13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24 | 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15 | Mark 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43
Oh God, who through the grace of adoption chose us to be children of light, grant, we pray, we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
EVERY time we gather for worship, we begin by remembering that we have this gift in our midst. God is present to us. Jesus, his Son, the sign, who we are, is present to us. The Holy Spirit is present to us. The truth is that we are never alone. We’re never without God, and the interesting thing about when we begin the liturgy, we begin with the notion of first turning to God and saying, “Please forgive us. Please forgive us. Please give us life. Please give us life.” It’s so interesting, when you think about it, because it’s like a child saying to their parents, “Please feed me. Please nurse me. Please give me water. Please give me shelter.” So does God really need to be convinced that he should be caring for us? No, he wants us to know that we are being cared for by him, and his greatest gift that he manifested ultimately through the full revelation of who he is in the person of Jesus, it makes it clear that his whole notion of how he responds to who we are, when we fail, is nothing other than compassion, empathy, forgiveness. That’s who he is, yet he wasn’t always revealed that way, and that’s a difficulty. He is not always preached to people being that kind of God, but he is forgiveness. He is mercy, unmerited love. That’s his whole, major gift. It’s the truth.
Something happened to me in my spiritual journey, which began in 1947, when I first heard about God and was old enough to start my reasoning process, and I really figured pretty clearly because of what I was told that God was the God who would reward me if I was good, and punish me, if I was bad. It was pretty clear. I didn’t think of God as merciful, or I didn’t even really think about my need for mercy. I just took it in and made it part of my way of understanding God, but it meant that I was going to spend most of my life trying to be good, not to do bad things, to repress anything in me that seemed to be drawn to something that was forbidden. Even in my moral teachings, even in the seminary, it was like how do you avoid the occasion of sin. Just to be thinking about it or near an occasion of it was going to be something that led you into it. It was always your fault. It seemed to be very repressive.
So the idea of the gospel calling you and me to being good and not sinning is a very unfortunate caricature of who God is. He’s not asking you to control your life, your emotions. No, he wants almost the opposite. He wants you to get in touch with what they really are, the truth of who you are, the truth of creation. Listen to that first reading from Wisdom. It’s saying so clearly: God created the world, and it’s so wholesome and so healthy and so good. That means everything about you, your humanity, your longings as a human, your need for food and intimacy and love and all that; it is all so good, very good, and there is something in the world that seems to be working against us, and it’s interesting. It’s too much to go into in this particular homily, but it’s the mystery of evil. It is the mystery of some kind of envy on the part of angels where they just simply refuse to accept this plan of God to be caretakers of these animal-like creatures called humans. Some of them just said, “Absolutely won’t do it.” And they constantly are working against us. So we do have a tension in our life between good and evil, but the basic real issue is between truth and lies. If you look at the nature of sin told in that beautiful story in Genesis, it’s so clear. The problem with Adam and Eve is not that they necessarily chose to do something that they thought was wrong. They chose something they thought was right, because they believed in a lie, that God really wanted them to be in charge and in control and not dependent.
So we look at this life that we’re called to live, and the second reading makes it clear that there’s something in the way God has created the world and all of its harmony and everything that — people have gifts, and other people have other gifts, and some people are further along in the journey of spirituality. Some are just lagging behind, and so we tend to say, “He has more. He has less.” But the truth is, it’s the way it’s designed that people are given gifts and given needs, and the gifts are there to be shared. And the needs create a longing to connect, to touch into someone who has what we need. So you have the heart of what it means to live as a communal being in the world. We need others for what they have, and they need us for what we have. So nobody is really considered to say, “Oh, you don’t have enough, and you have enough.” No, this is just the way it is. We’re full, empty, full, empty, full, empty. And it’s true. That’s the way I see my life. Some days I feel great, and I feel like I’m resonating all kinds of good energy, and other days I feel like I just wish I didn’t have to get up. And is that a terrible thing, that I haven’t developed a skill or an ability to be this perfect resonance of light and truth? No, it’s human. We know things, and we don’t know things. We see things clearly. We see things in a very dark space, and we can’t make them out. I love the image of God as the God who ministers to us, not directly so much but through other people. So the key, it seems, at the very heart of what Jesus is coming to teach us is we have whatever he had that enabled him to do the ministry that he was most noted for, and which got him in the greatest trouble — his power to heal. So here is Jesus the healer. He can heal people. So can you. So can I. Maybe not as dramatically as he does in these stories, but then the stories are there to explain a mystery, a truth. See, the other thing about truth that’s so hard, it’s always when we’re talking about the truth of the gospel, the truth of life, the truth of God, truth of self. It’s always going to lead us into a thing called mystery. There is no simple, clear way of talking about the truth. You can’t fully understand it. You can’t fully explain it, but you know it. You know it. That’s the thing that is so interesting about truth.
