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The voice of illness, part 3: How was Jesus present?

December 27, 2011
In the first part, we defined the voice of illness as the voice inside all of us that cries out ‘where is God?’ In Part two we began looking at the work of pastoral ministers and the tension between being and doing.
When I look at scripture, Jesus never shied away from healing anyone (at least none that were recorded). All throughout the Gospels and mainly in Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus encounters disease and suffering, and he heals. We hear tireless accounts of Jesus curing lepers and curing the sick; of Jesus healing the Centurion’s Servant; Jesus healing the lame and paralytics and expelling demons; the healing of the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak and Jairus’ daughter brought to life; Jesus healing the blind, the deaf and the mute, the woman who had been crippled for 18 years and the man with the withered hand. We are very familiar with the stories of Jesus calming the storm, of Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery and of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus always confronted suffering with healing, with forgiveness of sins and by offering hope and comfort. It is not very clear whether Jesus ever sat and just listened to people or whether He let them set the agenda. (Although, according to the Gospels, He never heals anyone who does not ask for it. Perhaps that is letting them set the agenda.)
Perhaps, during this time of the year, the kind of suffering we encounter is not the physical kind. Perhaps it's closer to  Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman from John 4:4-26. She is not crippled or ill. But she is in pain and Jesus is attune to her voice of illness. He offers her living water and changes her life. Her question, 'where is God?' has been answered. But did Jesus merely listen to her and do nothing? On the contrary, he teaches her, corrects her and offers her a solution. He fixes her problem, as he does with everyone else he heals.
Not to presume that we can operate in the same way Jesus operated (He answered, 'Where is God' by simply being God). I believe that in many cases we must offer words of encouragement and when necessary and appropriate, solutions. The key is to first be present (the better part, as in what Mary chose) and allow for Christ to be present. Then be authentic in our ministry to that person.
Yesterday was the feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr. He was also one of the seven first deacons. Tomorrow we'll look at how deacons are called to confront suffering.
Read all the posts of The voice of illness: part one, part twopart four, part five, part six, part seven.
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Credit: CNS photo

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