THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – July 1, 2018

A reading from the Book of Wisdom – 1:13-15; 2:23-24
A reading from the second letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Mark 5:21-43

 

Dear Reader,

Death is a reality that humanity deals with from first awareness.  While some may live a madcap existence of denial, the fact is that we are going to die one day.  We are the only species on the face of the earth who live with that awareness.  So far, at least, there is nothing that we can do about it.  Everyone born of woman one day will die.

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us that that was not the way God wanted it.  No wonder the human heart cries out against death’s inevitability. Wisdom says, God formed humans to be imperishable; the image of God’s own nature God made humans.  So, what went wrong?  The devil’s envy came into the picture.  Sin entered the world, and with sin, death.  Humans became mortal.  Genesis spelled it out for us; and the rest of Hebrew Bible is the account of God’s desire to make that right again, to remove the dominance of Death.

Jesus comes into the world to accomplish God’s will.  I must do the will of the One who sent me!  That is why Jesus’ message is called the Good News, the Gospel.  Oh Death, where is your victory?  Death, where is your sting?  Of course we can only sing that proclamation after Jesus dies – and rises, and leaves Death vanquished.

This Sunday’s gospel is amazing.  Of course, you say, which Sunday’s gospel isn’t amazing if we hear it?  True.  But the wonder of this proclamation is spellbinding.  It is too bad the text is as long as it is.  Some will tune out before it is over.  We are so used to short clips that result in short attention spans.  As they sit at the gospel’s conclusion, they will say, Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ!  But they say that every Sunday.  Will their hearts have been touched?

We hear the account of one miracle sandwiching another miracle.  Each happens in response to faith.  Jesus works constantly, preaching, teaching, and healing.  Just before this episode, Jesus spent an exhausting day.  He got into the boat to go to the other side of the lake and in the course of the crossing exerted command over the wind and the waves causing those who witnessed the calming to ask, Who is this that even the wind and the waves obey him?  Then Jesus drives out the legion of demons from the possessed man in the verses that lead into today’s gospel.

Today’s gospel begins as Jesus gets back into the boat and crosses the lake once more.  As soon as he steps on shore the crowds envelop him again.  His reputation grows and so do the numbers of those who want to witness him for themselves.  This crowd wonders if Jesus might be the answer to their prayers, the one who will make a difference in their lives and give them purpose and meaning.

The grief-stricken synagogue official, Jairus, a person of position, humbles himself at Jesus’ feet and pleads for Jesus to come to his home and save his 12-year-old daughter who is near death.  Immediately Jesus sets out for Jairus’s home.  The crowds follow and press upon him

Suddenly the focus shifts.  A woman who has been suffering a hemorrhage for 12 years, as long as Jairus’s daughter has been alive, a woman who has exhausted her savings with abusive doctors, this woman approaches Jesus convinced that if she just touches the hem of his clothes she will be cured.  The poor woman would know what it means to be shunned.  Because she is hemorrhaging, anyone who came in contact with her would incur ritual impurity and not be able to enter into temple worship.  She has been living a miserable existence all these years.  No one pays heed to her.  She has heard Jesus, or she has heard about him.  In any event, she believes.  She hopes no one will notice her now and stop her before she can stoop down, reach out and touch Jesus’ cloak.  Shedoes, and in an instant her pain leaves her as her hemorrhage dries up.  She is alive again.

Now notice what Jesus does.  The translation we hear softens his reaction.  Closer to the meaning would be that Jesus whirled about as he asked, Who touched me?  His question does not rise out of fear of contamination.  After all, Jesus has touched lepers, also sources of ritual impurity.  The question seems odd to those nearest him.  Who touched you with all these people jostling you?  They all had touched him.  But Jesus wants to know who touched him with faith as power went out of him.

The woman fears the worst, that she will be excoriated for her effrontery, and approaches Jesus to admit what she has done.  He calls her Daughter and proclaims that her faith has been rewarded.  Here is the marked contrast between crowds that flock around Jesus out of curiosity, and the disciple who believes.  This woman’s response is what Jesus longs for from the rest.  She can go home in peace.

There is no greater challenge to faith than death of a loved one.  Immediately upon the woman’s departure comes news that Jairus’s daughter has died.  How long did Jairus’s and Jesus’ eyes lock in Jairus’s shocked silence?  How long was the moment Jairus had to decide to hope against hope?  Jesus challenges Jairus to hold on to faith and the promise.  Do not be afraid; just have faith.  

We know that what follows is a significant gospel moment – similar to the Transfiguration – because only Peter, James, and John are allowed to witness what happens after Jesus dismisses the professional mourners and quiets the din.  Only the three, along with the girl’s mother and father, are in the room when Jesus touches the body, takes the girl by the hand and says: Talitha koum!  Little girl, arise!  Don’t miss that Jesus commands and death departs, obeying just as the wind and waves had done.  Again, notice the response of the witnesses – utter astonishment.  That is fine as far as it goes.  But it is not the same thing as faith.  That may be why Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen.  Exactly the orders he gave to Peter, James, and John as they came down the mountain after the Transfiguration.  Don’t tell anyone about this until you understand the meaning.  You will not understand the meaning until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.  

Jesus tells them to give the little girl something to eat.  That will prove that she is alive.  Remember what Jesus will ask in an early post-Resurrection appearance?  Have you anything to eat?

Two miracles.  The woman who suffered for 12 years but believed in Jesus’ power.  The 12-year-old girl whose parents’ faith elicited Talitha koum from Jesus.

Take in the Word, broken for us, and dare to believe.  With that faith, incipient as it might be, as tried as it might be by personal or public issues, and proceed to the Table to enter into Mystery and be transformed by the act of Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, and having eaten and drunk, dare to be sent to announce the Good news.  Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.  Those who hear you and are touched by you will know, as you believe, that Death’s power is no more.  No death will be forever.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 

Didymus

 

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