life of service. The crowds come bringing their sick relatives and friends to be healed, blocking the door of the home where Jesus is teaching. A leper, banned from mingling with the healthy, dares to come to Jesus and asks to be healed. Jesus touches him and restores him to health and to his community. Men come, carrying their paralyzed friend on a mat and letting him down through the roof so Jesus can touch him and heal him—and he does, while praising their faith.
Mark could not be more insistent that the mission of Jesus is to liberate people from the grip of pain and death and to restore them to life and dignity. So it is no surprise that Jesus, who had called his disciples to “be with him” and to be “fishers of people” as he was, sends them out on a mission like his: “to anoint with oil many who were sick and cure them.” “Healing” is the most profound and comprehensive way of describing the Christian mission to the world.
Anyone who has suffered a serious illness or fought the ravages of an addiction knows that such experiences are not simply physical but touch every level of our being: our bodies, our minds and our spirits, our family and social life, our work and profession. To be “healed” cannot be confined to the physical level. And in many instances, we may be physically healthy but suffer afflictions that are mental or spiritual: bouts of depression, lingering anger and resentment at past hurts, and so on. Because of the depth and scope of the human experience of suffering like this, “healing” becomes a way of expressing what we are called to do as followers of Jesus, just as Jesus commissioned his first followers to go out and heal.
In a now famous metaphor, Pope Francis has described the church as a “field hospital,” set up to accept the wounded and to heal them. In a recent article in The Chicago Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal Cupich reflected on this image and noted that the “medicine” distributed in this field hospital is none other than God’s mercy. Reaching out in word and deed to bring God’s mercy to those in need is at the heart of the Church’s mission to the world. Such healing takes place in a wide variety of ways: professional healing through the medical arts and technology, wise counsel from a therapist or parent, efforts to bring justice and equity to the marketplace, striving to reconcile with those we may have offended, comforting those who mourn or feel lost. In all these ways, we continue the healing ministry of Jesus, driving out evil and bringing healing and peace.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.