There is an old legend in the Jewish Talmud in which a certain Rabbi encounters the prophet Elijah, and he asks him:
“When will the Messiah come?”
The prophet answers him:
“Go and ask him yourself.”
The Rabbi replies:
“Where is he, and how will I know him?”
Elijah says to him:
He is at the gates of the city, sitting among the poor, covered in wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself: “Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.
This story is used by Catholic Author, Fr. Henri Nouwen, to describe Christ as the Wounded Healer. Far different from the Messiah that many expected, Christ comes as one wounded and broken, eventually dying on the cross to save us.
In this morning’s Gospel we catch a glimpse of the Wounded Healer in a moment of great weakness. Christ has just learned of the death of His cousin, John the Baptist. Naturally He is very disturbed by this and, as any of us would, He withdraws to a deserted place by Himself. No sooner does He arrive in that place, than 5,000 people come to meet Him!
Christ’s reaction to this crowd, in the midst of His own grief, is remarkable. St. Matthew says that, “his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick” (Matthew 14:14). Like the Wounded Healer in that legend from the Talmud, Christ simply rebinds the fresh wound of the death of His cousin, and begins to care for those who are sick and suffering around Him.
His response to the crowd is beautiful, as it reveals the very heart of Christ; and it’s a lesson the disciples would never forget: that even in His own need, Christ is able to meet the needs of others. Moments later, He invites these very disciples to do the same.
They approach Jesus and ask Him to dismiss the crowds while there is still time for them to find something to eat. But Jesus tells them: “Give them some food yourselves” (Matthew 14:16). What an impossible task! How could they possibly feed such a crowd, with five loaves of bread and two fish? Yet what follows is a miracle that we are all familiar with. Christ takes the loaves, blesses them, breaks them, and gives them to the disciples. Then the disciples are able to do the impossible: to feed 5,000 people with a handful of food.
This scene is familiar to us, because it’s the very thing that happens here every Sunday. Each time we gather here, around this altar, we bring before God the offering of ourselves, along with the gifts of bread and wine—offerings that, of themselves, are not enough. And yet we hear, each Sunday, those very same words:
He took the bread and gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples . . .
At the very heart of the Mass is the offering we make to the Lord, an offering that—of itself—is imperfect. We bring before Him our struggles and our weaknesses; our prayers and our hopes, along with the bread and wine, and offer them up in faith.
And yet, that very offering, as imperfect as it may be, is offered perfectly when it is united to the perfect offering of Christ. Each Mass we offer to the Father the one sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the sacrifice that won for us the forgiveness of sins: perfect obedience, perfect love. This is the miracle of the Eucharist; not something we watch as spectators, but a sacrifice which we are called to participate in, to unite ourselves to.
Let us not hesitate to offer completely everything we have at this Mass: our weaknesses and our strengths, our needs and our prayers, knowing that Christ is able to use even these—when they are united to His cross—to meet the needs of the world that we live in.
For we, too, are called to be wounded healers; not unbinding our wounds all at once and feeling sorry for ourselves, but unbinding them one at a time, offering them up to God—and all the while ready to be used by Christ to meet the needs of others.