Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B
June 28, 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Wisdom 1:13-15;23-24 | Psalm 30:4-6;11-13
2 Corinthians 8:7;9;13-15 | Mark 5:31-43
+In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
The theme of last week’s readings was faith and trust in God to keep us safe. In last week’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples were in a boat beset by a storm. And, as you might expect, it was Jesus to the rescue! He told the sea and wind to be still, and they complied. He asked the disciples, “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?”
This week’s Gospel carries a similar theme: faith in Jesus to get things done. We have the father of a seriously ill young lady at the point of death, and we have a woman afflicted for twelve years with uncontrollable bleeding who had paid the First-Century medical establishment lots of money with no results. The response of Jesus to both situations was, do not fear, have faith, and everything will be alright.
Indeed, that’s what happened. The woman touched the garments of Jesus, and she was healed. The young lady rose up from what was to be her deathbed and was hungry. And the people were utterly amazed at all of this, just as the disciples were amazed when Jesus calmed the storm. Faith in Jesus brings amazement.
But this variety of amazement doesn’t happen on its own. In last week’s homily, Deacon Sharon told us a story about how God cared for a man in a rising flood who turned down three offers of rescue who ended up drowning and wondering why God had not rescued him. When he got to the gates of heaven, God pointed out that he’d sent a jeep, a boat, and a helicopter, all of which the man refused, resulting in his death.
The point of Deacon Sharon’s story was that God helps those who help themselves. In other words, our relationship with God is an active one: when we reach out to God for help, God will respond, and we have to actively accept God’s help to make things happen.
This theme of an active relationship with God permeates this week’s Gospel as well. The father of the seriously-ill young lady asked Jesus for help and made his daughter available to Jesus. The woman beset with bleeding asked Jesus for help and reached out to touch the garments of Jesus, whereupon she was healed instantly. In Matthew, we have Jesus telling us to ask for things to be given to us, seek to find something and to knock on doors to get them open to us.
Put another way, Jesus thinks that showing initiative is a good idea. You may notice in your own life that successful people get the ball rolling to get things done, not wait for the ball to come to them. The synagogue official in this story wanted his daughter cured and alive. The woman wanted to be free of pain and bleeding. They spoke up and things happened.
If you really want something, go after it. What motivates initiative, however, is faith. As the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews tells us, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is trusting God to make things happen for you. People who don’t think God is there for them aren’t motivated to act on their own behalf. That kind of negative insures that thinking nothing gets done. Without faith, nothing happens. But if you ask God for good things, God will respond appropriately.
God does not give us stones when we ask for bread.
God does not give us a scorpion when we ask for an egg.
God does not give us a snake when we ask for a fish.
God cares for our health, safety, and welfare.
God wants us to live, not die.
God cares about our lives. But we have to ask God to get himself involved. We must recognize and accept God’s help when it comes our way, like in today’s Gospel when the synagogue official and the woman who recognized Jesus as the healer he was.
Imagine what would have happened if Jarius had not reached out to Jesus. He would have been mourning the premature death of his daughter.
Imagine what would have happened if the woman who was hemorrhaging blood had not sought out Jesus to heal her. The gospel story doesn’t tell us the precise nature of her affliction, but according to biblical scholars, it was most likely vaginal bleeding from fibroid tumors in her uterus. Nowadays, surgery rectifies this condition, but First Century women did not have that option available to them because medical science had not progressed that far. So we can understand why she turned to Jesus in utter desperation.
So you might say, why not just skip God and rely directly on the medical establishment to cure whatever ails us? God, however, is always in our lives, whether we have hard evidence of it or not. The benevolent omniscience of God is always an undisputed fact, even though life does not always go the way we went it, because, at the end of the day, God has our best interests in mind.
I know this can be hard to accept when someone we love dies of a horrible disease or people are killed in a natural disaster. However, when such things happen, it does not come from a malevolent intent on God’s part but is simply an event unfolding.
The mind of God is too vast and knowable for us as human persons. Last week’s first reading was a snippet from the creation story in the Book of Job. Most people don’t know it, but there are actually three creation stories in the Old Testament, the two we all know in Genesis, and a much more detailed one in chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine in the Book of Job explicating the stunning complexity and awesome power of God’s creation. In healing, the divine side of Jesus displays a snippet of God’s total power to do literally, anything. I would invite you to read those two chapters in Job alongside the stories about the miracles Jesus performed.
