(Here is the months regular column called “Bridgework”.
The liberating touch of Jesus
Several years ago, I presided at a baptism for an infant presented by his parents whom I had just met. The boy’s mother seemed so proud and his stoic father held him tightly throughout the ritual. The little child seemed to steal everyone’s hearts. He interacted with the group as if he was a standup comedian wrapping the crowd around his wooing and cuteness. The child’s voice and life already seemed embedded in God’s love and tenderness, in the liberation of Christ’s love of washing sin away and his invitation into our faith community.
However, the father is the one who caught my attention and my interior prayer. Even though I had never seen him before, I did catch in conversation that he had served in the wars of recent years. His strong posture, his lack of expression and his lack of words spoke loudly to me that his hidden rage was just under the surface. I wonder if distracting thoughts, memories from combat or even post-traumatic stress disorder might have made it hard for him to be present to his son’s baptism.
During the ceremony, a thought raced through my mind that halted my own emotions. Perhaps the father’s history of serving in wartime would stifle his ability to love his son. I knew I had to hold on to that thought for later and pray with those intuitions sometime well after the ceremony. I always panic when I realize that another father struggles to love his son. I become afraid because I have spent years working with adults in addiction, stress and mental illness, who were not loved, accepted or appreciated as children.
I reflect again on the gospels from the Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time through the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. As I listen closely, I hear from these texts the liberation of our bodies, including our ears and throats, in order to fully proclaim the message of Christ Jesus. A deaf man with a speech impediment approached Jesus to be liberated from his bodily impairments. Jesus bends down to him and sets the isolated man free. His hearing is opened up and his speech becomes free flowing.
Jesus’ touch is still liberating our bodies and setting us free even in ways that we cannot imagine for ourselves. Perhaps we need to realize that people in our assemblies are not just deaf and hearing impaired, but their emotions are also stifled in order to care for those they love. Christ Jesus is still offering this healing touch in ways in which go well beyond our own intuitions and even our knowledge of people.
As ministers, we proclaim the Word that begs to be embedded in people’s pain. We chant psalms or sing hymns not to hear the sound of our own voices but because there are people in our assemblies that need to be liberated from the memories that bind them and the misfortunes of life that have stifled their own voices. We use our trained voices at Eucharist so that Jesus can still bend down to touch the worried mother or the obsessive grandparent or the disengaged teenager. The tender hand of Christ comes through our voices in prayer. The warm breath of Christ bending down to the assembly whispers healing to people suffering from their experiences of serving in wars and often- unseen ailments of depression and grief.
These gospels tell us that the reason for our bodily liberation is so that we can proclaim Christ Jesus with not only our voices but our lives as well. Jesus asks his disciples and us in the present age, “But who do you say that I am?” This question comes to us as we bring our emotional and bodily pain to Christ. Our voices are set free in order to answer Jesus forthrightly with assurance and trust that he alone liberates our spirits and sets our emotions free. With full voice within the liturgy we all called to answer his question even in all the ways we still feel bound by our earthly ties.
Even as the disciples argued along the way about their greatness and power, Jesus stopped them in their tracks. He tells his disciples and commands us as well to go back to the child, the one who is powerless and in need of love, and then we will be close to the Kingdom of God. If we receive the vulnerable in our midst we shall know the real power that comes from Christ Jesus.
Jesus promises us that we shall receive our reward if someone gives us a cup of water because we speak about our faith and rely on him. Jesus also tells us that we are to give what we own away and then serve the poor. This is the liberation that we all long for in this life, when the deaf hear and the mute speaks. We long to have our eyes opened, our throats cleared so that we may learn to love all people in the name of Christ Jesus.