Jesus’ healing miracles didn’t end when he ascended into heaven. He still heals people in our own day—and more often than we think! In this issue, Catholic theologian and author Dr. Mary Healy shows us how we can grow in faith and participate in God’s plan to heal people and draw them close to his heart. Mary is a professor of Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit and a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. These articles are adapted from her book Healing: Bringing the Gift of God’s Mercy to the World (Our Sunday Visitor, 2015). Scripture passages are taken from the Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition and the New American Bible, Revised Edition.
A young man walking on the beach after a day of surfing saw a teenage girl in a wheelchair with her parents. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, he went up to her and asked her how she was doing. Then he asked her if she wanted prayer for anything.
The girl began pouring out her story: born with cerebral palsy, she had recently struggled with addiction and depression, and had just gotten out of the hospital after trying to end her life. The young man prayed with her for a while, and as he did, her crooked knees began to straighten out. He asked her to get up and walk, and she was able to walk better than she ever had before. She and her parents were overjoyed! After being healed, she returned to her Catholic faith and later told the young man that she felt lighter and freer than she ever had in her life.
I am convinced that this true story represents something immensely significant that God is doing in the Church in our time. The healing of the girl on the beach, while dramatic, is not unique. Thousands of similar healings have taken place around the world in recent years as Catholics and other Christians have responded with new faith and fervor to the Lord’s call to evangelize in the power of the Holy Spirit. In this age when so many have wandered far from God, the Lord is calling us to proclaim the gospel not only in words but also in deeds that bear witness to the truth of these words.
There remain many misconceptions about healing today. Many Catholics assume that miracles of healing are confined to the lives of great saints or to shrines like Lourdes. However, the Lord really does want to heal, and he wants to use ordinary people like ourselves to do it. So let’s consider how we can grow in boldness and faith so that we can become the bearers of the Lord’s light and truth to many more people today.
Jesus Came to Heal Us. In the ancient world, leprosy was a deadly and terrifying disease, and people with leprosy were social outcasts. They were required by the Law of Moses to live apart from human society, and wherever they went, they had to rend their garments and shout, “Unclean, unclean” (Leviticus 13:45).
As Jesus was traveling from village to village in Galilee, a man with leprosy approached him. Braving the disapproval and disgust of others, he knelt before Jesus and voiced his plea: “If you will, you can make me clean” (Mark 1:40). Seeing the man’s wretched condition, Jesus was “moved with compassion” (see 1:41). The Greek word for “compassion” means physically churned up or stirred with gut-wrenching emotion. It was the deeply human reaction of the Son of God. We can imagine the love in Jesus’ eyes as he replied, “I do will it. Be made clean” (1:41, emphasis added). Does he “will” to make a man whole, to undo illness and disease and all the other ravages of sin that resulted from the Fall? This is what he came for!
Anointed by the Spirit to Heal. This healing, near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, foreshadowed the prominent role healings would play in his mission. Many people tend to think of healings as secondary to Jesus’ real purpose, to save souls. But the Gospels tell us otherwise. In the biblical understanding, the human person is an inseparable unity of body and soul. Christ came not just to “save souls” but to save human beings—to raise us up with God and all the redeemed forever. The body, therefore, has inestimable significance in God’s plan. It will one day be radiant with divine life (1 Corinthians 15:42-49). Jesus’ healings of bodily sickness and infirmity, then, are a foreshadowing of the glorious destiny of the human body.
Twenty-one percent of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ public ministry is devoted to reports of his physical healings and exorcisms. This is a striking percentage when one considers the length and importance of his teachings, not to mention other miracles such as the multiplication of loaves and the calming of the storm. Clearly, Jesus’ healings are not a minor element or peripheral to his real purpose.
Why such an emphasis on healing? The explanation is provided by Jesus himself in his first sermon, delivered in his hometown of Nazareth soon after his baptism:
The Spirit of the Lord is
because he has
anointed me to preach
good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
release to the captives
and recovering of sight
to the blind,
to set at liberty those who
to proclaim the acceptable year
of the Lord.
This “good news” includes not only hopeful words but the very realities that the words announce: freedom, healing, and release from captivity. The “poor” are both the materially poor and all people who are spiritually impoverished by their alienation from God. By applying this Scripture text to himself, Jesus is declaring that he has been anointed by the Holy Spirit in order to go into places of deep human bondage, of blindness, sickness, and oppression, to proclaim the good news of the kingdom and to visibly manifest it by setting people free.
Signs of the Kingdom. When we look closely at the Gospel accounts, we see that Jesus’ healings are inseparable from this preaching of the kingdom of God. He began his public ministry by announcing the arrival of the kingdom (Mark 1:15); then he demonstrated it by his healings and miracles. In Jesus’ very presence, in his words and deeds, the reign of God has been inaugurated on earth. The dominion of Satan has been broken, and the restoration of all creation has begun.
Everywhere Jesus went, he was surrounded by the sick and infirm. Nowhere do the Gospels record that he instructed a person simply to bear the suffering assigned to them. In no case does he indicate that a person is asking for too much and should be content with a partial healing or no healing.
This evidence from Scripture ought to challenge our accustomed ideas about the Lord’s will to heal. Have we too easily accepted the idea that sickness should simply be embraced? Do we too easily assume that if a person is ill, God wants her to remain that way for her good? Could our resignation to illness or infirmity even sometimes be a cloak for unbelief? Scripture does not say that the Lord will always heal us if only we have enough faith when we pray. However, it is reasonable to conclude that the Lord desires to heal far more often than we think.
Jesus’ Commission to His Followers. Everywhere Jesus went, teaching, healing, and casting out demons, people saw the promises of God being fulfilled before their eyes. The Gospels give not the slightest warrant for the idea that these signs of the arrival of his kingdom were to cease after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Rather, Jesus commissioned his followers to continue his saving mission by doing just as he had done.
During his public ministry, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles on a kind of practice mission. He commanded them, “Preach as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons” (Matthew 10:7-8). They were not to preach the kingdom in word alone, but to demonstrate it with deeds of power. And they would accomplish these mighty works, not by any ability of their own, but by the authority he delegated to them (10:1). Luke records that Jesus later commissioned a larger group of seventy and gave them the same charge (10:1-12).
During Jesus’ earthly life, the commission was only for those chosen delegates. But after his resurrection, the risen Lord extended that authority to all believers: “In my name they will cast out demons;…they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:17, 18). Now all believers, filled with the Spirit of the risen Lord, are gifted with supernatural power for their mission to “preach good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18).
The early Christians took Jesus’ words at face value, and the Lord vindicated their faith by doing abundant miracles through them. We can do the same as we step out and pray for healing in his name. In the next article, we’ll talk about the role that our faith plays in healing, and in the final article, we’ll look at three keys that can help open us up to God’s healing power. We know that God wants to heal his people today so that they can come to know his saving love and mercy. May he give us the grace and power to be part of this great work!