There is no doubt that Jesus loved, protected and devoted his attention to the poorest and most vulnerable members of society. There wasn’t anything original about this. Many others had done the same before and after Jesus. What is strikingly admirable is that Jesus valued nothing above them, he loved nothing more than them: not religion, the Law or the security of his people. The sources leave no room for doubt. The most important thing for Jesus is the life of the people, not religion.
Sin, morality or the Law are not the fundamental reason for which Jesus is centered on God and his kingdom among men, but the suffering that comes from lack of compassion. People at once caught on to the difference between Jesus and John the Baptist. The mission of John was conceived and organized in terms of sin. It was his paramount concern: to denounce the sins of the people, call people to repentance and purify through baptism those who came to the Jordan. John never cured the sick, he did not touch lepers nor did he free the possessed or alleviate suffering.
By contrast, the primary concern of Jesus was the suffering and marginalization which the sick and those worse off were subject to. The sources do not describe Jesus travelling through Galilee in search of sinners to convert them from their sins. They show him going to the sick and possessed, to cure them from their suffering. His was not a religious or moral mission but a healing mission aimed at alleviating the suffering of those who were oppressed by evil and excluded from a healthy life. What more clearly defined his work was the removal of suffering rather than the denunciation of the sins of the people. It is not that sin did not concern him but that for him the sin that most opposes the kingdom of God is precisely the one that causes suffering or tolerates it with indifference or disregards its presence among us.
It has been said with reason that against the “mysticism of closed eyes” proper to the Buddha and Eastern spirituality in general, which seeks liberation from pain and sorrow in turning one’s attention inward, Jesus promotes a “mysticism of open eyes”, and a spirituality of absolute responsibility of caring for the suffering of people. When Jesus is asked whether he comes in the name of God, all he does is present his healing and curing work as an answer: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk; those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor”.
On another occasion when Jesus is accused of intervening in the somber world of evil spirits through his association with demonic forces, he replies with these words: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you”. There is no doubt. You act in the name of God when you fight against suffering. You open the way to the kingdom of God when you free people from evil.
Jesus launched a “therapeutic religion” of healing which has no precedent in the religious tradition of Israel. Jesus does not announce the kingdom of God by raising an authoritative index finger to remind everyone of the Law of God. The Galileans found in him something new and original. His hands would touch lepers, bless the sick, caress those who suffered. Jesus proclaimed God by curing. This is what is new. Jesus set in motion a process of healing both individual and social with a fundamental intention: to cure and to alleviate suffering, to restore life. The fourth Gospel puts a sentence in the mouth of Jesus which says it all: “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly”.
The healings that Jesus performed at a physical, psychological or spiritual level are the symbol that best condense and illuminate his project of the kingdom of God. Jesus does not cure arbitrarily or for pure sensationalism. He does not cure to prove his message, his authority or the power of God. He cures “moved by compassion”, seeking the complete health of people: so that all who feel sick, miserable, broken or oppressed can experience the healing signs of a God who is a friend who desires a more healthy life for all.
We must not think only of cures. All his work tries to direct society to a healthier life. His revolt against many pathological behaviors rooted in religion (legalism, hypocrisy, scrupulous observance of law, lack of love); his effort to create a more just and inclusive fellowship; his offer of forgiveness to people mired in guilt and internal breakdown; his acceptance of those ill-treated by society; his determination to free everyone from fear and insecurity in order to live out of absolute trust in God - his entire activity was directed to healing life.
Jesus only performed a handful of cures. In the villages of Galilee and Judea there were many more blind people, lepers, and those possessed by demons bearing their suffering with no hope of any remedy. Only a fraction of them experienced his healing power. Jesus did not think of miracles as an easy way to do away with suffering in the world but only as a sign to indicate the direction in which we must act to accept and bring in the kingdom of God in the world.
No wonder that by entrusting his mission to his disciples, Jesus does not see them as doctors, high ranking leaders, liturgists or theologians, but only as healers: “proclaim that the kingdom of God is near: cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give”. The first task of the followers of Jesus is not to perform liturgical acts of worship, develop theologies, preach morals, but to heal, to free from evil and depression, heal society, help to live in a healthy way. This therapeutic program is the way to the kingdom of God.
It would be enough to introduce the therapeutic dimension in the church to have everything change: the liturgy, theology and pastoral action. Some things would collapse, others would be transformed, many would find more evangelical outlets. The dream of Jesus would be fulfilled: healing communities in the midst of society, a sign of God “the lover of life”.
José Antonio Pagola