Death and Faith and Miracles
In Father Hanly’s beautiful homily for 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, he examines what Jesus teaches us about death and faith and miracles.
Readings for Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
- First Reading: Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24
- Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
- Second Reading: Second Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
- Gospel: Mark 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35-43
Today’s story is very sweet, because Jesus cures a sick little girl on the verge of death, and makes her family, especially her father, so happy when he returns her to her family.
As you know, we’re in the Gospel according to St. Mark. St. Mark is my favourite Gospel. St. Mark explains nothing. In fact, Jesus, when Jesus talks in St. Mark’s Gospel, he doesn’t explain anything. We live in a world where we explain everything. We over-explain and over-explain. You get sick of hearing it. But not the Gospel writer St. Mark.
Mark tells stories. And out of the stories comes understanding. And out of the understanding comes something that you never get from explaining things, which is love. Did you ever notice that? You can get love out of telling stories, but you can’t get love out of explaining things. And I don’t know why.
Today, we have half the story. It’s really two stories here and we have only chosen the first one, just so that we don’t get lost in the richness of both of these stories.
The first one, of course, is the healing of the twelve-year-old daughter of Jairus. Jairus has a name which is not that common in Mark. Jairus is a leading figure in the local synagogue in Galilee. That means he has a lot of face, and he has a lot of influence, and he’s considered to be one of the leading people of the children of Israel. And this story is a many layered story, but, oddly enough, it’s all about love, and maybe you’ll find it and maybe you won’t.
It begins with Jesus returning from the land of the gentiles in St Peter’s boat. And they were in the land of the gentiles for some number of days, across the Sea of Galilee, and now they come from the other side to this side of the Sea of Galilee, where the children of Israel dwell.
And when Jesus gets close to shore, the others go ashore, but Jesus preaches from the boat. Why? Because, already, without any announcement, there’s a huge crowd waiting. And if you go there, to this particular part of Palestine, you can actually see the little inlet where Jesus stood in the boat and preached to the people on the shore.
Finally, he finishes, and, of course, jumps out of the boat and wades ashore. And, as he gets to the other side, a leader in the local synagogue, Jairus, approaches Jesus. And Jairus, this very, very important figure in the Jewish community, falls on his knees, weeps. He looks at Jesus and says to him, “My daughter, my daughter,” and it’s his only child. “My daughter is at the point of death. Please come, please come. Lay your hands upon her, that she might get well and live.”
“To get well and live” is also known as “to be healed and saved.” And the words are chosen. The words are chosen not just for Jairus’s daughter, who is in danger of dying, but for all of those who have lost a loved one to death.
And Jesus goes off with him, with a huge crowd following. And they are pressing upon him. And while Jesus was still speaking, people from Jairus’s household came up to find him. And one of them told him quite bluntly, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any longer?”
That’s a pretty harsh way of breaking news, and insulting to Jesus, and very hard on poor Jairus, because, you see, Jairus had already made a fool of himself in front of his whole community. A Jew always stands, he never kneels down to anyone. And also he’s crying and blubbering, and he’s out of control, and he’s one of the official figures of the village, of the synagogue. And so already they begin to back away from him as if this poor man’s loss isn’t all that important.
It’s also insulting to Jesus, in a way, because Jesus now doesn’t have to be there because the child is dead. It’s sort of like Jesus becomes a magician with a magic wand, a lucky charm to be put back on the shelf when the crisis is over. Sometimes we’re like this. You know, we pray and we pray and we pray, and when we don’t get what we want, “Well, so far so good, let’s move on to something else.”
And Jesus says to Jairus, he says these words again and again, “Don’t be afraid, Jairus. Don’t be afraid. Just have faith. Have faith.”
Have faith in what? He doesn’t say. Have faith that his daughter will be cured? He doesn’t say. Have faith that she will die and go to Heaven? He doesn’t say. He just says, “You’ve got to have faith.”
And this is true. In life, whether you like it not, if do not have faith, you do not have a life, because a life and a future depend on having faith in that life and faith in that future. And so the saddest people in the world are those who cannot believe in anything anymore and have lost their faith, not in God, faith in each other, faith in themselves.
But Jairus is going to have to face a very, very difficult time and Jesus says, “Have faith, Jairus. Live with faith.”
