Healing in Luke 4: Individual and Social

When we follow God’s call to cross boundaries carrying the healing grace of God, building bridges, we should not be surprised by rejection or suffering.  We are all made by God living in a world made by God.  God will see to the success of the divine Word.

Mahatma Gandhi has parallels to today’s Gospel account in one or more ways.  As a teenager in the 1960’s, I read Gandhi’s volume Satyagraha .  The book was slim and yet very deep. “[Satyagraha] translates roughly as ‘Truth-force.’ — or — ‘the force that is generated through adherence to Truth.’  Nowadays, it’s usually called non-violence. But for Gandhi, non-violence was the word for a different, broader concept-namely, ‘a way of life based on love and compassion.’  In Gandhi’s terminology, Satyagraha-Truth-force-was an outgrowth of nonviolence.”

At the time of his assassination, Gandhi was engaged in building bridges between Hindu India and Moslem Pakistan. “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, was assassinated in New Delhi on 30 January 1948. Nathuram Godse, a militant Hindu nationalist approached and [shot Gandhi] to death.  Prior to this, there had been five unsuccessful attempts to kill Gandhi, the first occurring in 1934”.

The statement “Physician, heal yourself” (Lk 4:23) would be a negative statement about Jesus’ work of healing.  The healing that Luke’s Jesus really wished to focus on in this Gospel reading is that healing which is reflected within two strands as follows:

(a) Firstly, the healing of those that suffer stanza from Isaiah 61.1f., quoted here in Lk 4:18-19, namely: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor: he has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and to set at liberty them that are bruised;

(b) Secondly, the reference to the healing work of the Hebrew prophets’ (Elijah  and Elisha) among foreign nations (Lk 4:25-27).

By virtue of the reference to Elijah, Luke stated that Jesus’ healing work was to be transnational and in the tradition of the renowned prophets Elijah and Elisha.  That is, the vision of freed and healed individuals and society was not a limited to any one nation (like the ancient nation of Israel, or any modern country).  Rather, the vision of freed and healed individuals and societies included other nations  than Isreal.  Well any healing would have to be every healing.  Of course it would have to be, would it not?

This is further underscored by the following reconstruction of the dialogue between Luke’s characterization of the Jews and of Jesus.  Could Jesus be a recognized and acknowledged person locally in his immediate context?

  • Did they query whether Jesus was a loyal member of the local community? Jesus’ home was Nazareth; he was a Jewish figure, that followed Jewish customs (verse 16); and he was the son of and ordinary villager Joseph (verse 22).
  • Did they query whether Jesus abode by the law? Jesus had an encyclopedic knowledge of the scriptures, and quoted them (verse 17-19, 25-27). Once more caveat is that in Luke’s perspective, ‘the scriptures’ meant something different to Jesus than what they meant to the Jews.
  • The Jews of that time and place (verse 22) did not recognize in the arrival of Jesus the Messianic epoch of God (verse 23-24). Moreover, they railed against him (The Messiah) (verse 28-30).

Despite that, let us suppose for a moment that Jesus personally could be recognized and accepted in his local context. Even so, yet internationalism was opposed there and then.  Such opposition is not so far removed from us today. Internationalism is also opposed at our moment here and now, and truly at most times of human history.

There is an ambiguity in the initial acceptance of Jesus there in the synagogue of Nazareth; followed by the sudden rejection of Jesus by the congregation there. The turning point was the matter of God’s grace, divine approval, crossing out of their local boundaries: in a prophetic manner, going to people of other ethnic groups, of other socio-economic groups, to the disabled: crossing every boundary.

Like Jesus’ audience that day, we have the same problem.  All too often, we understand God’s ‘justice’ to mean, “Just Us.”  We want to be paid in large amounts, but we pay our workers in small amounts, and we give to God in small coins.  We definitely do not want to socialize with them.

We have to be careful lest in our own lives, it happens as it has world over for all time: We become embroiled in injustice. We act in accord with what God is against. To the contrary, as God was incarnate in Jesus, so God can be incarnate in us, in our own life with the Spirit.

There is suffering to be expected in building bridges and crossing boundaries carrying the love of God. 

Think of the Martyrs of Japan, remembered on February 5th in the Church Calendar.  I have read Shusaku Endo‘s acclaimed book Silence.  Here is the background to that novel. 

“The Japanese Shogunate and imperial government at first supported the [Roman] Catholic mission and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks, and help trade with Spain and Portugal. However, the Shogunate was also wary of colonialism, seeing that in the Philippines the Spanish had taken power after converting the population. [As from the time of St. Paul, over 1600 years before the Japanese] government increasingly saw Christians and missionaries as a threat, and started persecuting Christians. Christianity was banned and those Japanese who refused to abandon their Catholic faith were killed.

“On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians—six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese  Jesuits  and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys—were executed by  crucifixion  in  Nagasaki. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears.

“Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630. On September 10, 1622, 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki in what became known as the Great Genna Martyrdom. At this time Roman Catholicism was officially outlawed. The Church remained without clergy and theological teaching disintegrated until the arrival of missionaries in the nineteenth century.

“While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of whom was Paulo Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized by the Catholic Church on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX and are listed on the calendar as Sts. Paul Miki and his Companions, commemorated on February 6. Originally this feast day was listed as Sts. Peter Baptist and Twenty-Five Companions, Martyrs, and commemorated on February 5.[1]

“Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo‘s acclaimed novel Silence provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Christian communities and the suppression of the Church.”

When we follow God’s call to build bridges and cross boundaries with the healing grace of God, we should not be surprised by rejection or suffering.  It has always been costly and it always will be.  Yet we are God’s people, and God will see to the success of the divine Word. God will be our joy, our strength, and our ultimate celebration as we journey in faith.

(See Wikipedia on Mahatma Gandhi and the Martyrs of Japan)

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