June 28, 2009 – Sunday, Week 13
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 / Psalm 30 / Mark 5:21-43
Death is a consequence of sin or rebellion. It is on the human side of the equation. We are told that “God formed man to be imperishable.” But God would not abandon his people to sin and death. He would break the devil’s hold upon us. He, who was rich, made himself poor for our sakes. Jesus became one of us to save us. Just as we see in the Gospel, our Lord wants to bring healing and life. We beseech his help in prayer, “Hear, O LORD, and have pity on me: O LORD, be my helper. You changed my mourning into dancing….”
The case of the synagogue official Jairus is evidence that some of the Jewish religious leaders placed faith in Jesus, albeit his daughter’s illness and death gave the incident a particular urgency. The insertion of the secondary story about the hemorrhaging woman is also significant, particularly in terms of our Lord’s overtures to women and the alienated. The Gospel selection is important as a collaboration of several Catholic teachings.
While the characters make direct overtures to Christ, the two incidents speak about Christian prayer and petition:
1. We can pray both for ourselves and for others. Some contest the Catholic view that we can pray for others and insist upon a radical personal relationship with Christ. The woman seeks healing for herself, but the synagogue leader sought healing for another, his daughter.
2. We can pray or intercede for both the living and the dead. Jesus was willing to go to Jairus’ house even after the news came to them that the little girl was dead. It is also interesting that Jairus still seems to believe that Jesus can make a difference.
The two stories are quite interesting. Both require a little defining. There are cultural elements we might miss.
The poor sick woman believed that if she just touched the tip of Christ’s clothes, she could be healed. She has suffered for years and none of the doctors could help her. No doubt she had spent a small fortune and only got worse. She touches Christ’s cloak and she is immediately healed. Jesus turns around and asks who has touched him? She comes forward “in fear and trembling”. According to Jewish law, her issue of blood made her perpetually unclean. This was detrimental to all social congress and even marriage. She saw herself as cursed. Touching Jesus would make him unclean and was a criminal act. But Jesus does not condemn her. Rather, he commends her faith and says that it has saved her. Now she can finally take her rightful place in the community. He tells her to go in peace.
The story of the father and his dead daughter is particularly poignant. People are making a commotion at the house, weeping and wailing. These were not necessarily people who loved and cared about the child. These were probably professional mourners. The Jews believed that no one should die unlamented. Some made a business of mourning tragedy and death. They knew the little girl was dead. But Jesus insisted that she was only sleeping. They mocked him, not only because they thought they knew better but because they hope to get paid. If she was not dead, they would get no reimbursement. The closest thing I have seen to this practice in our culture is in regard to certain funerals in the African-American community. Doing many funerals, I noticed that some used a woman dressed as a nurse. Another lady would sit up front, wail loudly and then collapse. Poor woman I thought, but then I saw the same routine in several funerals— often the same pair, sometimes others. I doubt any money traded hands; I suspect that people were moved by such expressions and made sure to invite the one and maybe employ the nurse. Unlike the Gospel story, all the dead for whom I have offered funerals did not get up. Our Lord tells the child, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Not only does the child get up, she walks around. She is alive and perfectly well. Jesus says to give her something to eat. This is another sign of life, just as with our risen Lord eating a fish along the shore with his apostles. The dead do not eat, only the living.
Jesus makes possible our life beyond the grave. This past week a number of celebrities have passed away. Johnny Carson’s sidekick Ed MacMahon died. He was a decorated Veteran and successful announcer. Okay, he went through several marriages and had his money troubles, but he was also a Catholic. I remember seeing him years ago with his friend the late Father Hartke at Catholic University. When it came to charity work he was often very generous with his time and talent. I am reminded of Cardinal McCarrick’s words, “Charity covers a multitude of sins.” Rest in Peace. Farrah Fawcett also died. A lot of us who were teenage boys in the 1970’s had her poster on the wall. She was a pretty girl. The media easily exploits pretty girls. Sometimes they let themselves get used. Ryan O’Neal had been with her for decades. He said if she would wake up, he would marry her. She did not awaken, at least not in this world. There is sadness about this. Despite his own addictions and troubles O’Neal stayed by her and suffered in her hospital room. The last few years she proved in several films that she really could act. She made a real contribution to our appreciation of abuse in our society. She showed certain courage in fighting her cancer. The image that will remain with me will not be her poster, but that of her praying her rosary beads. Sickness and death can strip away all that does not matter. A priest came to her bedside and gave her the last rites. Rest in Peace. Then there was the tragic loss of Michael Jackson. We were the same age. No, I could not begin to do the Moonwalk. Maybe it was all too much for him and he should have slowed down? He was an incredibly gifted but also wounded man. I do not know what religion he claimed. He started out Baptist, became a Jehovah Witness and purportedly ended up as a Moslem. But his life was so bizarre at times, who can know for sure? He was half a billion dollars in debt and had devastated his handsome face. Sometimes he forgot modesty when he danced. But there was also a peculiar childlike innocence about him. Were the people with whom he associated really his friends? Like Elvis Presley before him, could the right friends have saved him? It is too late now. All we can do is commend him to the Lord. Rest in Peace.
None of these people would classify as saints worthy of canonization, but they were sinners like us who need the mercy and healing of God. It is not our place to judge them. We leave that to God. What is left to us is prayer.