And now they’ve come to the house. And everyone is making a scene. They’re weeping and wailing and making a din, because they have been told that the child has died. And Jesus gets angry and he says these words, “She is not dead, she’s only asleep. She is not dead, she’s only asleep.”
There’s two layers to this word “dead.” She didn’t die, because to be dead “and that is the end of everything,” is one thing, to be dead as “one who enters into a new life,” that is quite another. And so when Jesus says, “she is not dead,” he’s not saying that she is still alive, but “she’s only asleep.” These are the words they used about Jesus, “he’s asleep,” but on the third day he rises again.
And so they laugh at him and (inaudible) a little bit like the mourners of life. They almost have a role; they almost have place (inaudible) weeping and crying and yelling and jumping, they do everything.
And poor Jairus is there and his heart is torn, and nobody will reach out to him, and nobody will understand that human beings that are alive need comfort, they need to be cared for.
And so, Jesus says: “Everybody, leave the house”. And they begin to leave. And Peter, James and John, and the parents, enter into the sick room.
And Jesus walks over to the little girl, and he takes her by the hand and he says: “Little child, arise. Little child, arise.” And she comes out of the bed. And she’s alive. And Jesus smiles at her, and he says: “Come here” and gives her back to her parents.
Everyone around, or even outside, are full of joy and laughter and self-congratulations, and now everything is good. Because the people who come to cheer and the people who come to mourn and the people…as long as they’ve got something to keep them busy, they don’t worry too much about anything else. Now it’s a happy day. It was going to be a sad day but now it’s a happy day. But it doesn’t mean that much to them.
But it means everything to Jairus and he enfolds his child in his arms. And he can’t even thank Jesus because he is so taken up with this wonderful thing that happened.
And what happened?
For Jesus, there is no such thing as death. Death that has no beginning. It’s only a passage. For Jesus, the child could pass from here to Jairus in love, or she could pass from here to God, who calls her home. And this is the way Jesus looks upon life (inaudible). It doesn’t mean that you don’t weep, but what you weep for is that this lovely little girl, if she went to heaven, we’d be deprived of her company, not that’s she’s gone forever. Because God loves and, of course, this is the lesson as we come down it.
Have you noticed something? The miracle, if you want to call it a miracle, it certainly is a miracle, because miracle is a word that means miracula it means wonder, wonderful. And so that Jesus…
What the other people do that came to this… What they forget, they’re so happy and they’re slapping each other on the back, they forget something though. And Jesus is the only one that remembers it.
Do you know what he remembers?
Of course you know what he remembers. The child has been sick. The child is hungry. And everybody is so happy dancing around that they forget the child. But Jesus never forgets anyone. And he says to the mother and father, “Take her. She’s hungry.”
What a wonderful ending. And what Mark wants you to remember is this. He doesn’t think that people are supposed to be so sad, or so happy. He only thinks one thing: that you must never forget the people that are with you. You must reach out and care for them. If you don’t reach out and care for people, you are not a human being. You cannot lock yourself up. You were never meant to be alone. You were meant to be with others. And this is what God teaches.
And now we have the conclusion.
What does all this mean?
What Mark would have you mean is this. You must have faith. You must have faith in God. You must have faith in Jesus. You must have faith in each other. In the eyes of Jesus, there is no death, only a passage from one form of love into another form of love. Perhaps taken for a while, taken for a while from a loving family, she will be received forever in the bosom of Abraham and live in the love of God.
But, for Jesus, faith in his Father is faith in his Father’s love for us. We always forget that. God loves us. God loves us means he’s vulnerable. God wants our companionship. He doesn’t… He would never turn a human being away from him.
And, because of this, sometimes we forget that God did not create us out of jealousy, that God did not create us for anything but one thing, and that is for love. And he sustains us in his love and will be with us forever in the bond of mutual love.
When Jesus came, he came to tell us the Good News. And the Good News is that God loves us. And we become one with Jesus. And ultimately God says to us, “I am with you now, here, all days, even to the end of the world.”
So, do not be afraid, Jairus. Do not be afraid, any one of us, for Jesus is with us, and the Father is with us, and the Spirit — we walk through life with the Holy Trinity.
In the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.