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Jesus' compassion for sick is a profound lesson


By Fr Patrick McCafferty

This weekend, for Catholics, marks the 26th World Day of Prayer for the Sick. In the providence of God, at worship this Sunday, we see Jesus healing a man with leprosy (Mark 1:40-45).

A man, afflicted with this terrifying disease, approaches Jesus and says, 'If you want to, you can cure me'. The Lord, moved with pity, says to him, 'Of course I want to. Be healed'.

The translation, 'moved with pity', according to those who study the sacred texts, does not adequately convey the depth of Jesus' response to the leper's plight.

Looking at the man, disfigured by this dreaded disease - and hearing his plea, 'if you want to' - the heart of Jesus shudders with profound emotion. The depths of the heart of God are stirred by what the leper's sufferings signify.

The lepers had to live out their agonising death sentence in isolation from their loved ones and from the community. Leprosy, a dreaded scourge, condemned the person to a slow death, cut off from every comfort and support.

So relieved is this particular leper to have been healed, that, despite having been forbidden to by Jesus, he talks about his healing to everyone who will listen. Jesus, out of concern for the practicalities of His ministry, had specifically told him not to.

Now, not only is the Lord the leper's healer but, in actual fact, the Lord takes the leper's place. It is now Jesus who must live apart because people from everywhere are seeking Him. It is now no longer safe or practical for Him to go about openly.

Jesus exchanging places with the leper gives us a clearer picture, of His identity and mission, as our Saviour and Redeemer. He takes our place on the Cross. He takes upon His own shoulders the entire weight of the world's sins. He Himself becomes the "man from whom people screen their faces, so disfigured did he look" (Isaiah 53:3).

Jesus takes our place. When we come to Him, disfigured by sin, no longer recognisable as children of God, when we kneel at the Lord's feet and ask Him to heal us, He touches us with His infinite mercy and love. He restores to us the dignity and belovedness that sin corrodes and destroys. All the ugly, corrosive, toxic defilement of sin, that disfigures humanity and isolates human beings from each other, is fixed upon Jesus on the Cross. He absorbs it. He drinks the cup overflowing with bitterness and sorrow. He drains it to the dregs. And in emptying the cup of evil, He defeats it and transforms the results of sin - changing death into life. And so, at the core of the Church's service of the sick is the love that moved Jesus, when confronted with the sufferings of so many, during His earthly ministry. The Lord's mission continues, by the power of the Holy Spirit, in His Church - His Body - His living presence in the world. "The Church's mission … must bring to the sick the Lord's own gaze, full of tenderness and compassion. Health care ministry will always be a necessary and fundamental task, to be carried out with renewed enthusiasm."

Pope Francis said: "We cannot forget the tender love and perseverance of many families in caring for their chronically sick or severely disabled children, parents and relatives. The care given within families is an extraordinary witness of love for the human person; it needs to be acknowledged and supported by suitable policies." Jesus' compassionate love for suffering humanity is what always motivates the Church's outreach to the sick. In caring for our suffering brothers and sisters who are ill, who are grown weak under the burden of years, we are reaching out and touching them with Christ's own tenderness.

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