2 Sm 12:7-10, 13 / Gal 2:16, 19-21 / Lk 7:36-50
There’s a tale by H.G. Wells about an elegant, white-maned old bishop who could always be counted on for a pious platitude. When faced with an angry or troubled person, he’d assume his most pious pose and speak in his best stained-glass voice, “Have you prayed about it, my child?” If spoken in just the right way, this all-purpose question silenced the visitor, and the bishop was home free!
Now the bishop himself didn’t pray much. After all, his life was quiet and uneventful, and he felt himself quite in charge of things. But one day the roof fell in, and he found himself, quite overwhelmed. It occurred to him that perhaps he ought to take his own advice and pray. So late on Saturday evening, he walked down the center aisle of the cathedral, knelt in the first pew, folded his hands, and couldn’t help thinking to himself how wonderfully childlike and prayerful he must look. Then he began to pray, “O God, look down upon thy humble servant, bring me healing in this hour of my need…”
Suddenly there was a voice, strong and firm, “Yes, my son, what do you wish?”
When the cathedral parishioners arrived for early mass the next morning, they found their bishop still in that first pew, with an incredible look of surprise on his face, stone cold dead of shock! The bishop had said the words all his life, but he’d never really expected an answer.
+ + +
Sunday’s Gospel is about the healing of hearts: Our need for it, and Jesus’ power to make it happen. The gospel says that Jesus cured the sick and healed those who were possessed by evil spirits. It isn’t talking about people being tormented by little red fellows with horns and pitchforks. It’s talking about people whose spirits were troubled, people whose insides were out of control. Jesus was healing them.
That brings us to a very practical question: What do we have to do for our spirits to get healed? The answer is that we have to start by admitting our need for healing, admitting we’re not whole, not finished, and that there are missing parts and broken places in us. That seems easy enough. Don’t we admit that all the time? “I’m only human,” we say. But that’s a cheap admission, because it really has no content and thus no real value except as an escape hatch. What we have to admit are the ugly specifics of our wounds: Our own special jealousy, hatred, cruelty, treachery, or whatever. Our wounds are not pretty, but they must be named, by us, if they are ever to be healed.
But even that isn’t enough, for there’s yet another admission we have to make: We cannot heal ourselves. So are we stuck where we are, wounded and unfinished? Our faith says “no”! There is no wound too large or too deep to be healed by God, if we ask. And there’s the rub, for too often our asking isn’t asking at all. Remember the prayer of St Augustine in his wild youth, “Lord, make me chaste and pure, but not yet.” Our asking has to be confident, but more than that, it has to be honest and without ambivalence. It has to be committed to receiving and taking inside the healing grace the Lord will surely send. How often is our asking like that?
Every time we gather at mass, every time we say the Our Father, and lots of other times as well, we pray for God’s healing of our inner wounds, and we do this year after year. Do we in fact really want an answer to our prayer? Or are we like that self-deceiving bishop who’d grown comfortable as he was?
If we do want an answer, if we do want healing, our course is clear:
- admit to our wound and name it;
- acknowledge that we are helpless on our own;
- ask for help with confidence; and
- show that our asking is sincere by preparing to receive the grace that will heal us and raise us up.
We all need God’s healing, and God desires to give it. Only one question remains: Have we made ourselves ready to receive it?
Don’t answer too fast!