Sunday, June 28, 2009

Do Not Be Afraid; Just Have Faith

God did not make death,nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.For he fashioned all things that they might have being,and the creatures of the world are wholesome,and there is not a destructive drug among themnor any domain of the netherworld on earth,for justice is undying.For God formed man to be imperishable;the image of his own nature he made him.But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,and they who belong to his company experience it.
Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24


Brothers and sisters:
But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us]—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: "He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have less.
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15


When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him.

A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.

At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
While Jesus was still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler. "Your daughter is dead," they said. "Why bother the teacher anymore?"

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, "Don't be afraid; just believe."
He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue ruler, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, "Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep." But they laughed at him.

After he put them all out, he took the child's father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!" ). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Mark 5:21-43

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Whenever we read from the Wisdom Literature of the Hebrew Scriptures, we would be well advised to listen carefully and attentively to each word, as we would hearing the recitation of a piece of poetry. The sage who set these musings down in writing pondered many topics. The writing relates our life’s experiences to the purposes of our Creator. Yet there are few direct answers to most of life’s questions. Instead, there are provocative promptings to come personally into closer relationship to this same God.

The question addressed today, from the Book of Wisdom, is about the presence of death and evil in the world God created. It is not easy to find acceptable answers to many of our questions in the mysterious tension between God’s creative love, and the destructive forces of evil.
The opening statement is a strong affirmation that captures our attention, but heightens our tension: “If God is so good, why is there such sorrow, suffering and, above all, why death?” There are several affirmations of God’s positive purpose, but no easy answer to the last statement: “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.”

Envy is the work of the devil, and it leads to death for those who taste the bitter fruit of the tree of evil. The theme of this reading rests upon the faith that good is created by God. The evil one is envious of all goodness, and we who live in the universal tension between gratitude to God for what we have and envy of others who have more – or different – gifts, and we are often faced with a choice between the two – seldom between what is clearly good and what is clearly evil, but rather between a “lesser good” and a “greater good”. Everyone in this congregation – and all who read this reflection – and who used to be a child will recall the dialogue: “It’s time for you to go to bed!” followed by “Just let me finish this program (or one more chapter in the book I’m reading).” God respects the freedom of his children to make our own decision for dependence and domination, or for liberty and life.

Today’s gospel has two sections, a story within a story – a familiar literary figure of Mark’s gospel – but both stories form a strong statement about Jesus’ healing power. Last week, we saw that Jesus had the power to calm the winds and waves, and to calm the fears of his apostles. In this week’s reading, two persons in need approach Jesus. Jairus’ daughter is ill, at the point of death. While Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ house, followed by the crowd, a sick woman desperate for a cure reaches out to touch his clothing. “If I can only touch his clothes, I’ll be cured.” Immediately, her hemorrhaging ceased, and she felt in her body that she was healed. It is only then that Jesus turns around and asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples react typically, “You are surrounded by this crowd, and you ask ‘who touched me’”? If this were today, one of them would have said, “Get real!” She approaches Jesus and identifies herself, telling him the whole story. And he says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace, cured of your affliction.”

Jesus continues on his way to cure Jairus’ daughter, but a report arrives that she has already died. Over the objections of the crowd, and the derisive laughter when he says, “She is not dead, she is simply sleeping”, Jesus enters the little girl’s bedchamber with Peter, James, John and the child’s parents. He takes her by hand and says, in Aramaic, “Talitha, koum!” “Get up, little girl!” And that is just what she does: she gets up immediately and starts walking around. [Excuse me, Mark, but I’d like to remind you that she’s twelve – she didn’t walk, she danced.]
Jesus is accomplishing the mission for which he was sent by the father: to bring real life to the living. Both the woman with the hemorrhage and the young girl’s father come to Jesus with conditions of body and spirit that they both wish were different. She is sick herself, he has a sick child, but both would no doubt rather be observing Jesus as faces in the crowd, watching someone other event of healing, on some other body then mine, or my child’s.

Jesus loves them, just the way he finds them, but he loves them enough not to leave them the way he found them. This is Jesus as he is usually portrayed in Mark’s Gospel: Jesus is Lord of Heaven and Earth, and all that is in them. Healing human illness is all in a day’s work, until the day comes that the synagogue officials, the Pharisees, the Doctors of the Law, and others too numerous to mention determine that for their evil designs to continue, this one has to be eliminated – and making that decision, bring about precisely what they’re trying to avoid – the Redemption and Salvation of the children of God, His Father and ours.

Jesus did not come to solve such problems as why we should believe in a loving God when God allows bad things to happen. We have the freedom to be dominated by natural desires, ranging from lust and envy to vanity and pride. We have the same freedom to refuse to be dominated by our dependencies, and to allow Jesus to heal us and make us whole.

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