13th Sunday Ordinary Time July 2, 2006
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24
Mk 5:2, 23, 28, 34, 33A, 33B
THE BOOK OF WISDOM
The Book of Wisdom was written about a hundred years before the birth of Jesus. It is one of the six deuterocanonical books found in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant Bible. It was probably written in Alexandria, Egypt, by a Jewish scribe steeped in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Greek philosophies. The purpose for writing the book was to update the major biblical themes of the Jewish faith for the sophisticated Jewish community in Alexandria.
This week’s Old Testament text takes three verses from chapter one and two verses from chapter two. The first two chapters of the book form an introduction section in which the first two words of the book “Love Justice” (Wis 1:1) reveal the central means for attaining the Wisdom of God. Those who love and seek justice are lead to God’s Wisdom. It would be well worth the effort to read the first two chapters of the book of Wisdom just to get a sense of this week’s selected verses from it.
GOD DID NOT MAKE DEATH (Wis 1:13)
According to the Book of Wisdom death entered the world through “perverse counsels” (Wis 1:3) that men embraced that separated man from God. It is this separation from God growing in the hearts of men that allowed evil to enter the world and it is how the many levels of death have made their claim on creation. Death was not part of God’s intent for creation. God takes no delight in the destruction of the living that death brings. God made creation and all that is in it to be whole, none was meant to be in “the domain of the netherworld” for God’s “justice is undying” (Wis 1:15).
GOD FORMED HUMANS TO BE IMPERISHABLE, THE IMAGE OF GOD’S OWN NATURE (Wis 2:23)
Wisdom 1:16 – 2:24 addresses how the cosmic struggle between the just and the unjust is fought out on the human plane. We learn how the wicked think and why they will always seek the destruction of the just. For the wicked it is a fatally flawed way of thinking. Because they have given their hearts over to evil’s perverse counsels they cannot know the “hidden counsels of God… nor discern the innocent’s soul’s reward” (Wis 2:22).
This week’s text concludes with the last two verses from chapter 2:23-24. In them we are told that human beings are made to be imperishable and in God’s own image. It was the Devil’s envy that brought death into the world and the wicked who embraced the Devil’s perverse counsels will experience death in all its forms, ultimately experiencing the kind of death that robs a person of their imperishable nature and divine image.
WHEN JESUS HAD CROSSED AGAIN (in the boat) TO THE OTHER SIDE A LARGE CROWD GATHERED AROUND HIM (Mark 5:2)
The first half of Mark’s gospel reads like a nonstop action movie. Jesus and his disciples are on the move all the time, going from exorcisms to healings to confrontations with religious authorities, to mass feedings and calming a storm. A lot of this coming and going is done crisscrossing the Sea of Galilee in a boat with his disciples.
This week’s gospel comes after Jesus exorcised a “legion” of evil spirits out of a Gerasene man. Jesus cast this legion of evil spirits into a herd of 2000 pigs who promptly drowned themselves in the Sea of Galilee. The local Jewish people begged Jesus and his disciples to leave the area so they got into their boat and landed on a Jewish side of the lake. As soon as they landed a large crowd gathered around them. At this point in the story Jesus cannot show himself publicly without a large crowd gathering around him. This is where we pick up the story in this week’s gospel.
“MY DAUGHTER IS AT THE POINT OF DEATH. PLEASE COME LAY YOUR HANDS ON HER” (Mark 5:23)
A synagogue official named Jairus came out of the crowd fell to his knees before Jesus and begged Jesus to heal his daughter who was ill unto death. Thus begins a dual healing section in Mark’s gospel in which one healing story is sandwiched within another healing story. Mark uses this sandwiching technique throughout his gospel. He begins telling us one story, then tells another story in the middle of the first story and finishes telling the first story after the second is told.
The surprising thing about this first healing story is that it involves a synagogue official. By this time in the story Jesus was in trouble with synagogue officials for healing people on the Sabbath, for forgiving people’s sins and for exorcising demons. In fact scribes from Jerusalem had claimed that Jesus was “possessed by Beelzebul” and it was “by the prince of demons (that) Jesus drives out demons” (Mark 3:22). Any public association with Jesus by a synagogue official would put that official at risk of losing his synagogue position. Jairus risked a great deal in approaching Jesus with his request, especially in the humbling begging manner in which he addressed Jesus. He must have loved his daughter a great deal and deeply believed that Jesus could cure her.
Jesus and his disciples immediately went with Jairus to his home and the crowd followed in mob formation with everyone pressing in on each other.
SHE SAID, “IF I BUT TOUCH HIS CLOTHES, I SHALL BE CURED” (Mark 5:28).
The second healing story takes place on the way to Jairus’ home. A woman in the crowd who was suffering from 12 years of internal bleeding, who had spent all she had on doctors seeking a remedy yet her condition got worse and worse, sought out Jesus to touch his clothes. She believed all she needed to do was touch Jesus’ clothes to be cured. She managed to make her way through the crowd and touch his clothes and she was immediately cured.
Jesus was at once aware that healing power had gone out of him. He stopped, turned around and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” The disciples are confused. They tell Jesus people are pressing in on him from all over. Lots of people were touching him. What does he mean, “Who touched me?” (Mark 5:31). Jesus looked around and the woman realized she was busted. In fear and trembling she fell down before Jesus and confessed. Jesus tells her, “Daughter you faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” (Mark 5:34)
“LITTLE GIRL, I SAY TO YOU, ARISE!” (Mark 5:41)
With the second healing story complete we return to the first healing story. People from Jairus’ home meet up with Jesus and the crowd. They report that Jairus’ daughter has died and there was no need for Jesus to continue on his journey to Jairus’ home. Jesus disregards the messengers of death and tells Jairus, “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mark 5:36). Jesus and Jairus leave the crowd behind and he takes three of his top disciples, Peter, James and John and heads for Jairus’ home. By the time they reached the home the community mourners were well into their traditional “weeping and wailing.” It was the custom of Jewish communities to have designated people who would help a family grieve their dead by coming to the home to weep and wail. If you were in a large community and had enough money you could hire professional wailers. Jairus was not necessarily a rich man, even though he was a synagogue official. These wailers were more than likely volunteer wailers from the local community.
