“Do not fear, but believe.”

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: June 28, 2009
Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Ps 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Every February, at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, the seminarians host about 1500 youth and chaperones for a weekend Eucharistic retreat. Aside from sleeping and eating meals, most of the events happen in the college gym, with everyone sitting next to each other on carpet squares, in this gym temporarily converted into a church. And every year the high point of the weekend is the Eucharistic procession that happens on Saturday night. The lights are turned off, and a spotlight follows the deacon carrying the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance, amidst clouds of incense; while the seminarian choir sings chant and favorite hymns.

And before the procession begins, the Gospel passage is read about the women with the hemorrhages who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak; and the retreat participants are encouraged to reach out to touch the hem of the cope and humeral veil that the deacon is wearing, as a tangible gesture of saying or asking something of Jesus as he is there, really present in the Blessed Sacrament. Every year the kids respond very strongly to this, and reach out to touch the edges of those vestments, with great emotion.

And is that any surprise? Who among us, if given the chance to heal whatever it is that eats at us, just by touching an object associated with Jesus, would not jump at the chance?

And that raises a couple more questions. Why hasn’t Jesus put objects like that everywhere, so that everyone can touch them and be healed? And that question is very similar to one we might ask of today’s Gospel reading: Why did Jesus want to know who touched him? Why wasn’t he satisfied simply knowing that power had gone out from him and healed someone, without needing to speak to her?

Our first reading tells us that God did not make death: death and destruction were not his will, and were not part of his creation. These entered the world at the Fall, when we sinned against God and joined the company of the devil; when we rebelled against God, and our bodies and appetites and emotions rebelled against us. What a tragic mess we made of the beautiful world that God created!

Death and disease are not God’s will; and Jesus showed that he has the power to overcome these, and the loving compassion to use it. He healed the blind, the deaf, the crippled. In today’s Gospel, he healed the woman’s hemorrhages, which many doctors had not been able to heal in twelve years. So Jairus and his friends knew that Jesus could make Jairus’ daughter well, even when she was at the point of death. But what about after death? It is clear that Jairus’ friends thought that death was the limit of Jesus’ power, so that they notified him, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” But Jesus demonstrated that he has power over death as well, as he raised the girl back to life.

Why not make pieces of Jesus’ cloak available in every corner drug store? It would be the only thing that the stores would need to carry.

But Jairus’ daughter surely died again later on. Both she and the woman who was healed probably suffered from other sicknesses and injuries throughout their lives and eventually died. The same was true of Lazarus, and anyone else Jesus raised back to this life, and anyone else that Jesus healed. But there is one who did not suffer and die again: Jesus himself, when he rose from the dead, did not simply return to this life. No, his body was transformed into the resurrection body that we hear about in the readings during the Easter season: a body that will never again suffer or die; and while it could operate within this world, it was no longer constrained by the laws of nature but had power over them.

This is Jesus’ will for us: not simply to make our earthly lives a little more comfortable and a little longer, but to raise us to a whole new life, adopted in him as sons and daughters of God. As the old Baltimore Catechism put it, “to know Him, to live Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.” By healing some people and raising some from the dead, Jesus showed us the love in his sacred heart and the power in his sacred hands, so that we can trust him and follow him to the far greater state to which he leads. “Do not fear, but believe,” he said to Jairus. “Do not fear, but believe,” he says to us.

It is a necessary message, because Jesus’ road to his resurrection took him through betrayal and suffering and torture, to the cross, and to the tomb, from which he rose. And he calls us to follow him on that road. He told his disciples [Luke 9:23], “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” St. Paul, in his letter to the Romans [6:3], asks if we are “unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” In baptism, we are incorporated into Christ, and our lives become conformed to the shape of his life: to his resurrection, by way of his cross—whatever cross he will ask each of us to bear in union with him.

Now, am I contradicting myself? On the one hand, I have said that our Lord Jesus Christ miraculously healed diseases and conditions of every kind; and he still does. On the other hand, he suffered death on the cross, and he called his disciples to be ready to do the same; and he still does. So which is it? Healing, or the cross? And the answer is: sometimes one, sometimes the other. At a given moment, which one will it be? We won’t know until it happens. And often, even after it happens, we will not understand why. Maybe we will gain some insight after some time has passed, looking back; but often it will not be until we reach eternity and the veil is lifted that we will see how in every case our Lord chose just what was best, for our good, for our salvation and the salvation of others, and for the glory of the Father. Until then, we are like Jairus: “Do not fear, but believe.”

When the woman suffering the hemorrhages touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed, it was a wonderful thing. But Jesus had something even better to give to her, something she needed even more. And so he asked, “Who touched me?” And when she approached in fear and trembling, she could look into Jesus’ eyes and hear his voice as he spoke directly to her as “Daughter.” She would not only touch his cloak, but she would enter into relationship with Christ. And that is the great gift. That is what the Church is all about; that is what those February retreats at Mount St. Mary’s are all about. To look into the eyes of Christ; to hear his voice; to feel his touch; and to know him.

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Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 6:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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