Last week, we spoke about the need to become fiery witnesses to God’s presence. This week I would like to look at a particularly powerful form of witness, namely, the witness that comes from personal healing.
Last week, we spoke about how Scripture is central to our ability to recognise God working in our life. I am sure you are sick of me saying that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. So, learning how God has worked shows us how God is working and will continue to work. A good example of that are today’s readings. St Matthew has an eye out for the divine patterns we are talking about. There is a pattern in today’s readings that will recur in other parts of the Gospel, and therefore one that we should probably be looking out for in our own lives. This pattern will be a guide to where God wants to heal us.
Our gospel refers to the prophecy that we hear in our first reading. One of the characteristics of St Matthew’s gospel is precisely this attention to the fulfilment of prophecy. And the Church clearly thinks that this is important too: in both versions of today’s gospel, the prophecy must be read. So, what is the prophecy all about? What is that first reading talking about?
Well, a clue comes from Jesus’s announcement that the kingdom of heaven is close at hand. Anyone hearing the word ‘kingdom’ at the time of Jesus would think of God’s kingdom, the people of God, the Davidic line of kings. And our first reading deals with exactly that.
Our first reading is dealing with the reconstitution of the people of God. When David is made king, he is made king of the twelve tribes of Israel. But as the Bible tells us, the twelve tribes split off from each other. Ten tribes in the north form Israel; and two tribes in the South form Judah. The kingdom of God therefore seems barely to get off the ground before it is divided.
Worse still is what comes next. Around 770BC, the Assyrians invade the North and scatter the ten tribes of Israel among the nations. These tribes are, for all intents and purposes, lost. And the Bible tells us that the first of these tribes to be lost were those of Naphtali and Zebulun. So, the prophecy in Isaiah that is being fulfilled in our gospel is precisely God unwinding the destruction of the people of God.
Jesus’s mission to the people of God, his reconstitution of the twelve tribes is beginning right at the place where the dissolution began. He is reversing the order by choosing to start there; and starting there by choosing the first of the Apostles.
This is the pattern that we should be on the lookout for in our own lives: God beginning at the point of weakness. God showing God’s power by going to the heart of the matter, right into the heat of the battle. God choosing to rebuild exactly where it looks bleakest.
We see this in many places. In the Bible, God often restores integrity by reversing the pattern of disintegration. Perhaps the most famous example is how Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem and his Passion precisely reverse the original fall from paradise. The climax of the Cross shows that God chooses the worst moment of human history – our rejection of God, our seeking to kill God – as the moment to reveal God’s love and salvation.
This is what God wants to do for all of us. God wants to seek out our darkness, seek out our worst temptations, seek out our biggest embarrassments, perhaps failed relationships, God wants to seek out those moments in our life that snowball precisely because we want to hide them, don’t want to deal with them. God wants to heal us right where we really need healing.
Moreover, it is good to note that Jesus rebuilds the kingdom precisely here. This is where the call of the first Apostles comes. And God chooses fisherman, those who are good at catching.
Perhaps then this is where we too will hear the voice of God. Perhaps it is in our darkness that God will call us, make us into apostles. Perhaps God wants to heal us for others too, so that in being healed we know God and can speak personally to others about God’s power in our lives. Perhaps this is how God will mend our nets for the work of real evangelisation.
We might then pray in our Mass today and this week to know this healing in our lives. May God give us the grace to face up to such parts of our lives. May we have the courage to hand them over to God. And especially may we have the courage to follow through with whatever prescription God gives us for our healing, however difficult and challenging it might be.
Precisely so that we can become living witnesses to God’s mercy in the world, and spread this good news to our brothers and sisters.