In this week’s first reading we encounter Job’s description of his current condition after all the tragedy that has entered his life in the earlier parts of the book. He suffers both physically and spiritually. His friends have found him full of infected boils and other ailments, yet he suffers even more spiritually. He has lost his possessions. He has lost his sons and daughters. Even more, his wife berates him for remaining steadfast in his faith in God.
The church uses this reading as preparation for this week’s Gospel in which Jesus goes about curing physical illness and driving out demons. The demons are perhaps types of spiritual ailments we experience in our daily lives. They could be poor relationships that destroy our peace of soul. Maybe, we are beset with financial worries. We may experience any number of psychological problems such as anxiety, fear or anger. Simply living our human condition means encountering suffering just like Job.
It is a quite different picture in the Gospel where we encounter Jesus. He cures physical ailments of Peter’s mother-in-law and many others who come to him that evening. He also heals spiritual ailments that possess people, or as the Gospel says, he drives out demons.
When we come to the church in the context of a healing and anointing service we are asking Jesus to both cure and heal us. We ask him to cure our physical ailments such as cancer, heart issues, arthritis or constant headaches. If we limit our desire for healing to the physical, however, we underestimate Jesus’ power. It is quite appropriate to bring our spiritual ailments to the Lord for healing as well. We can ask that he help us get through a pattern of sinfulness. We might want the grace to heal broken relationships such as a marriage gone sour, children who no longer go to church, and worry about the future. These contemporary demons are ones that Jesus can and does drive from our lives.
It is helpful to distinguish between healing and curing. Curing can be taken as the ability to heal physical ailments, which is a type of healing. In the wonderful story of the four friends who bring their friend to Jesus we see both curing and healing. Since there is a large crowd surrounding the entrance to the house, the friends remove a section of the roof and lower the man into the presence of Jesus and the crowd. Jesus first heals the spiritual condition of the man telling him that his sins are forgiven. Then he cures the paralysis. He sends the man and his friends on their way. This story illustrates that physical cure is only one kind of healing and that Jesus takes care of both our spiritual needs and our physical needs in his ministry of care for those who suffer.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.