13th Sunday Ordinary Time, 7-1-18
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Psalm: 30:2-6, 11-13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43
Often I look for a theme word or idea that ties the readings together. It seemed relatively easy to find that unifying word today – the word is “life”. Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom, written only about 100 years before Christ, would seem to use the idea of “life” very literally. Our writer says, “God formed man to be imperishable…we were made in the image of God’s own nature”. Now that sounds familiar, from Genesis 1: 26, that we are made in God’s image, after God’s likeness. But it clearly doesn’t mean that we have share God’s nose or eye color. The writer of Wisdom takes it to mean that we, like God, were meant to be eternal beings, not just to be a dot on the landscape for a moment in time. Jesus told us the same thing in Luke 12:27 when he said, “Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet, I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” If God creates flowers of great beauty for only a day or two, how much more does God, who loves us so very deeply, create us to be eternal! There are voices in our culture that tell us life is just hard and we have to plod along until it’s over, that life is cheap, and certain people are expendable, that lives of some are without value. The author of Wisdom makes clear that those voices are absolutely wrong and come from darkness and evil. Life is a precious gift of God.
Psalm 30 was written as a song of joy and thanksgiving to God for an escape from enemies. It was later used to celebrate the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 BC after the Maccabean Revolt for Jewish independence. Think of it as an ancient 4th of July-type song. It is a celebration of life; first there was weeping when life and liberty were lost, and then came dancing for the joy of freedom.
But then we have the Gospel, where the concept of life becomes much broader. We find the stories of a dying girl and a desperate woman wrapped around each other. We’ve seen these “sandwich stories”, or “stories within stories” in Mark before. They are meant to work together to explain each other and to act as “surround sound”, with the message coming at us from multiple directions. Jesus obviously knows a great deal about love. He knows that love is powerful – so powerful it is stronger than death. For Jesus himself is life – both life and light to us. In Him there is no darkness. For God created light to end the darkness.
So what do the woman and the girl have in common? The woman has been dying a slow death. She has died a social death – she has been shut out of the temple and separated from her community and social supports because the religious authorities declared her “unclean”. To this day, some Christian churches have continued to declare all women as unable to be priests – perhaps unwittingly following an ancient misunderstanding about women’s bodies. Still, around the world women are blocked from leadership positions.
The woman in the story has also been financially dying as her money has all been spent on medical treatments that have not worked, and her hope has been dying as her health has deteriorated. Jesus, frankly, is a last-chance option, and it is not entirely clear, given her “fear” after she touches his clothes, if she understands who Jesus is. But Jesus is very clear about who he is. It is her faith, not magic or chance, he tells her, which saved her. She is to live in God’s peace now; it is not that she just kept looking until she found the “right cure”, but that God has cured her.
The girl is dying a sudden death. She had not been ill long. Her death was probably caused by a bacterial infection, or a virus, and nearly half of all children at that time died before they were 18. There simply was little that could be done, and little or no time to try to help her. To both the woman and the girl, Jesus gives a second chance at life – a full life, with hope and love and peace.
But why does Mark keep these stories alive for us, so long afterwards, and what do they have to do with us? Surely this is not about preventing every death or about every sick child being resurrected. We know better. Christians who do not understand Mark’s story have cruelly broken many people’s hearts and created great anguish and anger by insisting that prayers will save every life or cure every disease. Meanwhile, every human still dies.
There are many people whom we love or work with or pass on the sidewalks, who have parts of their souls and their psyches dying. An estimated 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs, about 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 12. 89% of them do not receive treatment – and the high cost and lack of availability of treatment are the primary reasons. Add to those numbers the number of Americans who are born with disabilities, those seriously injured in automobile crashes and those who are suffering with chronic health issues and you begin to understand the real America. And consider the numbers of people in 3rd world countries who have no access to heath care, those trapped in the middle of wars and those who are unwilling immigrants from other kinds of violence, and you have the beginnings of a realistic picture of the life of the majority of the people in our world. Some of us live, for the most part, my friends, in a bubble.
We must remember the great efforts expended by both the woman and the girl’s father to seek healing. They did not sit at home and say, “Ain’t it awful!” They acted in a brave and heroic way, in front of a huge crowd, and were willing to face shame and ridicule for their efforts. Why did their communities make it so hard? Perhaps Mark would like us to consider that.
Perhaps healing comes best when there is grace – the love of God -freely demonstrated by believers, and community – when there is support and openness and inclusiveness. Healing is a type of thing where if “you aren’t with us, you’re against us.” People who need medical care need to access it at affordable rates, provided by well-trained professionals and volunteers who will offer transportation, moral support, gentleness and kindness. People seldom heal themselves without good information, quality food, and encouragement. Power to give life comes from grace and community, for the strength of community is greater than the strength of individuals. The hems of our garments are the clothes that people are reaching for.
These stories in Mark are not just stories made up to enhance the image of Jesus. They are not just historical stories to take up space on a shelf. They are stories about what God continues even now to do through faith – faith that Jesus did rise from the dead, and that death and hatred and prejudice and violence are no longer necessary in our world – and our actions and our behavior do make a difference. When Jesus says, “Your faith has saved you” or “Do not be afraid, just have faith,” he is looking at us who call ourselves Christians.
When we feel those small parts of ourselves die when we are repeatedly disappointed by those we care about, or the sexual harassment we experience at work, or the inability to control our finances, or the covert prejudice we face, do we hesitate to take them to Jesus for healing, and to our community for support? Do we “put on a brave face” and bury our feelings so that our family and friends don’t know about our suffering? How do we react when someone else tells us of their struggles?
Finally, the Greek word for healing (sozo) in Mark’s Gospel is the very same word which he also uses for what we call salvation. Salvation is forgiveness of our sins, a type of healing, which opens the way to God for us. There is a real and clear link between physical healing and spiritual healing. It’s not science vs religion, but just two parts of the unity of life. In other words, healing and a full life are offered to all in many difference ways. Each of us can describe in our own unique way what “fullness of life” means to us.
This week, spend some time in prayer; tell Jesus the healing you need, from things you have done, or things you have failed to do, or things which have been done to you. Make a plan to change one thing in your life, with God’s help, which will make your life – or the lives of those around you – fuller, richer, more meaningful. Find another believer to walk this journey with you. Let this change grow in you, nurture it as it becomes more mature and natural to you, and find the joy which comes from reaching out to touch Jesus and find life.