Every Sunday when we sing the Creed, we begin with the words, “I believe in one God.” We also sing, “We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ,” and “We believe in the Holy Spirit.” Those phrases go way far beyond accepting the purely intellectual proposition that God exists. When we sing we believe in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, we are singing that we trust God to always do what is right, even though we may not agree with everything that God does all the time. The fact is, we have no choice but to agree because God is God, but we are not God.
The disciples in the boat sailing in stormy weather, Jarius, the synagogue official, and the bleeding woman, all sought and reached out to Jesus because they believed in Jesus. They trusted Jesus to rescue them, and Jesus did. They journeyed from the common fears that characterized the human condition to a place of faith founded on Jesus, our rock, and our salvation.
Faith is the channel through which the power of Jesus works. Jesus instantly recognized that the bleeding woman’s faith had cured her of her affliction when he said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” Imagine how she felt when she heard those stunning words of comfort.
Consider that in First-Century Judaism, a woman with vaginal bleeding was considered ritually unclean, which meant that she was excluded from places of worship and from generally interacting with others, condemning her to a lonely existence. That meant, that on a practical level, her faith in Jesus paid her awesome rewards. She was then able to worship and socialize with friends and family.
As shown in today’s Gospel, faith works miracles. Faith is confidence in and abandonment to the power of Jesus Christ. Let us not think that the power of faith belongs to the past, to dark times in which faith, superstition, and irrationality traveled along the same path and were intertwined. The power of faith is not confined in terms of space or time; nor is it confined by the body or soul. The power of faith is total.
Today’s Second Reading illustrates how Saint Paul relied on faith in his quest to build up the church. Unfortunately, the prescribed reading gives us only a few snippets about its theme of why Christians should be generous in contributing to the Church. If you read the whole of chapters right and nine in Second Corinthians, you will see that the context is about how a collection of money was organized by Paul in some of the communities he founded to meet needy fellow Christians in Judea, more specifically, in Jerusalem.
In reading those chapters, you will read that Paul tells us about how the abundance of one part of the church meets the needs of another. There, he recognizes the importance of eliminating the imbalance of financial power within the church and that the church is best served by an equal distribution of resources. As an illustration, he pointed out the Jesus became poor so that we might become rich.
The entire Body of Christ benefits when each church community has sufficient resources to carry out its mission. But that is only possible when Christians have faith in fellow Christians, meaning they trust fellow Christians to carry on the work of the Kingdom of God. Faith in one’s fellow Christians is shown by supporting their ministry even though the operation and results of that ministry may not at the present moment be entirely clear to us. Sometimes we contribute to the ministries of others wholly on faith, if not on outright speculation, that those ministries will be successful.
Too often, however, the temptation is great, for the many denominations of Christians to retreat into our little independent silos and not care about the rest of the Church. I will admit, however, that it’s hard to escape this mentality when we see other congregations engage in practices with which we disagree. Instead, we should focus on the long term and the big picture for the success of the Reign of God to become a reality rather than massage the righteousness of our opinions.
The challenge for the Church is to allow the force of faith and the power of God to become manifest in the life of Christians such that the power of faith will enable us to overcome ethnic and cultural barriers. In the situation to which today’s Second Reading relates, Paul looks for the Christians at Corinth to express their fraternal charity to their brothers in Jerusalem through the collection of money as a manifestation of faith in God and God’s Kingdom.
When we encounter a brother or sister Christian engaged in a ministry that does not appear to be effective, our response as a church community must always be to helping the people in that ministry do better. Jesus calls us all to have faith and believe in all who are spreading the Gospel, each in their own way. That is how we demonstrate charity through faith. The power of faith is called charity.
The collection story in the Second Reading shows how faith works. Paul, and other Christians coming from the Greek and Roman world, had to overcome very powerful racial prejudices; they must overcome a certain anti-Semitism which already existed in Hellenistic culture; they must especially overcome cultural obstacles: the closed mentality of the Christians of Judea, the idea the everyone has to be like them (be circumcised, not eat impure foods, and other Jewish customs if they wish to be true Christians.
The power of faith in Christ the Lord imposes on all situations and should move Christians to extraordinary gestures of charity. We are all brothers in Christ, and we must help one another. What that means is the fruit of our faith is the faithfulness of God to us and our faithfulness to God, each of which feeds the other.
