As I was writing this homily, a close friend called to inform me of the death of a mutual acquaintance. Minutes earlier, I received a text about a confrere (and a student of mine) who is scheduled for brain surgery with a minimal chance of survival.
Yesterday, we were shaken by the news of the fatal vehicular accident of one of our seminarians, and we had just buried one of our priests the day before… I could go on and on with this tale of woes. With covid-19 and its dreadful consequences, never has the reality of death and our own mortality been so clear and present as in these times.
Death is the great equalizer of life; it respects no one. Rich or poor, young or old, important or insignificant… it spares no one. In today’s gospel, we read the story of Jairus, a powerful member of the community, who finds himself utterly powerless in the face of the life-threatening illness of his daughter. In the same story is inserted that of a poor woman who is suffering from internal bleeding for twelve years. She suffers not only physically, but also psychologically, socially and spiritually.
Because of her ailment, she is considered “ritually impure” and is forced to avoid social contact. She has become an outcast, barred from community life and religious worship. To cap it all, she is left totally penniless, having spent everything she had on medicine and the doctors. Constantly being drained of life, she is in effect undergoing a slow and sure death.
In the first reading, the Book of Wisdom tells us, “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living for God formed man to be imperishable… But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” One scripture scholar finds in this passage a distinctive interpretation of the story of creation in the book Genesis.
The good news is that God, who formed us according to his imperishable image, did not intend us to die. He created us to live and to share eternal life with him. And so, when death made its way into the world, he sent his only Son to re-establish his reign and to restore the integrity of his original plan for creation by turning back the effects of death. “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” (Jn 10:10)
The story of Jairus and the woman with hemorrhage powerfully proclaim this good news. It shows how faith in Jesus alone can vanquish the power of death. Indeed, the reality of death and illness shatters every illusion of control over life. Jairus and the woman could only turn to Jesus as the Lord of life.
In turn, Jesus graciously rewards their faith by raising Jairus’ daughter from death and healing the woman, thus giving her a new and fuller life.
Starting from a posture of humility, (Jairus falls on his knees, and the woman comes up behind) faith invites us to heed the call of Jesus to cast all fear. If death is indeed our greatest fear, its antidote can only be absolute trust in the Lord of life. Thus, Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
The story of Jairus and the woman with hemorrhage exemplifies a style typical of Mark wherein he sandwiches a story within another. He uses this literary technique not just to make an interesting narrative but more so to deepen the significance of the stories by letting them shed light on each other. Seemingly independent at first, the story of Jairus and that of the woman gradually intertwine to reinforce and deepen each other’s message.
When Jesus takes time to investigate the woman who touched her, Jairus must have been peeved, anxious that the delay could be fatal for her daughter. The interruption however allows him to witness the miraculous cure of the woman and to hear the Lord’s affirming voice to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” Thus, when his people arrive to tell him that his own daughter has died, the words of Jesus to him become more credible and reassuring, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
Come to think of it, all our stories intertwine in the broader scheme of God’s plan. And because we do not see it, we wonder at times why God is not prompt in answering our prayer. God has his own time and his timing is always perfect, including his “delays.”