Jesus enters the house where Simon’s mother-in-law “lay sick with a fever” (the Gospel for this Sunday). This miracle of mercy, related so early in the Gospel of Mark, is intended for us as well. It is a little foundation on which we can build our faith.
Jesus does three compassionate things in this Gospel account that we can count on.
Upon learning from the four Apostles that Peter’s mother-in-law was ill, the Gospel goes out of its way to tell us that Jesus “approached” her. Clearly this indicates that Jesus physically goes to the woman, but it also means much more. It signifies that the whole of Jesus’ attention is focused on the sick person; that Jesus takes the initiative to draw close and to be united with the sick person; that the first act in the woman’s healing is the saving Presence of Jesus Christ drawn near to her.
St. Faustina says in her Diary:
God approaches a soul in a special way known only to himself and to the soul. Love presides in this union, and everything is achieved by love alone. Jesus gives himself to the soul in a gentle and sweet manner, and in his depths there is peace. He grants the soul many graces and makes it capable of sharing his eternal thoughts. And frequently, he reveals to it his divine plans.
Our struggles, our sicknesses, our sorrows can be occasions in which we languish at the “distance” of God. But it may be those very trials that prompt the Lord to come close. Our needs, our difficulties predispose us to be open to the approach of Jesus.
Carmelite Sr. Ruth Burrows offers this moving reflection on the mystery of the approach of Jesus:
God’s one desire and purpose is to give himself to me. Our mortal span in God’s eyes is the opportunity for us to be prepared to receive God. It is an opportunity for God to come close to us. And this “coming close” is to prepare us for total presence and indwelling. Never does the initiative lie with us. We haven’t to persuade God to be good to us but have only to surrender to the goodness that surrounds us. Only One has attained the Father, and we can attain him only insofar as we allow ourselves to be caught up in Jesus, carried along by him.
Jesus grasped her hand
What Jesus next does for the healed woman is an action celebrated throughout the Psalms. The gesture of grasping another by the hand is a signal image in the Psalms for expressing the power and tender care of God for us. St. Leo the Great quotes Psalm 37 — “Our steps are made firm by the lord, / when he delights in our way; / though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, / for the lord holds us by the hand” — and then comments:
God is continually guiding our feet out of the quagmire of preoccupation with present circumstances to the solid ground of joy and thanksgiving in the eternal life of heaven, helping us to rise again from our falls and to press forward to the fullness of the resurrection, when our bodies too will be glorified with Christ Jesus our Lord.
The gesture of grasping another by the hand is a signal image in the Psalms for expressing the power and tender care of God for us.
The “glory” of the sick woman is that she welcomes the hand of Jesus Christ extended to her in love. St. Augustine urges us: “The Lord leaned down and took you by the hand. With your strength alone you cannot rise. Hold tight to the hand of the One who reaches down to you.”
Jesus helped her up
And Jesus not only helps the healed woman to her feet; in raising her up he prefigures the resurrection to which she — and we — are called. Even now resurrection begins to take hold. So says St. Leo: “It is a fact: Our resurrection has already begun in Christ, and he longs to lead us into the fullness of life and healing.” From this moment on, the healed woman will never not feel the loving handclasp of the come-to-me Jesus, or the hoisting up to hope that never ends.
Find his series of brief reflections on prayer here.
And his new series on the Eucharist here.