Care for the sick

| Father Michael Van Sloun | July 19, 2016 | 0 Comments

The fifth corporal work of mercy was given by Jesus in his discourse on the judgment of the nations: “For I was … ill and you cared for me” (Mt 25:35, 36). Other interchangeable terms include to visit or to comfort the sick. The original Greek verb could also be translated “you looked after me” or “you nursed me.”

There are a number of examples of care for the sick in the Old Testament. Through the prayers of Moses, his sister Miriam was cured of a scaly infection (Nm 12:10-15) and those bitten by the seraph serpents recovered (Nm 21:6-9); and through the power of God, the prophet Elisha cured Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kgs 5:8-14), the prophet Isaiah cured Hezekiah’s boils (2 Kgs 20), and Raphael and Tobiah healed Tobit’s blindness (Tb 3:17; 11:10-14).

The ministry of Jesus stood on several pillars. He came to teach, reconcile and save, and along with these, he came to care for the sick. He is the Divine Physician (see Lk 5:31), and out of his compassion for the ill he performed this corporal work of mercy over and over again. He relieved a fever, cleansed lepers, healed a paralytic, restored a withered hand, cured a blood disorder, opened the ears of the deaf, removed a speech impediment and gave sight to the blind.

Jesus gave the sick such high priority that he often dropped what he was doing to give them his full and immediate attention. Once he was teaching in someone’s home and a paralytic was lowered through the roof; he stopped the lesson and cured the man. Another time he was preaching in a synagogue and saw a woman who had been crippled for 18 years; he interrupted his sermon and cured the woman. While he was making his journey to Jerusalem, he came upon 10 lepers; he interrupted his trip and cured them. Even at Gethsemane as he was being apprehended, he interrupted the arrest to heal the right ear of the high priest’s servant.

When it comes to care for the sick, often we are busy with other important duties. Jesus shows us how to put other responsibilities on hold and to care for the sick the moment the need presents itself.

The first apostles continued Jesus’ care for the sick. Peter cured a crippled beggar at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:7), the sick who were laid on cots along the street (Acts 5:15) and a paralytic named Aeneas (Acts 9:32-34). Paul cured a man who was lame (Acts 14:8-10).

Many saints have shown great love for the sick. St. Francis of Assisi was riding his horse and came upon a disfigured leper. He dismounted, embraced the man and immediately the leper’s face was changed into the face of Jesus. St. Camillus de Lellis founded hospitals, St. Peter Claver cared for sick slaves and St. Damian of Molokai cared for lepers.

Some care for the sick as a profession. It is a high calling to be the face, hands and voice of Jesus to one’s patients as a doctor, physician assistant, nurse, physical therapist or paramedic.

Care for the sick is not reserved for  professionals; it is for everyone. It starts at home with the care for a sick family member, and it includes changing clothing and bedding, administering medications, bathing, bringing food and water, or sitting at a bedside to keep company. It also includes visits to hospitals or nursing homes, or giving a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Care for the sick is care extended to Jesus himself.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata. Read more of his reflections at

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Category: Year of Mercy