Jun 28, 2015: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

11th Sunday OT (1)

1st Reading – Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.

The Book of Wisdom was written about a hundred years before the coming of Christ, in Greek. Its author, whose name is not known, was a member of the Jewish community at Alexandria, Egypt, where the book is believed to have been composed.  Until the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the Book of Wisdom was not known to have existed in Hebrew, but its discovery there shows that it was accepted and used by the Jews of Jesus’ time in the area of Palestine.

Today’s reading offers insights on human nature, death and the afterlife.  Using the Hellenistic understanding of the soul and immortality, the author reflects on the Genesis account of creation and sin.

God did not make death,

In the creation account in Genesis, God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the garden, where their every need was met.  They were not content with what had been provided by God; they violated his command and brought death upon themselves.

This interpretation of the creation story doesn’t account for God having made the man out of the dust of the ground, which is widely understood as a symbol of death.

nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.  For he fashioned all things that they might have being;

The author goes on to say that God does not delight in the destruction of life; rather, he made all things that they might endure.

and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the nether world on earth,

A deep appreciation for the natural world is conveyed.  This perspective is at odds with any view that sees the natural world as evil or inferior to a spiritual reality.

The Jewish view was that the created world came from the hand of God, and nothing was to be disparaged.

for justice is undying.

In the book of Wisdom, the term “justice” not only refers to the cardinal virtue, but also the application of wisdom to moral conduct (see Wisdom 8:7).

The author’s teaching about the immortality (athanasía) of justice is unique, borrowing concepts from Jewish and Greek schools of thought.

His general argument is this: righteousness characterizes the relationship of human beings with the immortal God; therefore, righteousness itself is also immortal.  See also Isaiah 51:6-8.

For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.

Genesis 1:26 states that mankind was made in God’s image.  Though we are mortal by nature, as images of God we are meant to be imperishable. In other words, the immortality of our souls is a divine gift.

But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his
possession experience it.

This is the first biblical text to equate the serpent of Genesis 3 with the devil, and one of a very few that refer to the fall (another being Sirach 25:23).

In much later traditions, the devil’s actions in the creation account were motivated out of envy; this is why the author links the envy of the devil with the physical and spiritual decay in the world.

2nd Reading – 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15

Brothers and sisters:
As you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse,
knowledge, all earnestness, and in the love we have for you,
may you excel in this gracious act also.

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor,
so that by his poverty you might become rich.
Not that others should have relief while you are burdened,
but that as a matter of equality
your abundance at the present time should supply their needs,
so that their abundance may also supply your needs,
that there may be equality.
As it is written:
Whoever had much did not have more,
and whoever had little did not have less.

At this point in his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul broaches a new topic: taking up a collection for believers in other Christian communities.  Apparently the Corinthians were economically secure, and Paul pleads with them to come to the assistance of their fellow believers, who were severely suffering.  His perspective is both humanitarian and theological.

Brothers and sisters: as you excel in every respect, in faith, discourse, knowledge, all earnestness,

Saint Paul begins with flattery, pointing out the spiritual gifts which they have received.  Note that the Corinthians have not only demonstrated these gifts, they have excelled in them.

and in the love we have for you,

Some translations (and some early manuscripts) render this as “your love for us,” which
seems to make more sense as an item on a list of spiritual gifts.

may you excel in this gracious act also.

Paul is asking them to embrace this new request with the same enthusiasm they have shown in other areas of Christian living.

For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Paul turns to the example of Jesus, playing on the words “rich” and “poor.”  The Greek word here for “poverty” (ptōcheia) means pauperism, or mendicancy.  (It is generally impossible for an English translation to do justice to Paul’s incredibly rich wordplays.)

Jesus’ wealth was his preexistence with God; God needs nothing and is rich beyond measure.  Through his incarnation and death, Jesus renounced his divine privilege and became poor in his humanity, with all its corresponding limitations.

In fact, Jesus became the poorest of the poor.  He came, not as an earthly king, but as a common man, in the form of a helpless infant, living in poverty from the time of his birth until his death on the cross.

Through this incomprehensible generosity, Christians have become rich with divine grace.

Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their needs, 

The Corinthians are not expected to impoverish themselves — that would just mean that someone else would have to come to their aid, gaining nothing.

Paul is asking them to share their surplus, no matter how little it may be.  Believers should not hoard what others need to simply survive.

so that their abundance may also supply your needs, that there may be equality.

The beneficiaries of the Corinthians’ generosity have non-material riches to share in return.

As it is written: “Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.”

