Sunday of Week 13 of Ordinary Time (Year B)

Commentary on Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Today’s readings are about Jesus as the giver of life. The Gospel consists of two related stories, with one inside the other, a typical feature of Mark’s Gospel known as ‘inclusion’. Jesus is approached by an official of the synagogue, called Jairus. His daughter is seriously ill and he wants Jesus to come and lay his hands on her “so that she may be made well and live”. So Jesus sets out for Jairus’ house and is followed by a huge crowd of jostling people.

A woman in fear
It is at this point that the second story begins. An unfortunate woman who has suffered a haemorrhage for 12 years is in the crowd. Mark says she had spent all her resources on treatment from doctors. There was no improvement; in fact, she was feeling worse than ever. (Interestingly, Luke, who is traditionally thought to be a physician, omits this detail!)

Like many others, she had heard about Jesus and, moved by a deep faith in him, she believed that if she could just touch the hem of his cloak it would be enough for her to be healed. In fact, the moment she touched Jesus’ clothes her bleeding stopped instantly. She knew that she had been cured. It was then that Jesus turned round and asked: “Who touched my cloak?” He knew that power had gone out from him. The disciples remonstrate with him. How can he complain of someone touching his clothes when such a large crowd is pressing in on him? Many people must have been jostling him, but Jesus knew that one person had touched him in a different way, a way that had drawn out his healing power.

Why she was afraid
Then the woman, in fear and trembling, stepped forward. She was not really afraid of Jesus. She was afraid because she should not have been there at all. And that is why she had not approached him openly in the first place. Her bleeding problem made her unclean and, if the people around had known about it, she would have been in deep trouble. It is similar to an earlier period in our own time when a person living with HIV/AIDS felt they had to remain concealed. She was, of course, no threat to anyone, but fear does not know reason. Now her secret is going to be exposed; no wonder she is even more afraid. But she steps forward, falls at Jesus’ feet and tells him everything. There is no anger or indignation on Jesus’ part. He says kindly:

Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Jesus, the resurrection and the life, has restored her to fullness of life. Not only is she physically cured, but she is fully restored to a normal social life and can be fully integrated into her society. She is a whole person in every sense, individually and socially. But it was her deep faith in Jesus, symbolised by her merely touching the hem of his garment, which was a major factor in her healing.

‘Do not be afraid’
We now move back to our first story. Just as Jesus finishes with the woman, Jairus is told that his daughter has died and that there is no need to bother Jesus any further. Jesus may be a healer, but he is not expected to resuscitate the dead.

Jesus, however, insists on going and he says beautiful words which we need to hear him saying often in our own lives:

Do not be afraid; only believe.

This phrase is repeated like a refrain, hundreds of times in our Bible.

He only allows three of his disciples, the inner circle of Peter, James and John, to accompany him. He wants them to see what is going to happen, but he does not want to satisfy the merely curious, or cater to the sensational reaction of the excitable crowd.

As they approach the house, there is the sound of mourning and wailing. Jesus asks:

Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.

And they laughed at him…they knew a dead person when they saw one. Was the girl in fact dead or was she in a death-like state of unconsciousness like a coma? It does not really matter; because, as far as those present were concerned, she was dead. If Jesus had not been there, she would very likely have been buried within a short time.

Giver of life
Jesus goes into the house with just the parents and his three close companions. He takes the girl by the hand and says to her:

Talitha koum, which means, “Little girl, get up!”

And the 12-year-old girl immediately got up and walked around quite normally, as if nothing had been wrong with her. Those words “get up” have overtones of resurrection, the “getting up” of Jesus from his own tomb. This is Mark’s way of presenting what Jesus says more explicitly in John’s Gospel:

I am the resurrection and the life. (John 11:25)

Whether she was dead or in a coma, she was restored to fullness of life, and Jesus is revealed as the Lord of life. No wonder that those who witnessed the scene “were overcome with amazement”. So much so that they had to be reminded by Jesus to give the girl some food to eat. This is a small touch on Jesus’ part, but it reveals how ‘other-centred’ and caring he is. He could have been basking in the admiration of the onlookers, but he continues to focus on the girl and her needs.

We are meant for wholeness
Both of these stories – with one, as it were, enfolded in the other – reveal Jesus as the source of life and healing. As the First Reading says today, God:

does not delight in the destruction of the living.

And it goes on to say:

For he created all things so that they might exist…the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal.

We have been made, the book of Wisdom tells us, to be in the image of God’s own nature:

God created us for incorruption
and made us in the image of his own eternity…

This is the goal of our lives: to know, to love and to share his life forever. Yet all of us, in some way or another, are constantly in need of God’s healing. Healing, health, wholeness, and holiness are, in English, all linked words. We pray for healing which will give us health in every aspect of our lives, and not just in our bodies. The realisation of full health is to become a whole person, where every part of me – spiritual, intellectual, social, psychological and physiological – functions as it ought and in perfect harmony within itself, with people around, and with the environment.

Wholeness comes in sharing
And part of that wholeness is indicated by Paul in the Second Reading. He reminds the Corinthians how Jesus, rich though he was (not with money, but in things of the spirit):

…for your sakes…became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Naked and destitute on the cross, he poured out his love on us. He even gave his life that we might have life. And because of that he, too, lives forever – and we have been immeasurably enriched. Paul gives that as a model for the way that the Corinthians should share whatever they can spare for their poorer brothers in other churches.

Interestingly, he says that in sharing with others we are not expected to give away what we genuinely need ourselves, but only from our surplus. And, when I share my surplus today with someone in greater need, I myself can hope to be treated in the same way in my own hour of need. (Of course, it is important that I distinguish clearly and honestly what I genuinely need and what I think I cannot do without – my Mercedes sports car or my Rolex watch.) In this way, a balance is maintained and Paul quotes from Scripture:

The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.

(2 Cor 8:15)

That is an example of wholeness in our society, in our communities – the way it should be.

Part of our healing is in the wholeness of our communities, a wholeness which is based on truth, love, compassion and a deep sense of justice for all. And this, too, is holiness, because God is an integral part of the wholeness. He is recognised as the Creator, the Conserver and the Final Goal of all that I am and can be, of all that we are and can be. Let us pray today to Jesus as Lord of life and ask him to help us reach that level of health, wholeness and holiness to which he is calling us.

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