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Saturday, 30 June 2018

13th Sunday Year B 2018

Thirteenth Sunday (Year B)

(Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; 2nd Corinthians 8:7-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43)

We have today, People of God, a picture of Jesus which the early Christians loved, one which comforted and strengthened them in their patient endurance of and ultimate triumph over state persecution by the empire-wide, and yet immediate and local, power of the Roman State and the Emperor himself. 

Those persecutions are still difficult for us modern ‘Westerners’ to appreciate for, even though today we find many swathes of peoples are leaving their traditional faith and allowing themselves to rejoice with the increasingly pagan world around them, even though fellow Christians and Catholics are being persecuted and terrorised in many areas of the world today, nevertheless, we can still rejoice in our hearts to read in the papers or to see on the TV news programmes when some ordinary individual has taken on officialdom, and, against all apparent odds, finally received justice; for, in such and similar situations, there is a sympathetic press and some recourse to the law, while we personally  can still gather openly and speak freely with friends and others of like mind.

But the Roman Empire was a universal power, the Emperor’s personal will was law; there was no free press, and Roman society, early on, disliked and even hated Christians and Catholics who behaved so differently from other members of society, openly shunning as evil so many practices and amusements which the poor thronging the cities, especially the capital, loved for the excitement they provided and for the ‘hand-outs’ they lived on: festival occasions such as the circuses and gladiatorial fights, occasions and events which popularity-seeking political and military figures repeatedly provided for their own devious purposes; and never forgetting the pogroms of emperors such as Nero, who himself had a special addiction for public torches fed by burning Christians.  And -- you might say inevitably of course -- the accompanying and wide-spread sexual licentiousness of all sorts was a reliable and uncensored source of public pleasure and private money.

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 and hope which the Faith gave them; and one of the supreme sources of calm comfort and deep peace for them was this picture of Jesus as the gentle Lord of life and death 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."   (John 11:11-15)

Jesus knew what death was, and He also knew what sort of death He Himself would soon have to face, but, when He was involved with a “dead” person or when He was invoked, called on, to help suffering loved ones, He preferred to speak of “falling asleep”:

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."

Our friend Lazarus sleeps … I go that I may wake him up.

In all their many trials and tribulations the early Christians loved to think thus of Jesus raising up His own from what the world called death, but which they believed 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 this -- by then already traditional -- Christian hymn (5:14):

Awake, you who sleep, arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.

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 and unknown 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 something of an outcast from religious 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."  

Did she perhaps know what the psalmist (45: 8) had written about the Messiah?   

God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your fellow kings.   Your robes are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia.

How beautiful Jesus was, People of God!  And how beautiful Jesus IS!!  That woman only touched His dusty cloak, whereas we receive 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 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 mistaken as to think you do not have any special needs, even though perhaps, you may have none so immediately pressing 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 catch up with, waylay, Jesus in some side alley in the town or find Him walking alone in the countryside: both went looking for Him where they expected to find Him: together with His disciples. That has to 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 – first of all and above all -- in the Church where He has promised to be until the end of time, for Mother Church was established to lead and help 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 should be 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, and aspire to love, Jesus in Mother Church.  When, for example, we are told we should 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 constantly 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 what should be our deliberate attitude at Mass: we come to Mass to make a sincerely personal encounter, and establish an enduring personal relationship, with Jesus, whereby, with Him and in Him, we may fittingly -- on behalf of all mankind -- offer worship and praise to the glory of 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 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)

Dear People of God, 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 them strictly that no one should know it and said that SOMETHING SHOULD BE GIVEN HER TO EAT. (Mark 5:43)

Jesus, our Lord and Saviour is indeed solicitous for our whole human well-being not only for those of our brethren who, like the early Christians, suffer persecution and death today for His Name, but also, for ordinary disciples such as ourselves in the excitement and doldrums, the needs, sorrows, and anxieties, that come our way as we strive to serve Him in all things.

As St. Paul put it, “He is rich” for 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.