by Br Julian McDonald cfc
“God did not invent death, and when living creatures die, it gives God no pleasure. God created everything so that it might continue to exist, and Everything God created is wholesome and good. There is no deadly poison in them. No, death does not rule this world, for God’s justice does not die.”
Wisdom 1, 13-15
Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded earnestly with him: “My daughter is at the point of death. Please come and lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.”
Mark 5, 21-43
Try proclaiming the words above from the Book of Wisdom to families caught in the middle of bombardments released by warring factions in Syria. Or preaching them to people trapped in the degradation of slum life on the edges of Nairobi or Calcutta. The evidence of misery, injustice, destruction and death in such places is overwhelming, and often the first one to be accused is God.
The wisdom books of the Old Testament attempt to address the problem of evil in the world. In the Book of Job, for instance, the finger of blame is initially pointed at God. Before he comes to his senses, Job sees God as the source of all his troubles. So, all his arrows of recrimination are directed at God. The Book of Wisdom, from which today’s first reading comes, starts to explore how Israel brought a whole lot of misery on itself. Israel’s way of worship, its customs and laws contained much wisdom. When that wisdom was ignored, the nation was overwhelmed with the dark forces of irreligion, tyranny and exile. A close look at their history would reveal to the people of Israel that they themselves contributed to their own misfortune and suffering through their superstitions and lack of faith in God that they allowed to creep into their lives. The conclusion was that they were fools for wanting to blame God for anything. All that, of course, offers us a lens through which to look at the disasters, wars and misfortunes that beset our modern-day world.
Humankind, however, has always been expert at inventing loopholes through which to escape accepting responsibility. In today’s first reading, for instance, it is the devil, not us, to whom blame is attributed: “It was the Devil’s jealousy that brought death into the world” (Wisdom 2, 24). All humankind’s hot-headedness, all our culpable negligence, all our off-hand violence and all our planned and calculated corruption are attributed to a cosmic-sized, envious superbeing. Is it just too much for us to accept our own culpability or is it easier for us to project our own envy and human weakness outward onto some all-powerful force for evil? In the long-run, it doesn’t really matter, for the New Testament writers assure us that, in the person of Jesus, an equally cosmic-sized and even more powerful force for good has come into our lives. We no longer need to feel possessed by our weakness or controlled by our miserable vices. That is expressed clearly in today’s second reading from Corinthians: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; rich though he was, he made himself poor for our sake, in order to make us rich by his poverty” (2 Corinthians 8, 9). The action of God’s Son, Jesus, is so extraordinary in its impact that no power for evil can come near it. If that’s what God’s power has done, then there should be no more foolish talk about the inevitable power of evil, of the Devil or of anyone else. Still, there’s something paradoxical about the New Testament writers describing Jesus as one whose influence for good is such that it overcomes all evil. While we are assured that in the person of Jesus evil’s day is over, we also get the clear message that we have to be freed from evil on a daily basis.
Today’s two stories of the cure of the woman who was afflicted with chronic bleeding for twelve years and the restoration to life of Jairus’ daughter make it clear that Jesus did not dispel sickness and evil on a grand, spectacular scale. Rather, he went about it modestly, curing this one and then that one. He demonstrated wisdom by addressing one aspect of human suffering after another. Therein lies a message for us. We, too, as instruments of God’s providence, can bring life and hope to others through the care, attention and compassion we extend to them. In living and acting like that, we also find healing for our own brokenness.
Mark’s two stories illustrate how Jesus had no hesitation in launching into the messiness of people’s lives in order to bring relief and healing. He ignored the limitations of custom and taboo that his own society stipulated. By taking a dead girl by the hand and allowing a bleeding woman to touch him, he set himself up to be categorised as unclean and, therefore, excluded from entering the synagogue. For him, responding compassionately to the needs of others was more important than the “safety” provided by custom and tradition.
As a synagogue official, Jairus was a man of standing in the Jewish community. Yet, out of love for his daughter, he risked ridicule and rejection by his action of breaking ranks and approaching for help one who was labelled as an anti-establishment, itinerant rabbi. There is much we can learn from Jairus, for we, too, can be slow to reach out to the needy and neglected for fear of criticism from the sidelines. Mark, however, holds up to us both the haemorrhaging woman and the synagogue official as models of faith and courage. There is much about them worthy of imitation.
I conclude with a story: A mother of two teenage daughters got into the practice of driving them and their friends to all kinds of activities – to the shopping mall, volleyball and softball practice, to parish youth-group gatherings, the local hamburger shop, the beach and various school activities. She had decided that she do the driving or take the risk of their getting transported by someone’s sister’s boyfriend. If her daughters and their friends were in the back of her car, she was assured of knowing where they were. In time, she found the tripping around quite educational for herself. She even learned to be there, say nothing and end up being “invisible”. The girls would pile into the car and begin talking about the things girls just talk about – boys, teachers, other girls. She also discovered that she learned a lot by being invisible. Over the years, her car was used as a beauty parlour, a cafeteria, a change-room and even a confessional. She came to realise that, when the girls got in, God got in with them. “Did the girls ever realise that?”, she sometimes asked herself. “In a way, yes!”, she concluded. There were times when they talked about faith and even asked questions about Buddhism, seances and levitating. Not long ago, the mother of one of her daughters dropped by to thank her for what she had done for her daughter Kelly, who had recently died of cancer at the age of just 21. Kelly’s mother was expressing gratitude for much more than car service. Now that her own daughters are grown up, this woman says that she misses the driving. She says: “It was pretty ordinary, but incredibly holy.”
The Jairus of today’s gospel is a model of that kind of dedicated parenting and care.
Is there something we can all learn from him?