A Reflection for the Memorial of St. Agatha, Virgin and Martyr
You can find today’s readings here.
“Whatever villages or towns or countryside he entered, they laid the sick in the marketplaces
and begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.” (Mk 6:56)
Their neighbors must have thought they had lost it. They loaded up their sick friends and relatives on pallets and dragged them into the marketplace, for what? Just let the sick rest. They are unwell. Bring them something to eat and drink. Make them comfortable. Why hassle the ill? Why all the commotion? There’s no need to instill false hope. Haven’t they suffered enough?
I can imagine thinking that. As I read today’s Gospel, I ask myself: Would I have been one of the people who recognized Jesus, or would I have been one of the skeptics telling people to relax? It’s hard to believe that merely touching a person’s clothes can heal. Frankly, it can be hard to believe that God is still healing people today.
Toward the end of his life, my grandfather lost the ability to walk. Our family dog—a pug named Napoleon—had lost the feeling in his legs and wasn’t walking much either. “Tu y yo igual,” my grandfather would say to Napoleon, “You and me both.” At that point, my grandfather had been through cancer once already and had gotten his strength back. But then, he couldn’t walk. It was devastating for him.
God doesn’t always use power in ways that make sense to me.
Some time passed—less than a year, if I remember it right. It was Easter Sunday, and my grandfather woke up and said to my grandmother (no doubt still sleeping), “I feel great today. I think I can walk.” And then he got up and walked. He hadn’t danced with his wife for a while, so he made sure to do that, too.
Was that God?
My grandfather basically walked for the rest of his life. Eventually the cancer returned. It weakened him and, because of that, he didn’t walk as much. And then he died.
It’s a great mystery to me. When does God choose to heal? When does Jesus use his power? The reading from Mark’s Gospel follows immediately after Jesus walks on water and calms the winds on the Sea of Galilee. And that’s right after the miracle of the loaves. After seeing all that, sure, maybe you get to thinking this guy’s clothes could heal you. Why not give it a try?
God doesn’t always use power in ways that make sense to me. God could have, for example, saved St. Agatha from martyrdom. And God could have healed my grandfather again—or at least given us a little more time with him. But God didn’t do that.
I accept that I will never fully understand. If God simply answered every prayer the way we wanted it answered, God would be more like a genie in a bottle. But God does not exist to grant wishes. Yet if the all-powerful, all-loving God never healed us… well, that doesn’t make sense either.
It remains a mystery. God heals on God’s terms. But God does heal. It’s worth asking for it and giving God a try.