“I will come myself and heal him.”
These are the words Jesus speaks in the eighth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel when the centurion approaches Jesus and tells him of his son who is dying at home. “I will come myself and heal him.”
These are also the words of the Advent season, with its precise focus on the coming of the Lord, that he himself comes to us in the birth of the Christ-child.
I believe these were also the words in the heart of God as he allowed human history to unfold, seemingly without him, for tens of thousands of years. Guiding human history, watching all of our tribes and kingdoms come and go, watching all of the ways that we tried to fill ourselves and fill our lives with meaning, he watched knowing all along that man has an emptiness only he could fill. He waited for the moment when he could make himself known again, and this time the relationship he would offer us would be way more intimate and incredible than what he offered in the beginning.
And these are the words that Jesus wishes to speak to us, particularly during this Holy Year of Mercy.
“You can not heal yourself, redeem yourself, or save yourself.”
“I will come myself and heal you.”
God himself came to us. This Jesus reveals who God is. We don’t always get this point entirely. Jesus reveals who God is, and only in Jesus do we have any idea of who God is. Too often we take our own broken understanding of who “God” is, and then we project that onto Jesus. We have to throw away any of our presuppositions about what the word “God” means, and allow Jesus to show us who God is.
Because if we had it our way, what would God be like?1 We want a God who will reward us for being good, who will grant us a pass to Heaven because we went to Mass every Sunday and confession when we needed to. We want a God who will demonstrate his power in the face of evil and suffering, who will stop the earthquake from occurring or somehow wipeout ISIS with the snap of his fingers.
But this is not the God Jesus reveals.
Even worse, we project onto God our own ideas of who he is based on frail things like how our own father’s treated us or how we view ourselves. We’re embarrassed of ourselves and our sinfulness, so God must be too. Our dads were distant or useless, so God the Father must be, as well. We’ve failed to be a good friend, sibling, spouse, parent and are disappointed in ourselves; therefore God must be disappointed in us as well. It’s all a bit Freudian, sure, but we do it.
This is not the God Jesus reveals. The challenge for us today is: Will we have the humility to let God be God? Can we allow him to love us even when we can’t stand ourselves? Will we trust him when he seems to be inactive in the face of the world’s horrors or the sufferings in our own lives? Or will we continue to project our own notions of who God is onto Jesus and the God he reveals? Will we walk away from him for not being the type of God we want?
In his Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection, Jesus Christ reveals a God who thirsts for relationship with us, a God who desires to heal us, to spend eternity with us … if we will just lay down our arms and allow him to love us; if we will aggressively reject the lies we’ve allowed ourselves to believe about this God Jesus reveals.
A God who desires to heal—this is the only God that exists, and only Jesus reveals him to us.
The high point of revelation, of God making himself known to us, is the Cross and Death of Jesus.
Here is God, exposed, abused, totally giving of himself for us, to us. And as he nears his end, the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus exclaims, “I thirst.”
“And people thought He was thirsty in an ordinary way and they gave Him vinegar straight away; but it was not for that thirst; it was for our love, our affection, that intimate attachment to Him, and that sharing of His passion. He used, ‘I thirst,’ instead of ‘Give Me your love’ ... ‘I thirst.’ Let us hear Him saying it to me and saying it to you.”2
In the Word made flesh and crucified, God’s great thirst for us is made known. When he dies, the eternal Word spoken from all eternity by the Father is made silent. What a great paradox—the Word made flesh, made silent. But perhaps we could say that in this silence of the Word, the Word speaks louder than ever before.3 In the terrifying silence of death, he says, “I love you and have given myself up for you” (Galatians 2:20).
In Jesus Christ God offers us everything he has to give: himself, and nothing more. There is nothing else to give. Nothing else satisfies.
To be healed and to be saved is to be in the Father’s heart.4 Jesus is the Father’s beloved, and only him. He wants to share his intimate relationship he has with the Father with us. There is no other type of relationship with God that exists. We must come to him, hand ourselves over to him, and Jesus will, in turn, bear us to the Father. This is salvation. To be in the Father’s heart, as Jesus is. This is the incredible relationship God thirsts to have with us.
Just like Jesus is the beloved, and he desires to share his relationship with the Father with us, so also is he the holy one. There is no holiness apart from him. We cannot do anything to make ourselves more holy, to earn God’s love. Jesus simply loves. He wants to personally heal us and share his holiness with us.
Again, those words: “I will come myself and heal him.”
Our role to is accept what he offers, to say yes like Mary, to open ourselves to him and allow him to love us, to heal us, to save us each moment of each day, to unite ourselves to his self-offering in the Mass regardless of the 70’s hymns and uninspired preaching, simply permitting him to work in us in whatever way he desires.
But us fragile creatures, afflicted by the effects of our human family’s rejection of God all of those millennia ago, still aren’t convinced that this is what we really want. This is not the God we expect. We want a God or a spiritual life that will boost us up, inflate our pride a bit, make us feel special or different from “the world,” whatever that is. We want proofs of God, miracles, and security. We want excitement and good feelings. We want success. Jesus Christ does not guarantee us any of these things.
The Cross is the highpoint of revelation. “Nothing in that revelation says that our experience of this intimate relationship with Christ, of this salvation, will be a serene or blissful experience. Jesus died on that cross in an ecstasy of love with his God and Father—but what do you think his experience was?”5
We are offered and promised the same ecstasy of love, but we are not promised any sort of beautiful experience of God. He just may allow us some brief and glorious experiences of him, he may allow us to see a miracle or to sometimes have strong feelings of his love for us. But these things, these experiences, these feelings, are not God himself. They are not why he came. We cannot turn these things into idols and desire them more than God himself.
The God who died for us does not promise anything other than the greatest imaginable gift: himself. Through joy, sorrow, rain, and shine—and our usual state of just feelingless living—the Christian has God within him.
A lot of religions share the same ethics of Christianity. But Christianity is unique in insisting that it is God who sanctifies us, that our own efforts don’t make us holy or save us. We try to offer Jesus our works, hoping that will get us a pass to Heaven. But Jesus does not thirst for these things. He thirsts for us. He says to us what he said to St. Faustina when she was so sure that she had already surrendered her life to him; he says, “You’re holding something back: your misery.”6 Like a true lover, he desires even the worst of us. He thirsts for everything.
St. Thomas Aquinas knew what mattered. He wrote more about our faith than anyone before or since, with a precision and clarity that is unmatched. And after completing a text about the Eucharist, he was found praying. Under sworn testimony, a brother in his religious order stated that he stood at the door of the chapel while Thomas prayed and heard a voice come from the crucifix that Thomas knelt before, saying, “You have written well of me, Thomas. I will give you anything you ask for. What is it you want?”
Thomas answered, “Only yourself, Lord.”
Can you imagine the joy this brought our Lord, who himself came to heal us? Can you imagine the fervor with which he poured himself into Thomas’ heart at that moment? Finally, here was a human heart which recognized its emptiness and was willing to accept the only real gift God had for him: himself.
His very self is the only thing God offers us. When we accept the gift of his love day after day, slowly surrendering more and more of our lives to him, then Jesus shares his own intimacy with the Father with us, today and in eternity.
That is the healing Christ offers us.