Paul grounds his argument in a quote from Exodus (16:18), which refers to the experience of the Israelites gathering manna in the desert: equality among the people in the wilderness was achieved by God, independent of personal exertion.

Gospel – Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat
to the other side,
a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea.
One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.
Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying,
“My daughter is at the point of death.
Please, come lay your hands on her
that she may get well and live.”
He went off with him,
and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.
She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors
and had spent all that she had.
Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.
She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd
and touched his cloak.
She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”
Immediately her flow of blood dried up.
She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.
Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,
turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?”
But his disciples said to Jesus,
“You see how the crowd is pressing upon you,
and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?'”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
The woman, realizing what had happened to her,
approached in fear and trembling.
She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.
He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
“Do not be afraid; just have faith.”
He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside
except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.
When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official,
he caught sight of a commotion,
people weeping and wailing loudly.
So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”
And they ridiculed him.
Then he put them all out.
He took along the child’s father and mother
and those who were with him
and entered the room where the child was.
He took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.
At that they were utterly astounded.
He gave strict orders that no one should know this
and said that she should be given something to eat.

Today’s gospel reading includes two miracle narratives, joined together to interpret each other.  The technique of intercalating, or sandwiching, one story within another occurs several times in Mark’s gospel.

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side,

In the verses just prior to these, Jesus had been on the eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  This story takes place on the western shore.

a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward.

As an official of the synagogue, Jairus would have been a man of significant status.

Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him,

It would have been quite shocking for a man of authority to throw himself at the feet of an itinerant preacher.

He likely did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, or truly God, but he undoubtedly has heard of the doctrine and miracles of Christ, and believed him to be a great prophet, at minimum.

saying, “My daughter is at the point of death.

According to Matthew 9:18 and Luke 8:42, the daughter was already dead.

Please, come lay your hands on her

The imposition of hands on the sick was a common feature in ancient healing rituals.  It is found throughout Mark’s gospel, as well as Matthew, Luke, and Acts.

that she may get well and live.”

Note his absolute faith that Jesus has the power to heal his daughter.

“Those who are sick do not lay down the conditions of how they are to be cured. They only want to be made well. But this man was a ruler of the synagogue, and versed in the law. He had surely read that while God created all other things by His word, man had been created by the hand of God. He trusted therefore in God that his daughter would be recreated, and restored to life by that same hand which, he knew, had created her. … He who laid hands on her to form her from nothing, once more lays hands upon her to reform her from what had perished.” [Saint John Chrysologus (post A.D. 432), On The Daughter Of The Ruler Of The Synagogue, And On The Woman Suffering From An Issue Of Blood I].

He went off with him, and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

Luke 8:42 uses stronger language in reference to the stifling crowds: As he went, the crowds almost crushed him.

This sets the stage for the second story, in which the large crowd plays an important part.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.

Because of her hemorrhage, she was ritually unclean.  Anything she touched also became unclean (Leviticus 15:25-27).

All the synoptic Gospels mention the length of time during which she had been suffering.

She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.

This unidentified woman has been a victim of both her ailment and those who attempted to heal her.  Not only has she has been ritually unclean for twelve long years, but by following the directives of the physicians, she has been brought into poverty.

She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd

Unlike Jairus, she does not presume to approach Jesus directly, nor does she speak to him.  Her status both as a woman and as unclean likely prevented her from such an approach.

It’s safe to assume that she was quite feeble, due to her affliction.  It was quite a work of faith simply to venture into a crushing crowd in that condition.

and touched his cloak.

Because of her ritual uncleanness, she does not dare to touch him directly. Still, she has boldly violated social (as a woman) and religious prohibitions (unclean).

She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.”

Her logic seems to be this: If her ritual uncleanness means that anything she touches becomes unclean, then anything touched by Jesus, who is pure, must be purified.  She has faith that even indirect contact with him will effect a cure.

Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction.

An instantaneous and complete cure, despite the fact that Jesus has neither said anything or imposed hands. This is the only miracle story in which Jesus does not initiate the cure.

Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”

Jesus’ question required an answer; the disciples are pointing out the difficulty of
obtaining one.

And he looked around to see who had done it.

Christ, as God, being omniscient, knew who she was, and where she was.  He presumably wants her to come forward in order to profess her faith and receive his commendation and comfort.

It’s also likely that he wanted her to be an example for those in the crowd with him, especially Jairus, who would have been in great distress as they walked to his daughter’s bedside.

The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling.