So what is the truth then in the gospel? What is it? If we look at the truth that’s being presented in this set of readings, it’s that God has created a world that works, and we should be engaged in it, and we should be open to being full and empty. That’s kind of a basic truth. So what is the gospel then about? All the miracle stories are about this. Well, these two stories put together in Mark’s gospel are interesting, because one is a woman who has been struggling for years and years with a flow of hemorrhaging, of blood, and she is healed. Then there is another person in this set of healings, and that is that a woman, a young woman, 12, is dead. Well, you wonder what’s the connection, and I think it’s maybe the amount of years that the woman has hemorrhaged. What I think is interesting is that the hemorrhaging is something that would keep this woman from being able to be fertile and receive a child. Twelve years old is the time normally when a woman begins to be capable of having a child. So there’s something in this about fertility, I swear, and you know I was using an image last week or the week before of this grace, this truth. It’s like a seed that gets inside of us, and if we have moisture, which is an image of grace, unmerited love. Then we have sunlight, which is the image of enlightenment and truth. We have those two things. This thing grows inside of us. So let’s just think that maybe these two women represent the universal part of all of us that’s able to give birth, and we think of giving birth as giving life and think of giving life as you being a carrier of life-giving energy and strength in the world today. Maybe the next day you’ll be the one that needs it desperately, but we give that to each other.
The other thing that’s interesting in these two stories, they both show an obstacle to believing in this amazing power we have to share with each other life. One is I’m not worthy, the woman, and the other is it’s too late. There is nothing there. I don’t have what I need. It’s dead. I don’t have any life in me. Let’s look at those two things, because it’s interesting. The woman who feels that she is not worthy is clearly — according to the law at the time, being a menstruating woman, she is not able to be near a rabbi, and the rabbi, if he was close to her, would be made unclean. So she doesn’t want to bother him. She doesn’t want to embarrass him, but she has this incredible conviction that, “If I just even touch, not his body but his clothes, he won’t even know I’m touching him.” Then the crowd is bumping up against him. The fascinating thing is that somehow, when we are an instrument of life to someone else, we know it. It’s a little bit of a rush, a little bit of a feeling that we can hardly describe. It’s sometimes unconscious. You’re feeling good during that day. You meet somebody. They walk away seemingly really feeling good, and you just feel good about helping somebody feel good. It’s intuitive. It’s what we’re made for. So you see in that an image of, if you’re looking for this, if you want to be a person that understands the healing power that we all possess, you have to believe it so intensely that even the thought of, “I’m not worthy,” is to be thrown out. No, none of us are necessarily worthy of unmerited love, but when God offers it, when another human being offers it, it feels so good.
The young girl is interesting, because the faith in that case is not I’m not worthy but it’s too late. It’s not going to work. So what is interesting about this image is Jairus, who is a synagogue official, he certainly deserves being helped by God. He works at the temple. He knows his daughter is sick, and then he said, “Alright, I know that this man can heal her.” He believes it, and even when it looks like he might be doubting it, Jesus makes it so clear. “You all don’t understand. She is not really dead. She is asleep,” which means she has within her life, and it’s just not activated. It’s not ignited. It’s not enlightened. So interesting when we say, “Oh, I don’t have it. I don’t have faith.” No, it’s there like a seed that has to be born and given birth. So never feel that — when we talk about not having what we need, we have it. It’s just we’re not connected to it. What a truth to hold onto when it comes to asking God to do something to change me. It’s like, “I’m not that person.” No, you are the person you want to be changed into. You’re just not in touch with it.
Father, we are wonderfully made, and you have made the world in which we live a place of harmony and beauty. Yet we know there’s a way in which we can be confused and in darkness, and we are distorted in our understanding of this plan that you’ve made for us that is live-giving and life-preserving. So bless us with the insight into the truth of who we are and why we’re here, and help us to create this kingdom. It’s what the world is longing for and anxious for, and we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.