In today’s Gospel, people bring a man who is deaf and who has a speech impediment to Jesus. They ask Jesus to His hand on the man. Sometimes, Jesus just commands, as happens in his exorcisms. Mark tells us: “For with power He commands the unclean spirits, and they obey Him” (Mk 1:27).
At other times, Jesus heals through some action. Luke describes the healings that took place when many sick people were brought at sunset when Jesus was Peter’s house: “He, laying His hands on every one of them, healed them” (Lk 4:40).
This healing of the deaf man, similar to the healing of the blind man in Mark 8:23, give more details of Jesus’ actions and words than do the other accounts of healing. In today’s Gospel, Jesus puts His fingers into man’s ears and spits and touches the man’s tongue. Jesus looks up to heaven and groans and says Ephphatha, “be opened” (Mk 7:33-34).
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, Jesus works His miracles by His divine power but He does this through His humanity: “True miracles cannot be worked save by divine power because God alone can change the order of nature… The human nature is the instrument of the Divine action, and the human action receives power from the Divine nature” (3a. 43, 3).
Thomas explains that Jesus’ healings are related not only to His divinity but also to His humanity: “What the Divine power achieved in Christ was in proportion to the needs of the salvation of humanity, the achievement of which was the purpose of His taking flesh. Consequently He so worked miracles by the Divine power as not to prejudice our belief in the reality of His flesh” (3a. 43, 3, ad 2).
Thomas is convinced of the importance of Jesus’ humanity. The ideas of the fourth-century bishop Apollinarius were condemned by the early Church because he considered that Jesus’ humanity was just an instrument of the divinity similar to the work clothes that people put on to do a job. Thomas insists that we believe in Jesus’ humanity as well as is divinity.
Thomas explains how both Jesus’ divinity and His humanity are at work in His miracles, “Christ came to save the world, not only by Divine power, but also through the mystery of His Incarnation. Consequently in healing the sick He frequently not only made use of His Divine power, healing by way of command, but also by applying something pertaining to His human nature” (3a. 44, 3, ad 2).
The miracles are done by Jesus Himself, as Thomas Aquinas recognizes: “He worked miracles as though of His own power, and not by praying, as others do” (3a. 43, 4). Luke tells us: “Power went out from Him and healed all” (Lk 6:19).
Some Biblical scholars observe that Jesus’ miracles are connected with His teaching. For instance, Raymond Brown has written: “The idea that such a figure [a miracle worker] was a commonplace in the 1st century is largely a fiction. Jesus is remembered as combining teaching with miracles intimately related to his teaching, and that combination may be unique” (An Introduction to New Testament Christology, 63).
Thomas Aquinas affirms that the miracles confirmed Jesus’ teaching: “First and principally, God enables man to work miracles, in confirmation of the doctrine that a man teaches” (3a. 43, 1). So closely are the miracles related to His teaching that Thomas believes that Christ did not work miracles before He began His public ministry: “It was unbecoming for Him to work miracles before He began to teach” (3a. 43, 3).
According to Thomas, Jesus worked miracles to save us: “Christ came into the world and taught in order to save humanity: ‘For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world but that the world might be saved by Him’ (Jn 3:17). Therefore it was fitting that Christ, by miraculously healing men in particular should prove Himself to be the universal and spiritual Savior of all” (3a. 44, 3).
Does Christ still heal people? We often forget that Christ is our healer. Certainly, through the sacraments, Jesus heals our souls of the effects of sin. Through the course of our lives, Jesus heals us of the effects of our actions and our weakness.
During the time of His ministry, Jesus sent disciples to minister: “He summoned the twelve and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” (Lk 9:1). Jesus sends out seventy-two disciples, instructing them to “heal the sick and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God is at hand for you’” (Lk 10:9).
The Letter of James witnesses to the belief in healing among the early Christians: “Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven” (Jas 5:14-15).
Thomas tells us that God doesn’t do for us what we can do for ourselves. God provides medical help and medicine that can heal us. In some mysterious way, God works with the medical help and the person him or herself to restore health. Surgeons are well aware that they are only assisting in a process which they don’t control.
After the healing of the deaf man, the people proclaimed: “He has done all things well: He has made both the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak” (Mk. 7:37). Indeed, He has!
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
References to the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas give the part of the Summa, the question and the article. If the passage is found in a response to an objection that Thomas has introduced in the first part of the article, the Latin word “ad,” meaning “to,” is added with the number of the objection