In today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, St. Luke recalls the great persecution that broke out in Jerusalem after the stoning death of the deacon Stephen. Followers of Jesus, mostly Greek-speaking Jews, are scattered through Judea and Samaria. The apostles– Galileans–don’t seem much affected by it. They remain in Jerusalem. Saul leads the persecution.
Persecution leads to new growth, however. That’s a constant theme in Luke’s history of the church in the Acts of the Apostles. The mystery of the cross seems to lead to death, but it brings new life. Individuals experience that mystery, but the church also experiences it. Furthermore, the world, creation itself, experiences this mystery.
Philip, one of the Hellenic deacons, brings the gospel to the city of Samaria, and “there was great joy in that city.” Philip is a new voice, joining Peter and the other apostles. He preaches the word and “proclaimed the Christ to them.” That’s another theme found in Luke’s writings: new voices proclaim the good news.
Also like Jesus, Philip performs signs and wonders. Possessed people were freed; “many paralyzed and crippled people were cured.” Like Jesus, Philip healed people.
The healing ministry is a ministry of Jesus and a ministry of the church we may forget or minimize today, but it’s not forgotten or minimized in the Acts of the Apostles or the gospels. They’re clear about its importance. The reason it’s important is that it flows from the resurrection of Jesus, who came to raise up our mortal bodies and make them like his own.
In healing, the church reaches out to people as they are in the body, a body that’s fragile from birth till death, a body that needs care and healing. Following Jesus, the church take on a mission to raise up the body, to say it’s valuable no matter how it appears.
In our church today, we may ask, does the healing ministry have the place it deserves? Pope Francis says it does. He has defined the church as “ a field hospital,” reaching out to the poor, to humanity broken in mind and body.
I’m preaching a retreat these days for some of the Little Sisters of the Poor in Flemington, New Jersey. They serve the elderly poor throughout the world. Like so many in the healing ministry they don’t get enough credit. They’re important ministers of the church.