The woman has violated the law by merely appearing in public during the time of her uncleanness (Leviticus 15:25), and is certainly afraid that she will have to suffer the penalty for it.  She was likely also afraid that Jesus was displeased with her for taking an improper approach to obtain her cure, and without asking.

She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth.

“Note the separate stages; mark the progress. As long as she was hemorrhaging, she could not come into His presence. She was healed by faith and then came before him. She fell down at his feet. Even then she did not yet dare to look up into His face. As long as she had been cured it was enough for her to cling to His feet. She ‘told him all the truth.’ Christ Himself is the truth. She was giving praise to the truth. She had been healed by the truth.” [Saint Jerome (ca. A.D. 385), Homily 77].

He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

Not only does Jesus not reprove her, or express any anger, he speaks to her tenderly, addressing her as “daughter.”  Later in Mark’s gospel, Jesus will say something almost identical to Bartimaeus, the blind beggar (Mark 10:52).

This woman shows that faith can exist in seemingly hopeless circumstances.

But was she saved by faith alone? The woman had to reach out, to touch; remaining faithful but idle would not have had this result.

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said, “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”

The intervention of a healer is no longer of any use.  All hope has been lost, setting the stage for a miracle.

The word here for “trouble” is very strong.  Skylleis means to vex or weary; literally, to flay.

Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

If Jairus truly believed that Jesus could save his daughter, there would be no room for fear.

He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James.

Some commentators see this as Jesus not wanting the honor and praise of the crowds.

Regardless, Jesus takes along only three witnesses, enough to satisfy the law’s requirement for testimony in any life and death situation (Deuteronomy 19:15).  Note that these three are the inner circle of disciples.  The same three will later be present at the transfiguration (Mark 9:2) and in Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).

When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a
commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly.

A mourning ritual, further evidence that the girl is dead.

So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”  And they ridiculed him.

Mourning turns to ridicule.  They may have believed that he could cure her disease, but they scoff at the suggestion that he can bring her back to life.

Both in the case of Jairus and the hemorrhage victim, the inner conviction that physical contact accompanied by faith in Jesus’ saving power could effect a cure was rewarded.  In Jairus’ case, his faith is tested by, and contrasted with, the lack of faith of the crowd.

Then he put them all out.

Perhaps Jesus determined that those in the mocking crowd were not worthy to see that in which they would not believe.

He took along the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand

Like touching the woman with the hemorrhage, touching a corpse also caused ritual uncleanness, according to Jewish law.  In both cases, the touch that would have rendered Jesus unclean is the means by which he transfers the power of God.

and said to her, “Talitha koum,” 

Jesus speaks in Aramaic, which was probably his primary language.  He may have also spoken some Hebrew and/or Greek.

which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”

Mark translates Jesus words to Greek, for the benefit of his readers.

The word used here for “arise” (egeirein in Greek) is the verb generally used to express resurrection from death.  In fact, in Mark 16:6, it is used in reference to Jesus’ own resurrection.

The girl, a child of twelve,

Several details link the woman of the first story to the girl of the second.  The girl has been alive for twelve years, exactly the duration of the woman’s hemorrhaging; both are unnamed; both are ritually unclean.

arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.

The fact that she arose and walked, and that she was to eat, confirms the reality of the miracle.  Jesus has demonstrated his power over both sickness and death.

“For whenever He raised anyone from the dead He ordered that food should be given him to eat, lest the resurrection should be thought a delusion.” [Saint Jerome (ca. A.D. 393), Against Jovinian, 2,17].

Connections and Themes

  • Last week, we saw that Jesus has authority over creation, when he calmed the storm by his spoken word.  This week, we see that Jesus also has authority over death.  He is truly the God-Creator.
  • The first reading provides a reflection on the nature of death and dying, which provides a framework in which we understand Jesus’ miraculous raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead.  We know from the first reading that God did not create death; despite this, the gospel shows that God is concerned with the well-being of everyone, even those on the verge of death or chronically ill.  God created life and defends it, even among those whom society has marginalized, like women (the woman with the hemorrhage) and children (Jairus’ daughter).
  • The gospel shows Jesus’ considerable generosity, with Jairus, his daughter, and the afflicted woman.  He is compassionate in the face of human suffering, and disregards social conventions and taboos in order to comfort them. As Christians called to model Christ’s behavior, we should seek to extend this kind of generosity to others.
  • In the second reading, Paul appeals to the Corinthians, and us, to do exactly that.  Our generosity can take many forms: corporal works of mercy, donations of time or money, simple works of service, pausing to listen and understand.  As Paul directly points out, Jesus is our example.

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