More marvelous than miracles

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We were dead in sin but have been brought back to life in Christ — now we must begin to live as he lived

In the Acts of the Apostles 3:1–10, St. Luke recounts the healing of the crippled beggar at “The Beautiful Gate” of the temple in Jerusalem. After the man was cured, he went inside with Peter and John, “walking and jumping and praising God.” He was still clinging to them when Peter began to address the people.

“You Israelites, why are you amazed at this, and why do you look so intently at us as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety? … [T]his man, whom you see and know, [Jesus’] name has made strong, and the faith that comes through it has given him this perfect health, in the presence of all of you.” (Acts 3:12-16) In other words, it was not we who cured him — it was Jesus.

I wonder: Did the beggar, now cured of his physical affliction, go forward and live a new kind of life after that joyous day?

With healing comes responsibility

A parishioner who had undergone serious surgery once showed me a letter the doctor had written his wife indicating that he had been officially released from medical care. It went something like this: “Dear Mrs. Smith, I am happy to inform you that your husband has completely recovered from surgery. There are no restrictions on his activity, except for one. He should never vacuum the floors. Sincerely yours, Dr. Jones.” Guess who dictated the letter.

I once ran into an old friend at a picnic. He had been laid up for months after a near-fatal heart attack. “You look great,” I said. “Yep,” he responded, “and I feel great, too.” “Has the doctor placed any restrictions on your diet?” I asked. With a mischievous smile he said, “He told me I could eat anything I want. It took me a long time to find that doctor.”

It is not unusual for doctors to give patients habit-breaking, life-altering advice, particularly after recovery from serious illness: Lose 20 pounds; stop smoking; get some exercise; stay away from fatty foods; cut down on alcohol consumption; no caffeine. The advice is given with a view toward maintaining and improving the patient’s health — and preventing an even worse recurrence of the illness.

As hard as we try to make excuses, as much as we’d like to eat what we like and do what we like, as much as we’d like to find a doctor who will tell us what we want to hear, we know that something must change after we have recuperated from serious illness. With healing comes responsibility for healthy living.

In his appearance to the apostles after the Resurrection, Jesus showed them his hands and feet — his new, resurrected, hands and feet — and opened their minds to what the Scriptures had said, that the Christ would suffer and rise on the third day, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be preached in his name to the nations.

Several Gospel passages report incidents when Jesus healed or forgave and said, “Go, and sin no more.” As a result of his gift, the healed and forgiven were to take up a new life — a resurrected life. Early Christians had a similar understanding of the duty handed those who had been healed from sin and saved from death in baptism. As a result of this healing of healings, this return from the dead, Christians were to live a new life.

Do our lives give witness to our baptism?

St. Paul teaches that as we recognize the new life given us by the death and resurrection of Christ, we must also recognize that life-altering adjustments are in order. Things must change because things have changed. We have been healed — why would we want to be sick again? We were dead in sin but have been brought back to life in Christ — why would we want to fall back into old lethal habits? We have been found — why would we want to get lost again? We were slaves but have been set free by Christ — why would we want to go back into slavery?

The Easter season is prime time to ask whether the lives we lead, the words we say and the priorities we set give witness to our baptism in Christ. During Lent we took time to examine our need to repent, to “put off” the old person. Easter offers us the opportunity to “put on” the ways of Christ, to preserve and strengthen the health — the life — he has restored to us.

Those healed and forgiven by the Lord often became instant evangelizers. The crippled walked, the mute spoke — it must have been a joyous, incredible sight, one not soon forgotten. “Look what he did for me!” they must have exclaimed. Undoubtedly some onlookers were more fascinated by the miracles than the message, but there was no denying the “before” and “after.”

Still, as marvelous as Jesus’ miracles must have appeared, it must have been even more marvelous when those who had been healed by him began to live as he lived.

Christians are signs that the kingdom of God is here. There was a “before,” but we are a people of the “after.” May everything about us point to the presence of the Risen Christ.

Read the Spanish version of this column.

Northwest Catholic - April 2018

Archbishop J. Peter Sartain

Send your prayer intentions to Archbishop Sartain’s Prayer List, Archdiocese of Seattle, 710 Ninth Ave., Seattle, WA 98104.