When Jesus saw the wailers he asked, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep” (Mark 5:39). When Jesus said she was “asleep” he did not mean she wasn’t dead. The word “sleep” is used as a biblical metaphor for death. By saying she was only asleep Jesus was trying to assure Jairus that his daughter would be awakened from her state of death. The designated community mourners did not have the same faith in Jesus that Jairus did. They began to ridicule Jesus, but with Jairus’ permission Jesus dismisses the mourners.
Jesus then takes Jairus, his wife and his three disciples into the room where the girl lay. He goes to the dead child, takes her hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you arise!” The girl immediately gets up and walks around. Everyone there was “utterly astounded” (Mark 5:42).
“(JESUS GIVE THEM) STRICT ORDERS THAT NO ONE SHOULD KNOW THIS” (Mark 5:33a)
What does this mean? The whole town is waiting outside of Jairus’ home to see what will happen. As soon as the little girl is seen alive everyone will know that Jesus raised her from the dead. Why did Jesus give this command? It’s what Bible scholars have called the Messianic Secret. Jesus does this in several stories in Mark’s gospel. He performs an exorcism or a healing and then he asks people to keep it a secret, which of course no one does or reasonably can, as in this week’s gospel. I have yet to run across a convincing theological reason for these odd requests of Jesus’ in Mark’s gospel. I do not believe they have any significant theological importance. They function more as a literary device to give some sense of how the character of Jesus would like to have some degree of control over the tempo of the action filled story, with little success.
Editor’s Note: The command of Jesus to be silent is significant in Mark. If one reads through the Gospel of Mark, one will note that this command to silence is related to people’s desire to proclaim Jesus as a person of power and authority. Jesus is leery of this kind of proclamation because with it comes the assumption on the people’s part that with this kind of power comes a political power capable of overthrowing the Romans. This is not Jesus’ agenda. It is precisely this clash of agendas that is at work when Jesus clashes with Peter in chapter 8. Here Peter claims Jesus as ‘christ’ (anointed king) and assumes (without spelling it out in the story) that Jesus will be a king like David (a warrior). (Peter is hardly the only disciple to see Jesus at the head of an earthly kingdom. Note how later in Mark 10:35f James and John ask to ‘sit at the right and left hand of Jesus ‘in his glory’. They are actually asking to be Jesus vice president and secretary of state.) In chapter 8 Jesus actually rebukes the disciples as a group before he rebukes Peter (see 8:30 and compare with 8:33). This may not be readily clear from your English translation but if you could read the underlying Greek you would see that the word epitimao appears in both contexts! Thus, the issue is about the conclusions people draw about Jesus. The people (and his followers too!) want Jesus to be what they want him to be not what he wants or feels to be his calling. Hard to believe that people (even Christians) might try to tell God what God should do… 😉 — ALM
“AND (JESUS) SAID THAT SHE SHOULD BE GIVEN SOMETHING TO EAT” (Mark 5:33b)
The last words from this week’s gospel are an example of the great-storytelling skills of our gospel writers. Jesus has just raised this little girl from the dead. Everyone around them are dumbfounded by what they have just witnessed. While everyone in the room is trying to deal with this obvious manifestation of Divine powers Jesus is concerned about the little girl’s physical hunger. Jesus is the one who tells her parents to give her something to eat!
Another way in which the author of Mark shows his mastery in story telling is how he links the two healing stories with overlapping features. Both Jairus and the woman seeking a cure fall to their knees before Jesus. The woman’s illness was with her twelve years and the little girl is twelve years old. Both people who are cured are females. Both people seeking out Jesus believed that cures were possible and they believed that Jesus’ healing touch could bring about the cures they were seeking. Jairus had the added challenge put upon his faith in Jesus from his being a healer of a deadly illness to being a raiser of the dead.
JESUS WAS A HUMAN HEALER AND A WHOLE LOT MORE!
I have no doubt that the historical Jesus was a human healer. There have been people throughout human history who have healing powers, often through their touch. They come from all races, cultures and religious persuasions. Jesus was one of these special human beings and some healers have more healing power than others. The very best are rare and few and far between. Jesus was one of the most powerful and rarest human healers; let’s just say his healing powers were a one in a billion human experience. Yet such people do exist and if the ratio is one in a billion and we currently have six billion people alive, then there are six people alive today who have similar healing powers to the ones Jesus did.
I believe that Jesus was one of these rare and special people and I believe he was a whole lot more! Jesus’ purpose and mission had a Divine nature to it. In last week’s gospel Jesus showed he was working on the side of God when he commanded the wind and the sea to be calm. This week he cures a woman of her illness and raises a little girl from the dead revealing his mission and purpose. If our first reading from the book of Wisdom is any clue, Jesus’ purpose and mission was to release the human race from the curse of death and restore a fallen creation to a wholeness that God intended it to have. The Gospel of Mark lays out the battle lines between good and evil, life and death and Jesus is the one human being for whom all creation was waiting to tip the scale to the side of the good, of life and to God. Now that is the Gospel’s claim. Do we believe it? Will we live it? The story continues.