Homily for the
13th Sunday of Ordinary TimeJune 28, 2009
Wis 1: 13-15; 2: 23-24
St. Michael, Greenwich
St. Timothy, Banksville
“God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living” (Wis 1: 13).
Last Sunday, using the story of Job and the episode in which Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, we reflected on the problem of evil in the world and on the ultimate nature of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Today’s readings affirm that God is a God of life and of complete salvation.
The Book of Wisdom, sometimes called the Wisdom of Solomon, dates from the 1st century B.C. Like the Book of Job, part of this book is a sustained reflection on evil in the world, and like Job it places the blame for suffering and death on the devil (cf. 2:24). Unlike Job, Wisdom presents a belief in the immortality of the soul and even in the resurrection of the body, and thus of God’s vindication as the Lord of life and salvation.
The passage we read today states that God made living creatures for life. Death wasn’t part of his plan. Alluding to the 1st chapter of Genesis, Wisdom reminds us that human beings are made in God’s image; therefore he intended us to be imperishable (2:23).
Our bodies do perish, of course. Writing in the last 50 years or so before Christ, the author couldn’t have known how God was going to redeem creation. He could only maintain that God would vindicate his own plan: “for justice is undying” (1:15). God would finally defeat wicked men and even the devil. It’s more than evident that justice isn’t fully served on earth, in our present human experience. Therefore, the Book of Wisdom teaches —as does Christian theology—justice must be served, good people rewarded and the evil punished, in an afterlife.
In the gospels we see God’s redemption begin to unfold. In today’s reading from St. Mark, for instance, Jesus—who incarnates God’s love for humanity—shows us in several ways God’s will to save us. Mark skillfully weaves together 2 cures, and he subtly also indicates God’s liberation of the oppressed, or if you prefer, of 2d-class citizens.
The cures involve victories at Jesus’ hand over human illness—persistent, incurable illness—and over even death. Illness of course is related to death; the frailty and deterioration of our bodies foreshadow death. Jesus’ power over illness betokens his power over anything that afflicts the body. His power over death foreshadows his own resurrection, and as “the firstborn from the dead” (Col 1:18), “the firstborn of many brothers and sisters” (Rom 8:29), as St. Paul says, he will bring all his followers, as well, to resurrection and everlasting life. And that will be the ultimate victory for God’s “fashioning all things that they might have being,” the final triumph of God’s “undying justice” (Wis 1:14-15).
Human beings aren’t just disembodied souls. Angels are disembodied souls, purely spiritual creatures. (So are devils.) We don’t change our nature at death, don’t become something that God never made us to be. For God fully to redeem us, fully to vindicate or justify his own creation, he must save us as we are, the way he made us: as embodied persons. Jesus thruout his public ministry and thru his resurrection shows God’s intent to do that, as well as his power to carry out what he intends.
But wait—there’s more! as certain TV commercials alert us. There’s the part about liberating the oppressed, dignifying the underclasses.
It’s a fundamental of Christian theology that every human being has an equal dignity before God, coming from God himself. The Wisdom reading alluded to our being created in his image. You know well that that verse from Genesis refers not only to male persons but also to females: “God created man [homo sapiens] in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
While all people are oppressed by sickness and death, and by sin, which underlies sickness and death, some people, to turn around George Orwell’s famous phrase, are less equal than others, have less standing as human beings created in the image of God. You know that in most early human societies, and certainly in Jewish society in our Lord’s time—as thruout the Middle East still, except in Israel—women were and are 2d-class persons. And children had even less standing, less dignity, in society.
But whom do we see Jesus redeeming today? A woman and a child. Not only a woman, but a woman who is unclean because she has some unspecified “flow of blood” (Mark 5:29); she’s perpetually excluded from the worshipping community of Israel. Not only a child, but a female child; and she too is unclean because she’s dead.
By touching or being touched by these unclean persons, Jesus becomes unclean himself. That ritual uncleanness doesn’t bother Jesus. For he has come precisely to save the unclean: thru his incarnation the Son of God touches humanity and takes upon himself our uncleanness—not in a ritual sense but in a moral sense—he bears our sins, pays the price of our sins. And in doing so he makes us clean.
But back to these specific persons, the woman and the child. Jesus comes to save these persons too, to remove their ritual uncleanness—as he removes the moral uncleanness of our sins—and to restore them to the community of Israel, just as he restores lepers and possessed persons. He’s the Savior of all, without discrimination—which he indicates also by addressing the healed woman as “Daughter,” i.e., a child of God as much as any other believer (5:34).
In both gospel stories, the way to salvation is opened by faith: “Daughter, your faith has saved you” (5:34); “Jesus said to the synagogue official, ‘Do not be afraid; just have faith’” (5:36). Have faith in the power of Jesus to save from the devil and all the evil the devil has brought into the world.
That message of faith, fearless faith, is one thing for us to take home today, faith that God wills our good, our health, our life; and he will effect it.
A 2d message to take home is Jesus’ addressing human illness, human suffering. As his disciples, concerned like him for the welfare of human persons in their entirety—bodies and souls—we do what we can to relieve suffering, stave off death, comfort the dying and the bereaved, offer hope of God’s mercy and love.
A 3d message to take home is God’s universal love for all human beings, his recognition of the dignity, the worth, that he himself has bestowed on women as well as men, on children as well as adults, and on our own responsibility to treat every person as a son or daughter of God.
May God bless you.