Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

Discovering Jesus' experience of God

When Jesus heals, we discover his experience of God.

Two women experience Jesus’ power to heal. One is an older woman, excluded from the community because she is perpetually bleeding. The other is a young woman, a child really, who has appeared to die. Jesus heals them because of faith, the older woman had faith. Jesus tells her, “your faith has saved you.” To the parents of the girl who get news their daughter has died, Jesus states, with great calm, "Do not be afraid; just have faith."

Jesus praises their faith and calls them to faith for that is how Jesus transmits his own experience of the gratuitously loving mystery of God. The secret of Jesus’ miraculous ministry and marvelous teaching is his relationship with God. Theologian Denis Edwards writes, “Jesus’ ministry of healing and forgiveness, his stance with the poorest and with the sinners, his confrontation with those who teach a harsh and unbending God of law, his announcing of the good news of the kingdom, must all be seen as directly related to his experience of God.  The Abba experience is the central driving force in the life of Jesus and it is what enables him to surrender in trust to the darkness of death.” The original experience of the Gospel is Jesus’ own experience of God which he shares with us through healings and preaching.

We tend to either focus on Jesus’ command to love and forgive or we focus on the last three hours of his life (the passion and crucifixion) and the resurrection. We rarely get in the weeds of Jesus’ teachings, and almost never do we reflect on Jesus’ experience of God. But this transcendent experience is the essence of the Gospel. And Jesus shares this experience with us through faith. We enter into an ongoing transformative encounter with God through faith. In short, we experience God directly. Then, because of this experience, we change. The ancient Christians would say the direct encounter with God makes us divine; it divinizes us. 

The God-experience of Jesus must begin with his favorite image for God: Abba. This translates as “Father,” but has shades of meaning not well communicated with the English word, “Father.”  When Jesus calls God his “Abba,” it suggests immediacy, intimacy, incredible closeness and, still, that God is the source of our being. God is love, and this divine love reaches out to heal and save. We see this divine love revealed in this story of Jesus healing the woman with the hemorrhage and saving the twelve-year-old girl.

Now, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus calls God, “heavenly Abba.” The term “heavenly” indicates divine transcendence and mystery. This God, who is love, is also mystery beyond all human comprehension. In truth, “Heavenly Abba” perfectly summarizes Jesus’ experience of God as both incomprehensible love and utterly transcendent mystery.

Abba, Edwards writes, “expresses the heart of his own encounter with God.  It speaks of intimacy and familiarity, of boundless confidence and childlike trust. It speaks also of uncompromising obedience, an obedience that would lead to the cross. Jesus’ unique sense of his own sonship and of his own mission is tied to his experience of God as Abba.” For Dominican theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, this God-experience is, for Jesus, the “source and secret of his being, message and manner of life.” It is what animates the whole event of Jesus.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus refers to God as “heavenly Father” upwards of seventeen times. Importantly, Jesus calls God “my heavenly Father” (see Mt. 10:33; 12:50; 15:13; 16:17; 18:10; 18:19; 18:35) and “your heavenly Father” (see Matthew 5:16; 5:45; 5:48; Mt. 6:1; 6:14; 6:32; 7:11; 18:14). Jesus shares his experience of God as Heavenly Abba with his friends: what is his is also ours by faith.

Jesus offers us, communicates to us, by his person and message, his own dynamically charged, infectious, deliriously joyful, and divinizing experience of God as the Loving Mystery. We receive this experience when we believe, that is, when we trust beyond our thinking and can rest in God within. Just like the woman with the hemorrhage and the nearly dead girl, when we trust, miracles are born. In other words, we become mystics.