Taking Each Other's Hands

11 January 2006: Wednesday of the 1st Week of Ordinary Time
Mark 1, 29-39: The Healing Stories of Jesus

The great philosopher Victor Frankl once said, “What is to give light must first endure burning.” Indeed, the greatest healers are those who were scalded by the severest suffering. Those who fill the world with warmth are those who were scorched by emptiness. And the greatest lovers are those who were charred by the pangs of loneliness.

The theme of healing in today’s readings cry out with the reality of suffering. From the depths of his being, Job groans and complains to the Lord, the way our hearts slam at heaven’s gate asking why, amidst our efforts to love Him, we should experience so much affliction--- even more painful now than ever before.

And when Job wails, he wails with the world. The world that yearns for healing. The world that is wounded and worn, scorched and seared, charred to the bone. In television or internet news, a day does not go by without someone in one part of the world getting killed or murdered. There are days the eyes of children from war-torn countries like East Timor or Chechnya burn the pages of newspapers and magazines. Blood stains world events as fast as forest fires. And if one is lucky enough to be away from these holocausts, one is still plagued by an inner fire that eats up the very fiber of one’s existence. The wound of misery do haunt us all.

But we hear of people who rise from the very affliction that burns them. Somehow these people undergo some kind of experience that brings back the smiles in their eyes, the hope that characterizes healing. What could have happened, we can glean from the Gospel.

The Gospel speaks of the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law. It tells us that Jesus and his disciples are at the house of Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John. Nothing else. But we can dig out something more: if a dignitary or a movie star comes to visit us, we would not want to be sick. Filipino hospitality has it that the guest should be given the red-carpet treatment, we give them all that we have, all that we are. Second, it is embarassing not to be able to entertain guests. A movie star will attract attention. Having a movie star as a visitor will send people rushing to your house to get a glimpse of him/her. What will people say? I could imagine how it would be to be sick with a fever. To suffer from illness is terrible when an important guest comes unexpectedly, especially someone whom one loves.

What do we yearn when we are sick? Healing. Well-being. A certain wholeness. But how can this be possible? Can we heal ourselves? Or, do we need others to alleviate us from our suffering?

In the Gospel of Mark, we see a movement far different from the way we respond to suffering. Jesus approaches, lifts her up, and takes her by the hand. The next thing we are told, she is serving them.

The answer to suffering is Jesus’ response. Jesus approaches us. It is not us who approach Jesus first. He takes the first step. He becomes like us; he enters our suffering. He chooses to be burned and charred like the rest of us, to heal us. He empathizes and understands because he knows what it is to suffer. He is Emmanuel.

This first step is the Christian’s response to human suffering. The second reading tells us how Paul became all things to all persons. He made himself a slave of all so as to win over as many as possible. He became like a Jew in order to win the Jews. To the weak, he became a weak person with the view of winning the weak. He has done all these things for the sake of the Gospel. The first step towards healing others is to “approach the one who suffers” and to become one with him or her. To be one is to be scorched together. Burned together. Our wounds begin to heal when tissues from both sides of the cut, find and embrace each other. Luciano de Crescenzo said, “We are each of us angels with only one wing. And we can only fly embracing each other.”

Flying indeed needs the wing of another. Jesus “took the hand of Peter’s mother-in-law” and “lifted her up.” And she was healed. What happened between Jesus’ touching her hand and her being lifted up, we do not know.

But we do know what touch can do. A touch does give us some spark, gives us some hope and consolation, comfort in need. I remember when my father died. It was the darkest moment in my family’s life. If I were to describe it, it was the lowest point in our life that a scratch on the ground was all it would take to see hell. But what actually made our family strong were the hands that consoled us--- relatives and friends. The touch lightened us up--- brightened the gloom that enveloped us all. We were lifted up, almost like an earthly flight to heaven. All it took was a simple touch, a casual embrace. Tissues finding each other, embracing each other. Healing comes. Hope blooms.

However, we know that healing is never the end. When one is touched, when one is healed, there is that impulse that we too want to heal others. When a human being is in need, it is another human being’s instinct to help. And thus, the Gospel of Mark ends with this: “and she served them.” The literal sense completes the imagery of hospitality--- that of serving guests; but that is not all. We know that when we refuse the food the host prepared for us, we know that the she will be hurt. The refusal of what is offered, is a refusal of the host who is making the offer. Because the food symbolizes the host. She had given everything. That is indeed service; an enduring and endearing service by those whom Christ has healed---- by those who have endured burning and now give light.

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