Today there are still miracles, and frequent miracles, in people who with an immense faith ask God, with the intercession of the Blessed Virgin or of some saint, the healing of the body or soul.
To maintain one’s faith, that is, one’s trust in God is as much a challenge today as it was in the ancient world, particularly when the population as a whole looks to purely secular remedies to solve problems in an amoral way, like forcing people to work at menial jobs paycheck-to-paycheck for mere survival. Such a system is not too far removed from slavery. Policymakers who promote such ideas have zero respect for human dignity.
An even more poignant example of substituting an amoral secular remedy in place of faith in God is euthanasia when seriously ill people are made to feel unwanted and unworthy. The availability of assisted suicide stimulates such people to consider taking their own life rather than looking to God.
Assisted suicide is totally at odds with our Baptismal Covenant to which we bound ourselves at our Baptism. Among other things, we promised, or our sponsors promised on our behalf, to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. To follow Jesus means, amount other things, to pattern our lives as best we can after him.
Jesus came that we might have abundant life. Jesus did not go around helping people die. Assisted suicide is no part of his message. Rather, assisted suicide is the first step on the very slippery slope towards enacting a social duty to die when we become too much of a burden on others as was suggested by former Colorado governor Richard Lamm. Fully knowing I will alienate some of my progressive friends by saying this, I will say it out loud: assisting someone with suicide is objectively evil and should never, ever, be tolerated anywhere.
Today’s first reading says everything humanity needs to know about assisted suicide. As the author of the Book of Wisdom tells us, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” To the followers of Governor Lamm, that says it all about how evil you are. The God they worship is not the same God we worship.
We worship a God who actually cares about us, who wants us to live, not die.
We worship a God who wants us to live healthy lives.
We worship a God who affirms life itself.
The healings explicated in today’s Gospel show our incarnate God doing exactly that when afflicted people reached out for help.
When we don’t reach out to God to allow God to help us, we do so at our own peril.
So what happens, at the micro-level of our lives, when someone very sick or dying asks us for help? Do we turn a blind eye and go on our way, or do we engage the situation on the terms of our Baptismal Covenant, seeking and serving Christ in all persons, and respecting the dignity of all living beings?
While none of us have the divine powers of Jesus, we do have the ability to do what Jesus did here that was very human: empathy for a person in obvious distress and to use such powers and resources as are available to preserve the life and health of other persons. The ability of Jesus to empathize with the humanity on earth he came to serve and to take action to remedy the human condition is what defines Jesus as God’s Son.
Miracles do happen from time to time. When and under what the circumstances of the next miracle to be is unknown to us. This element of mystery and unpredictability is what defines a miracle as a miracle. Miracles flourish where people have faith, meaning total confidence in and abandonment to the power of Jesus Christ. There are thousands of small miracles known only to those concerned, but they are always known as the work of the power of God.
Despite the objective power of faith, why does humanity have such little faith on so many occasions? What fears do our spirits harbor that prevents a gigantic faith capable of making the miracle flourish in the desert of an excessively rational world? More often than not, the answer is fear.
The power of faith does not belong only to the past, to dark times in which faith, superstition, and irrationality traveled along the same path and were intertwined. The power of faith is not confined in terms of space or time; nor is it confined by the body or soul. The power of faith is total. To show faith is to cast off our defensive emotions based on fear and allow the power of God to do its work.
Saint Paul tells us faith works through charity. Providentially, in the collective conscience of our time, Jesus invites us to a greater sensitivity to the needs of our Christian sisters and brothers just as Jesus showed sensitivity to the needs of the daughter of Jarius and the woman who suffered from uncontrolled bleeding.
On a macro level, faith should create solidarity, but unfortunately, the collective conscience of our time leads more in the direction of hyper-individualism rather than sensitivity to the needs of our sisters and brothers. We see this most poignantly in the speeches of politicians denouncing the need for a social safety net to guarantee at public expense the basics of human existence, like housing, healthcare, food, and education, and instead of condemning the least among us to that inhumane law of the jungle known as survival of the fittest because that’s what is least costly and most efficient.
Jesus calls us to follow his example so that all in all we may dwell within him and he within us. The healing touch of Jesus makes that possible, showing us the way to reach out to heal others in the same way he heals humanity. AMEN.