Today’s readings should lead us to reflect on the close link between sickness and sin,
whether remotely or proximately. Sin is alienation from God and from each other. As a result of our loss of focus, man has usurped the place of God and made himself a god. That means he can no longer depend on anyone but himself. Inevitably, he loses his balance in life and all integrity within himself and his relationship with the world. This has brought about his bodily illness because there is a lack of integrity between his mind, body and spirit. The loss of the preternatural gifts, resulting in death, pain, ignorance and concupiscence, is the consequence of Adam’s disobedience. Seduced and misled by the serpent who said to his wife Eve, “You will not certainly die, for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:4-5
), his pride caused him to deceive himself into thinking that he can do without God.
The sin of the Israelites is the same sin as that of Adam’s. It is a repetition of the sin of pride and disobedience. Already in the Book of Exodus, we read how the Israelites made for themselves a golden calf whilst Moses was meeting the Lord at the Mountain. Again, we see this same attempt of Jeroboam. He “made two golden calves; he said to the people, ‘You have been going up to Jerusalem long enough. Here are your gods, Israel; these brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” It was out of ambition, fear and selfishness that he turned away from the true God of Israel and erected his own sanctuaries, altars for sacrifices, appointed his own priests that were not of the Levi tribe. He did all these to prevent his people from going to Jerusalem for fear that the people might return to the Kingdom of David. So to restrain contacts between his people and those of Judah, he duplicated the shrines purely for his self-interest. As a result, he led his people to sin, as their religion and worship became contaminated and diluted by pagan influences. When God is abandoned, sin increases. There is no greater sin than the sin of idolatry, for the sin of Adam is in fact the sin of idolatry. Anyone who worships himself is committing the sin of idolatry, which will lead to every other sin.
It was for this reason that Christ come. He came to reconcile us with God so that we can find focus in life again. He came to show us who His Father really is. He came to reveal to us the mercy and compassion of God. Indeed, the healing ministry was central to the life of Jesus. His healing miracles were signs that He has come to overthrow the reign of Satan and destroy sin. The miracles of Jesus were, on one hand, the expression of God’s compassion for His suffering and afflicted people. On the other hand, it was also a demonstration of the power of the Spirit at work in Jesus manifesting the divine presence in Him. By healing the sick, which is the consequence of original sin and also quite often the fruits of our own personal sins, it shows that God has come to restore us. By living a foolish, selfish, self-centered, ill-disciplined and wanton life, we cannot but bring misery upon ourselves and even our loved ones. St Paul, warning the Galatians about living a licentious life, wrote, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:7-8)
Jesus came to teach us about God’s love and the way to live a life of love and service. This is brought out in today’s gospel story. By the act of multiplying the loaves for the Seven Thousand, Jesus wanted the crowd to know that only God can satisfy their spiritual and physical hunger completely. And when God gives, He gives abundantly, beyond human calculation. This was what the disciples learnt in this miracle. When they were wondering how to feed so many people, Jesus worked this miracle to let them know that He is the Bread of Life. Just as God gave manna to their fathers in the desert, so now Jesus, the Bread of life, is doing the same by feeding them in a deserted place.
Accordingly, the best place to be healed is in the Eucharist. Many Catholics who are seeking spiritual, physical, emotional and psychological healing fail to realize that they have the greatest means of healing before them, namely, the Eucharist. Being the real presence of our Risen Lord, the Eucharist has the power to transmit the healing grace of God. At every mass, just before the reception of Holy Communion, we repeat the words of the Centurion, saying, “Lord I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Indeed, since Jesus is personally present in the Eucharist, He too can heal us the way He healed the sick when He was in His earthly life at Palestine.
Today, as in the days of old, there are so many people who need healing from all kinds of illnesses. Like the apostles, we too ask: how can we find the strength and resources to help them? The answer of course is to bring Jesus to them. And what better way to do this than to give them the Eucharist, the presence of Jesus par excellence. As the gospel tells us, after Jesus multiplied the loaves for them, they ate their fill and still they collected seven basket loads of leftover. So with Jesus, all can be satisfied.
But how is this so? Faith in the healing power of the Eucharist must not be reduced to mere superstition. We must keep the unity between the Word and the Sacrament. The gospel tells us that Jesus taught them for three days before He broke bread for them. In other words, before we can celebrate the sacrament of the Eucharist, we must be converted in the mind through careful listening of the Word of God. Unless the mind is renewed and converted, the heart cannot be changed. Unless a person is brought to repentance and contrition, no effective healing can take place, and even if it does, the person will once again be wounded emotionally, psychologically and physically by his sins. But if the mind is renewed and the heart is converted, then the person will avoid falling into sin again and save himself from the effects of sin. Furthermore, unless we have heard the Word, then we can in faith recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. This means that we must keep that integral and balanced unity between the celebration of the Word and the Sacrament. Sometimes, we tend to overemphasize the Word at the expense of the Sacrament; or conversely, emphasize the sacrament and neglect to attentively listen to the Word of God proclaimed at mass.
In the final analysis, we must ask whether we have encountered Jesus, the Word made Flesh, incarnated in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. If we fail to have a personal faith encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist, then the Eucharist cannot feed us or heal us. Once we encounter Jesus, we will be healed physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually. Encounter with the person of Jesus will heal all our wounds.
However, the healing grace of the Eucharist extends beyond the reception of the sacrament. We become what we eat. So we become more like Jesus when we receive Him, putting on His mind and heart. In turn we too become mediators of Christ’s love and compassion to others. Like Jesus, we will also become healers ourselves, reaching out to others who are as wounded as we were. Like Jesus, we too must in turn be motivated by pastoral charity, shown concretely in our actions, our compassion for them in their sufferings and needs.
For this to happen, we need priests chosen by the Lord. If the Eucharist is the summit of the Church’s liturgy and life, then without priests, we will not have the Eucharist. That is why we must continue to pray for young men to have the courage and generosity to give themselves to the priesthood. Without the Eucharist, the people of God would be like those Seven Thousand, hungry for food. Priests are chosen by God, not by men, as what Jeroboam did. He tried to dissuade his people from going to the Temple of Jerusalem by erecting his own temples, appointing priests who were not from the tribe of Levi and established his own feasts. The truth is that just because he was doing and imitating what was being done at the Temple of Jerusalem, it does not mean that he could bring about the presence of God for the people. Similarly, without ordained ministers, the people of God will be impoverished and be deprived of the healing grace that comes from the Eucharist. Let us therefore seek a deeper appreciation of the Eucharist, and at the same time pray for an increase of holy priestly vocations.