"He had compassion on her...God has visited His people!" reads the Gospel of St. Luke in the story of the raising of the widow's son. St. Luke was a physician; an earthly physician writing about the Heavenly Physician. It offers some insight about the healing ministry of Christ and our part in it.
Nain, the village where the healing took palce, was a small village about a day's journey from Capernaum near the foothills of Mt. Tabor (where the Transfiguration took place). Widows did not have it easy in Palestine in the time of Jesus. The area was agrarian and required hard, physical work just to survive. A husban or son meant the difference between subsistance living or abject poverty. A widow had few legal rights and could not inherit land. She became dependent on charity in order to live.
Most likely the son died from some disease common to the time although the scriptures give no indication what his sickness was. We can see however, particularly when we understand the ramifications that widowhood imposed on women of the time, the raising of the son was not only significant because a dead person had been raised to life, but also because compassion had been extended to a mother who would suffer because of that death.
What is compassion? It is a deep awareness of the suffering of another. The word derives from the Latin com (with or sharing) and passio (passion or suffering). Jesus came upon the widow weeping and sensed her sorrow. He was aware of her pain and suffering and said to her: "Do not weep."
The first thing to note is that compassion of Jesus is divine, which is to say that compassion is His only motive. On commenting on this gospel St. Cyril of Alexandria pointed out:
The dead man was being buried, and many friends were conducting him to his tomb. But there meets him Christ, the Life and Resurrection, for He is the destroyer of death and corruption. He it is "in Whom we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28); He it is who restored the nature of man to that which it originally was; and set free our death — fraught flesh from the bonds of death (St. Cyril of Alexandria. Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke, Homily 36 in Manley, 1990).
Everything that occurs in the gospels is for our benefit. What can we draw from this narrative? We are to be healers. Some might counter: "We cannot raise even a single person from the dead, yet alone all mankind." But yes we can and we are called to do so. We are called to raise ourselves and those around us from the death of sin. To be followers of Christ, we can and must work at healing our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others which as St. Cyril pointed out is connected to death in the flesh.
Jesus will physically raise to glory those who have overcome the illness of their souls. Sometimes sin brings on that illness. Sin brings death. Sin can be pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and spiritual sloth. We know that these illness can occur in us not only by our own thoughts and actions, but by counseling or commanding others to sin; by consenting to the sin of others; or by provoking, praising or giving flattery to evil. We know spiritual death in others can be hastened silence or even the concealment of their illness. However we also know the tools of spiritual healing: humility, charity, love and forgiveness, chastity, gentleness and mildness, moderation, spiritual joy and happiness and finally zeal or diligence for the things of God.
One stumbling block for many for those hearing or reading about the 'healing' ministry of Christ is "I hurt so much, I or someone I love is in so much pain — I cry out to God, Lord help me, cure me or my loved one and He does not answer." On a human level this is a real, true stumbling block. On a human level I have no answer, the question cannot be answered (Morelli, 1996). But it can be answered on a divine level. Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, a contemporary spiritual father of the Church (d.1994) left us an answer to a this very human question. His biographer, Priestmonk Christodoulos writes:
One day, I went to Father Paisius and asked him: "Elder, what do saints have that makes them different from the rest of us and thus they receive the grace of God?" "Our saints had divine justice instead of human justice," he replied. "What is divine justice?" I asked him once again. He answered. "Suppose, two men are sitting at the table t eat. In front of them there is a plate with ten peaches. If one of them greedily eats seven and leaving three for his friend, he is being unfair to him this is injustice. Instead, if he says: 'Well, we are two and the peaches are ten. So each one of us is entitled to eat five peaches.' If he eats the five peaches and leaves the other five for his friend, then he applies human justice; That is why, many times, we go to court to find human justice. However, if he understands that his friend likes peaches very much, he can pretend that he is not very fond of them and eat only one, and then says to him: 'Please eat the rest of the peaches, as I don't really like them ... this person has divine justice; he prefers to be unfair to himself by human standards and be rewarded for his sacrifice by God's grace, which he will abundantly receive ... Human justice is zero compared to divine justice'" (Ageloglou, 1998).
The gospels are filled with examples of divine justice. Jesus, God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, allowed Himself to be bruised, derided, cursed, defiled and crucified for our salvation: He even said "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34). The workers in the Vineyard who came in at the last hour, received the same wage as those who toiled all day (Matthew 20). Our constant prayer when confronting the physical and spiritual illness incomprehensible in human terms is the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39). Jesus did not guarantee human healing, but divine healing. The meaning of our own crucifixion unknown to us now, is understood and lead to glory in God's eyes. Jesus I trust in you. Glory to God in all things.
Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.
Manley, J. (1990). The Bible and the Holy Fathers. Menlo Park, CA: Monastery Books.
Morelli, G. (2006). Illness, Death and Life: An Orthodox Perspective. The Handmaiden. 10, 2, 5-10.
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
Fr. Morelli is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is a Senior Fellow at the Sophia Institute, an independent Orthodox Advanced Research Association and Philanthropic Foundation housed at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York City that serves as a gathering force for contemporary Orthodox scholars, theologians, spiritual teachers, and ethicists.
Fr. Morelli serves on the Executive Board of the San Diego Cognitive Behavior Therapy Consortium (SDCBTC)
Fr. Morelli serves as Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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