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(A Tribute to the Frontliners)

By: Elton L. Viagedor, OFM

Healthcare in the Bible
Caring for the sick and for those who are suffering from any kind of illness and disease is a very common motif in the sacred scriptures. It figures prominently from the historical and prophetic narratives in the Old Testament down to the gospel stories and the well-known epistles of the apostles in the New Testament. Moreover, the healing of the physically and spiritually afflicted is a crucial and vital element of Jesus’ proclamation of God’s Kingdom. The holistic healing of Gods’ people is a concrete experience of the reign of God’s infinite love and justice.

The Healing Ministry of Jesus in the Gospel
In the gospel, the healing of the sick and the infirm is a major feature of the mission and ministry of Jesus, starting from Galilee up to his journey towards Jerusalem. Moving from various towns and villages, Jesus touched and cured all the sick that were brought to him including the lepers who, at that time, were dreaded and were excluded from the social life of the community. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus’s power to heal different forms of sickness and ailment is a concrete manifestation of his identity as the Messiah - the Son of God (Cf. Mark 1:21 - 3:6). As a proof of his divine identity, the healing of the sick serves as a sign of the coming of the Messiah and the victory of God’s Kingdom over all forms of pain and suffering (See Mark 4:35 to 5:43, 8:22-26, 10:16-52).

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ miraculous healing of those with various diseases serves as a preview of his teachings and discourses. As a Messiah and a great teacher, Jesus did not only teach through his words, but he did it with “authority” like no other, accompanying it with his great deeds of mercy (Cf. Matthew 8: 1-16, 9:1-8; 18-32, 12:9-14, 15:29-31, 20:29-33). To care and heal for the sick and the afflicted is one of the “actualizations” of the fundamental law in God’s Kingdom - LOVE. Moreover, it is also considered as one of the true marks of Christian discipleship (Cf. Matthew 10:7-10; 25:31-145).

Caring and healing for the sick as the concrete application of love is developed in a more profound manner by Luke’s gospel. The basic trajectory of the Lukan gospel is to present Jesus as the compassionate and merciful Savoir of all most especially of the poor, the marginalized, the excluded, the sick, and the afflicted ones. Jesus’ special care and love for the poor, the sick, the disabled and those rejected and neglected is a revelation of the very nature and essence of God - a God of unconditional and overflowing mercy and compassion! (Cf. Luke 4:18-19, 31-41; 5:12-26; 6:6-16; 7:1-23) The compassionate image of Jesus as perfectly portrayed in the gospel of Luke relates to us that God does not only heal the sick because He has the power and the capacity to do so, but by the reality that He is really one with us in our sufferings. He feels us and knows our pains. By his ministry of healing, Jesus manifests that our God is indeed, a compassionate God.

Healthcare Ministry: Participation in the Mission of Jesus
While carrying out his ministry of healing, Jesus gradually initiated his disciples to participate in his redemptive works and eventually gave them the authority to “proclaim the gospel and to heal and cure the sick” (Cf. Luke 9:1-8, Matthew 10:1-3, Mark 6-13). The disciples were called to share and participate in Jesus’ messianic mission by preaching and by healing the sick and the afflicted. Luke highlights that this ministry was entrusted to the Church (Cf. Acts of the Apostles 1:6-8). Because of this, the Church, in her missionary works and evangelization, has always been greatly involved in the ministry of healing not just through the sacraments but by establishing institutes of healing such hospitals and healthcare centers. This is largely grounded on the conviction that healthcare ministry is a concrete participation in the redemptive mission of Jesus.

The Frontliners: The “Healing Hands” of Jesus
Perhaps, one of the questions that we had to confront in this time of pandemic is this: “Where is God in all of this?” The gospel humbly reminds us that God’s compassionate presence is experienced concretely through the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers and frontliners who are giving themselves, serving and taking care of all the sick and greatly affected. Through them, we see and feel and the “healing hands” of Jesus! Their priceless care for the victims of this health crisis manifests the healing works and service of Christ. As we see the face of Jesus in the face of the sick, we also feel and experience him through all those who are involved in the healthcare ministry.

In the face of a highly contagious and dangerous disease, our healthcare workers and frontliners deserve all our prayers, gratitude, and unflinching support most especially from those who are in positions of authority. Their sacrifice is not something that can be repaid through monetary means. The death of some of the health workers and frontliners should not be “romanticized” but must serve as a “dangerous memory” (such as the dangerous memory of Jesus’ death on the cross) to hold accountable those who have failed to give them the proper protection and to inspire us to help and support them in whatever way we can. The healthcare workers and all the frontliners, through whom we see and feel the healing presence of Jesus, instead of being criticized and threatened (especially by those in the government themselves), are to be protected and honored in the best possible ways.