Sunday, June 28, 2015

Homily for 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Homily for the
13th Sunday of Ordinary Time
June 28, 2015
Mark 5: 21-43
Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y.

“He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction’” (Mark 5: 34).

Interesting point in this long gospel narrative:  Mark gives us the name of one of the characters.  That doesn’t happen very often.  Why did the oral tradition by which the stories of Jesus were handed down, until the evangelists wrote some of them down in an organized fashion, preserve the name of Jairus, the synagog official?  Obviously we can’t know because the evangelists didn’t keep a record of their sources (even tho they didn’t have any e-mail to destroy) the way someone like David McCullogh does when he tells us the story of the Brooklyn Bridge or the Wright Brothers.  He provides information about all his sources, and you could go and look at them yourself.

If you were Jairus or a member of his household, wouldn’t what you saw Jesus do turn you into one of his followers?  We might guess that Jairus became a leader in the early Christian community in Galilee—one of those very ancient communities whose continued existence in Israel, Palestine, and across the Middle East has become so precarious.  We might also guess that when Mark composed his Gospel there were people around who remembered Jairus and his family and could vouch for the veracity of so specific a story, as there are people alive today who knew Orville Wright—he died the year I was born (I didn’t know him)—and who could confirm some of the things that David McCullough writes about him in his new book.

There was another new book out last week.  Well, not precisely a book, but a longish essay entitled Laudato si’.  One of the urgent themes of Francis’s encyclical was that we have a serious moral obligation to take care of the earth because it belongs to all of us, and when a few wealthy people or wealthy nations ravish the earth for their own benefit, they are destroying what belongs to the poor, what is the heritage, the God-given heritage, of every person.  If we truly want to care for the poor, we must act to preserve the earth—its water, its air, its other resources—and make them more readily available to all our brothers and sisters, all God’s children.

For saying that, Pope Francis is dismissed by some (most of whom, I dare say, haven’t actually read the encyclical) as a socialist, a communist, a dreamer, someone out of touch with reality.  And, they say, he should stick to religion and not get involved in politics or science.  It’s an embarrassment that some of our Catholic candidates for President are saying that!  (Most of them don’t know that the Pope was a scientist—a chemist—before he entered the seminary.)  In other words, religion doesn’t have to do with real life, with real people, with basic issues of life and death, right and wrong, human dignity, human rights.  Religion is OK in church, but not in the office, the market, the school, the highway, the factory, the mine, the fields.

But Francis takes his religion from Jesus, not from the Communist Manifesto or the Wall Street Journal.  What do we see and hear Jesus doing today?

1st, Jesus deals with real people and their real problems.  We see him doing that thruout the gospels, of course.  Here it’s a woman—age not given, but perhaps what we might call middle-aged—who’s been sick for 12 years, seriously sick, and not only not helped by doctors but even made worse by them (it seems).  And it’s a dying little girl and her frantic father.

2d, these are the very marginalized people that Francis tells us that we have to be concerned about.  These are the nobodies, the unclean, of Jewish society in the 1st century—not the only ones, we know; there are also the lepers and the prostitutes, and Jesus dealt with their illnesses too (of body and soul).  These are the people on the periphery of society.

The woman in the crowd is a 2d-class citizen precisely because she’s a woman (as we still see across much of the Middle East).  She’s also unclean because of her hemorrhages.  So she has to sneak up on Jesus.  She can’t risk public attention.  Well, that didn’t work out too well!  But it did work out because Jesus felt her touch—her touch among all “the crowd pressing upon” him (5:31).  Her touch was singular—as is every one of us, rich or poor, male or female, young or old.  Jesus feels for each of us, and Jesus offers us the kind of healing that we need—which is far more than the healing of a physical ailment.  And then he addresses her as “Daughter,” a women who may well have been older than he (altho we don’t know this as a fact).  He restores her to a place in God’s family, or reminds her that she has that place as a gift from God.  As do we all, thanks to the healing touch of Jesus whenever we reach out to him in prayer and sacraments and Scripture.  In fact, in our prayer tonite we alluded to that:  “O God, through the grace of adoption you chose us to be children of light.”  God has adopted us, made us his daughters and sons!

Raising the daughter of Jairus (James Tissot)
Jairus’s daughter is a child, with even less social status than the woman.  Remember how the apostles tried to shoo the children away from Jesus?  And Jairus’s daughter is dead.  The dead, too, are unclean.  Jesus shouldn’t touch a female, and he shouldn’t touch a corpse.  But “he took the child by the hand” (5:41).  No one is beyond the reach of Jesus.  No one is beyond his care.  Not even the dead are beyond his reach, because “the girl arose immediately and walked around” (5:42).  Jesus’ action prefigures the ultimate cure, the ultimate healing, for which we all long.

Jesus cares for society’s least.  He reaches out to them and lifts them up.  We know from what else the gospels tell us that he’s able to do these sorts of things because he’s perfectly in tune with his Father, perfectly reflects the Father’s will.  And we also know that it’s the Father’s will that we allow Jesus to heal us of our own wounds and sins and then do our best to be like Jesus:  united with our Father thru a lively spiritual life and doing the works of Jesus in our daily lives, especially for the poor, the marginalized, those whom society has forgotten or shoved aside.

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