How often do we hear or read about the importance of nature in the life of Jesus? It is clear from reading the gospels that Jesus’ thoughts were full of images from nature. His teaching was regularly interspersed with references to nature. In trying to encourage his disciples to trust in God’s providence and avoid worrying about the future, Jesus turns to nature for examples. Think of the flowers; they never have to spin or weave; yet, I assure you, not even Solomon in all his regalia was robed like one of these. Now if that is how God clothes the grass in the field which is there today and thrown into the furnace tomorrow, how much more will he look after you, you men (women) of little faith (Lk 12: 27). In St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus uses the same image and adds one about the wellbeing of birds. Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth more than they are? (Matt. 6: 26). Jesus is not setting out in either of the above instances to denigrate and dismiss the natural world. What he is saying is that the love of God, which can be seen in his care for creatures, is even more abundantly available to humankind. This guarantee of God’s love should banish all fear and worry from our lives.
St. Mark presents Jesus as one who is powerful in the words which he speaks and the deeds which he performs. He is Lord of creation and can calm the turbulent waves with one word and gesture. As the disciples crossed over Lake Galilee Jesus was in the stern of the boat asleep. Suddenly, an unexpected storm blew up. The disciples panicked and were afraid that they might drown. They woke Jesus and complained, Master, do you not care? We are going down ? And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again………They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him’ (Mark 4: 37 – 41).
Jesus’ healing ministry is a crucial dimension of his life. It touched the lives of everyone who met him. At the beginning of Mark’s gospel we see Jesus healing Simon’s mother-in-law, (Mk. 1: 29-31). This is followed his healing the leper who had faith in Jesus’ to cure him, (Mark 1: 40-45) and, finally, the paralytic man who had to be lowered down through the roof (Mr. 2: 1 – 12).
Healing is also at the heart of Luke’s gospel. In, Lk 13: 10 – 17, he cured the woman who had been stooped for many years. This healing drew criticism from the synagogue official but, all the people were overjoyed at the wonders he worked.
Apart from curing individuals or groups, each healing in the gospel has a deeper sign value. By his acts of healing Jesus was challenging many of the deepest social, cultural and religious prejudices of society at the time. He linked his healing ministry to the coming of the Kingdom of God by attempting to sow the seed of healing within the community. He was encouraging and challenging people to open themselves to the transforming power of God’s compassion, graciousness and love and to share that with others.
This healing action of Jesus is as necessary today as it was 2,000 years ago. . So many societies in our contemporary world are divided by conflicting cultural values, racism, open conflict, abortion, appalling levels of hunger, malnutrition and religious intolerance. In addition to problems in the human community, the wellbeing of the planet is now also at stake. In recent decades the natural world has been ruthlessly exploited, important habitats and ecosystems have been destroyed. This generation is witnessing the sixth largest extinction of species since life began about 3.7 billion years ago. Each year tens of thousands of species are being forced over the precipice of extinction.
The healing ministry of the Church must address complex conflicts within the human community. This is very much in line with the Pope’s wish for August 2008, that the human family may learn to respect God’s plan for the world and become ever more aware that Creation is God’s great gift. Because the Church is pro-life, it should also give a lead in defending and protecting God’s creation. Hopefully, healing the natural world will have a prominent place in the public expression of the sacrament of reconciliation which takes place on a number of occasion each year in our parish communities.