We have today, People of God, a vision of Jesus which the early Christians loved, a vision which comforted and strengthened them in their patient endurance of, and final triumph over, state persecution at the hands of the world-wide Roman Empire. Those persecutions are difficult for us to appreciate today. We all rejoice in our hearts to read in the papers or to see on the TV news programmes how some ordinary individual has taken on stone-walling officialdom, and, against all the odds, finally received justice. But in such a situation we have a sympathetic press, we can have recourse to the law at times, and we are a free people who can talk out and gather friends. But Rome was a universal power, the Emperor’s will was law, there was no free press, and Roman society disliked, even hated, Christians who behaved so differently and openly shunned as evil so many practices and amusements which Roman society loved: the circuses, the gladiatorial fights, and the sexual licentiousness which was common and wide-spread.
Consequently there was nowhere to turn for our fellow Christians of the first three or four centuries when the all-powerful, universal, state turned on them. They had only their own resources, that is, the strength which the Faith gave them; and one of the supreme sources of comfort, strength, and hope for them was this picture of Jesus as Lord of life and death’s destroyer in today’s Gospel reading:
Jesus took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying, then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, Talitha, cumi, which is translated, Little girl, I say to you, arise. Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement.
On a later occasion John tells us about the death of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary:
Jesus said to His disciples, "Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up." Then His disciples said, "Lord, if he sleeps he will get well." However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep. Then Jesus said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him." (11:11-15)
Jesus knew what death was, but, when He Himself was involved with the “dead” person, or when He was invoked, called on to help, He preferred to speak of “falling asleep”:
Our friend Lazarus sleeps … I go, that I may wake him up.
Jesus came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. When He came in, He said to them, "Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.
In all their many trials and tribulations the early Christians loved to think of Jesus raising up His own from what the world called death, but which they knew to be only a “sleep”; for them, there was a life to come, a life where sin and death would be no more. That is why, only some thirty or perhaps sixty years later when Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was written, the author could quote a traditional Christian hymn in this way:
Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light. (Ephesians 5:14)
Let us now turn our attention to the synagogue leader and to the woman with a haemorrhage, both of whom turned to Jesus in their great need. Notice first of all, People of God, what a great leveller faith is: on the one hand a prominent member of the local synagogue and on the other this very much embarrassed woman. One comes to Jesus openly, falls at His feet and tells of his distress and anxiety with which anyone who heard would sympathize; the other comes up to Jesus secretly with a double-trouble she wished to keep secret, since her serious and debilitating ailment was not only an embarrassment for her but also made her legally unclean and therefore an outcast from society. Both, the synagogue official publicly proclaiming his grief and praising Jesus, and the woman anxiously striving to keep her troubles secret even from Jesus Himself, were given what they desired because of one thing only: their faith in Jesus.
Now a certain woman had a flow of blood for twelve years, and had suffered many things from many physicians. She had spent all that she had and was no better, but rather grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came behind Him in the crowd and touched His garment; for she said, "If only I may touch His clothes, I shall be made well."
How beautiful Jesus was, People of God! The psalmist tells us of Him:
God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions; Your garments are scented with myrrh, aloes, and cassia. (Psalm 45: 7-8)
She had confessed to the drawing power of such beauty by daring to risk herself and her shame as she joined and gradually pushed through the crowd surrounding Jesus -- (‘Who does she think she is pushing her way through like that!!’) -- that, however, was as far as she dare go … just a gentle, unnoticeable touch of His garments … Was it personal shame or was it such reverence for the beauty and majesty of the One to Whom she had drawn so near that made her so diffident. Whatever it was, Jesus would not allow faith to be full without praise, acknowledgment, and witness:
Who has touched My clothes, He said?
And at this moment, just as her faith had healed her so shortly before, so now a new-found willingness and desire to acknowledge and praise Jesus enabled her to:
approach Jesus in fear and trembling, and she fell down before Him;
whereupon her deep-rooted, years-long, embarrassment, secrecy and fear, dissolved along with her ailment, and, before all:
she told Him the whole truth.
And how beautiful Jesus still IS, People of God!! That woman only slightly touched His cloak, whereas we receive Jesus, the full humanity of the heavenly glorified Jesus, in the Eucharist. Many of you will receive Him at this Mass; let her be your model! Look at the woman’s self-risking faith and hope as she single-mindedly moved through the crowd of people in order to get into a position where she could just touch the cloak of Jesus: now look at yourself, what sort of faith and hope are in your mind and heart as you prepare to receive His very Self in the Eucharist? Surely you are not so unfortunate as to think you do not have any needs or desires so pressing or so important as those experienced by the woman in our Gospel story?
Finally, notice that both the synagogue official and the unknown woman came to find Jesus together with His disciples. They did not try to waylay Jesus in some side-alley or find Him walking alone in the countryside: both went looking for Him, and expected to find Him, together with His disciples. That must be our attitude too, People of God. Those who would wilfully and knowingly ignore His disciples gathered together in His Name cannot hope to find Jesus. We come to find JESUS in the Church where He has promised to be until the end of time, for the Church has been established to lead us to Jesus.
However, although Jesus and His Church are one, they are not the same. Because we are members of the one, true, Church of Christ, we should never allow ourselves to forget that Jesus alone is our total aim and aspiration here on earth. We must never turn aside from Jesus and satisfy ourselves with membership of the Church; rather, should we constantly relate to Jesus in the Church. When, for example, Mother Church says we must come to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days, that we must receive the Eucharist at least once a year, and that about Easter, we cannot therefore think that, having done those things, we do not need to bother any more about Jesus, that we do not need to pray to Him, perseveringly seek to know and love Him, and humbly try serve Him as best we can at all times and under all circumstances. All that is summed up in our attitude at Mass: we come to Mass to make a sincerely personal encounter and establish an enduring personal relationship with and commitment to Jesus, whereby, in Him and by His Spirit, we may learn to fulfil our personal calling, and fittingly -- on behalf of all mankind --offer worship and praise to the glory of God the Father.
And Mother Church assures us that Jesus, for His part, is not only concerned about our spiritual, other-worldly, well-being, our eternal salvation; He is concerned also about our present joy and our present well-being, as the following words of Jesus make abundantly clear:
These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full (John 15:11);
Until now you have asked nothing in My name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (John 16:24);
and we can bring our thoughts today to a fitting close by recalling what Jesus said after He had raised the young girl from the sleep of death:
He commanded that something should be given her to eat.
Jesus is, indeed, Lord and Saviour not only for those who, like the early Christians, suffer persecution and death for His Name, but also, for disciples such as ourselves in the lesser sorrows and smaller needs that come our way as we strive to serve Him in all details of our lives. Important or unnoticed, big or small, we are all members of His flock that constantly needs to be able to find suitable pasture:
Give (them) something to eat!
For, indeed, as St. Paul tells us, His whole will is to enrich all who turn to Him:
Jesus Christ, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor that you, through His poverty, might become rich.