Gigantic strides have been made in science and medicine in the last one hundred years. Yet, over the same period of time, our sources of fear and apprehension seem to have remained the same or even increased on account of new scary diseases with no corresponding cures yet, and also because of lingering anxiety about the unknown.
It is with an eye on this unsettling situation that the Church invites us to dwell on our Gospel passage from Mark (5:21-43) on this Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.
For twelve years, i.e. to the point of having exhausted all human resources and efforts available to her, this Jewish woman had been cut off from public life and from the communal prayer in the synagogue. Her unbearable isolation was forced upon her by the Mosaic Law. Women in that condition were considered impure and anyone, anything coming in contact with them would have been considered contaminated. According to human conventional expectations and plans of the time, at age 12, Jairus’ daughter was supposed to become a woman and be ready for marriage and have children of her own. But at that particular juncture of her existence, all plans and dreams were shattered.
Yet, what the evangelist Mark shows us, today, is a heart-wrenching picture in all ages: back then as well as nowadays. It is the picture of exhaustion, the picture of people who have run out of all attempts, efforts, energies and hopes available. Truth be told, it was not just the hemorrhaging woman and the girl’s parents who were exhausted, but the whole community who hemmed Jesus in and clung to him as to the only hope in a desperate situation.
Life-altering and life-threatening diseases might be striking very close to us, in our very family or among our friends and acquaintances. In our pain mixed with fear, we turn to Christ Jesus; we press upon him in the way those people pressed upon him as he neared Jairus’ home to “awake” his daughter. We pray in earnest and often. We ask others to pray for the same intention, hoping that the prayers of many may attain from God the favor which we seek.
In extreme cases, confronted by a cruel, untimely death, we might find ourselves teetering at the brink of despair; or, at least, we would feel numb, confused and overwhelmed by unbearable grief. It would be very intense grief, because of the irrationality of the loss and its encroachment beyond what is humanly explainable and expected. The answers available to us from the pool of our humanness are so limited and inadequate, both in the case of serious health issues and, of course, premature deaths, that we dread even to be called upon to bring some comfort and draw near those who are directly affected. Clearly, there is this additional fear of showing to those who mourn how vulnerable, totally powerless and at a loss for words we truly are. This additional fear seizes also officials of the Church, (priests and bishops) because, all of us, are first trying to pull out a remedy, any remedy, from the miserable pool of our common humanity and, only later on, might look confidently at Jesus and ask him to extend his healing hand and touch our afflictions and miseries.
Now, even as I say this, I realize that we deserve an answer to our hurts, fears and anxieties that is truly honest, well-thought out and, most importantly, lived through. But, what I have been telling you, thus far, is the same content found in a number of past homilies. It is the perfunctory answer that we might have heard before. Today, we should, rather, ask ourselves why this invitation to go to Jesus and let him touch us in our miseries, fears and anxieties, has been good for many, but not for all. We should wonder, also, why it might not be enough for us if we were to ever find ourselves in situations similar to the ones of people around us who have been tried to their breaking point.
Undeniably, many have walked away from God, from His Church, from the Sacraments, from anything and anyone who had sustained them for many, many years. What is keeping us from denying the very existence of God, or from rebelling against Him, or lash out at Him? What guarantee do we have that in certain circumstances we won’t reach conclusions that we find presently unthinkable? What is the difference between us and those who have lost their faith?
These questions are designed to make us realize, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that faith in God, faith in Christ Jesus, are and will always be an unmerited gift from the Lord. The difference between us and those who do not hem Jesus in with hope to be touched by him is what we decide to do to keep and nurture the gift of faith that the Father has given us. That would make what I said, today, and what you heard many times before, sufficient for us to turn to Jesus even in extreme cases. Hence, let me repeat what I have said to you several times before (last time was on the first Sunday of Lent of this year): on this earth we will come across certain heart-wrenching situations that will make it impossible for us to believe, at the same time, in God’s almighty power, perfect justice and infinite love. Think, for example, of the suffering and dying of children. This impossibility of rational reconciliation of this mystery, this inscrutability will become clear only once we are firmly in the Father’s eternal embrace.
In the meantime, we should heed Jesus’ advice and get something to eat. This is what he told the girl’s parents: to give her something to eat. Now he gives us the same order. I believe he is referring to himself as Bread of Life. He is urging us to feed on his Words of Life and on his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. This is how we nurture the gift of faith. This is how usual, sincere exhortations can suffice. My dear fellow recipients of this most precious gift of faith from God, we should never desist from pressing upon Jesus with steadfast hope and let him touch us again and again.
There is no one else who could do that with the same results.