Updated: Jul 30, 2021
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
(This is the unabridged version of this Sunday's homily. The abridged preached version begins after the italicized text.)
There’s something particular about today’s gospel that I’d like to mention. But to get to that point, I feel I ought to do so in a roundabout way, which makes this homily kind of long; please bear with me.
I’ll begin with a few remarks relating to human history. History is a story told by an author or editor. When reading any history book, whether it’s a biography, a book about Hawaiian, American, or world history, it’s important to know about the author or editor.
You see, an uncountable number of events have happened and continue to happen. A lot of data is out there. And not all of it can be contained in any book or series of books. Everything that we read in the newspaper, hear on the radio, see on television or the internet, anything we experience or others experience—any law that is passed, anything that’s ever been created—all of it is fair game for any history book. But not all things are recorded; just a microscopic portion of the great totality of things.
Take the Civil War, for example. Pick any book on the Civil War. Not every soldier is named. Not every skirmish is mentioned. Not every political conversation is considered. An editor includes only those key events and a select few people who are integral to the narrative that exists in the mind of the author. An editor considers many events and people, but writes only of the ones that matter most in his or her mind to the telling of a story.
And so, every history book is fallible as any author is fallible. And so, serious students read many history books to arrive at a composite understanding of history, gained by viewing as many angles on history as there are editors.
But as a people of faith, there is one history book that is infallible, when one learns how to read it authentically. And it’s infallible because the author or “editor” is infallible. That infallible Author, of course, is God. And the history book in question is the Bible.
The bible is a series of books from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, from Genesis to Revelation. While God used human authors to write the sacred scriptures, with total human freedom; we acknowledge God as the true Author of the Bible, because the human authors were inspired and guided by God’s spirit. From the time of Abraham and before Abraham, through Moses and David, to Christ and into the apostolic era, an uncountable number of events happened. But not everything is recorded here [gesturing to the Bible].
But what is recorded here is what matters most in the history of salvation—salvation history. In the eyes of the world, who cares if an unremarkable eighty year old man departed from ancient Chaldea, which would become Babylon, to live in the land of Canaan? But in the eyes of God, this man is Abraham with whom he established his Covenant. And so his migration from Ur of the Chaldees is recorded here [gesturing to the Bible].
In the eyes of the world, who cares that one brother tricked his father and stole the inheritance of his brother? Why should that story endure for all ages? But in the eyes of God—the true Author of human history—that man is Jacob, who would claim the name, Israel, and be blessed with many sons.
In the eyes of the world, who cares about some youth who was betrayed by his brothers and sold into Egyptian slavery? But that man is Joseph, who rose to power in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh, through whom the sons of Israel would find salvation.
In the eyes of the world, who cares about a felon who returned to his country at the age of seventy to liberate his people for a civilization that no longer exists? But in the eyes of God, he is Moses, through whom God would reclaim his people Israel from slavery in Egypt.
You get the idea. These are not stories of ancient kings, empires, and civilizations. Such great persons and places matter in the eyes of the world. But in the eyes of God, a select few unremarkable figures and certain family squabbles trace the history of salvation until it arrives at even another unremarkable figure—unremarkable in his time: the son of a carpenter from Galilee, the tiniest corner of the great Roman Empire.
To quote Isaiah the prophet: Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; he had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, knowing pain, like one from whom you turn your face, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
In the eyes of the world, he was nobody. In the eyes of God, he is his Son. And he honors his Son’s sacrifice for our salvation. The point is: this book [gesturing to the Bible]—this Bible—is the record of what matters to God, who is the infallible Author of human history and salvation. And so, we should be very careful not to do violence to the integrity of these sacred writings.
It would be the height of arrogance for me to redact the scriptures, even if I have good intentions, in order to tell my own narrative, and pass it off as the word of God. Quoting scripture in parts as part of a homily or exhortation is one thing; but when proclaiming the scriptures liturgically, presenting spliced parts of scripture as if it’s an unviolated whole is another.
Just a brief aside: I know on occasion there are portrayals of the scriptures in movies or on television, like the recently popular, The Chosen. Those kinds of production have their place as devotional, inspirational, and moral encouragements. But even the most respectful presentation can be traced to a human producer, director, or author. And so, no production—in any way—can supersede or add to this [gesturing to the Bible], which has God as its author, acting through inspired human writers.
Now, why am I mentioning all of this? On occasion, the priest will be given an option to use a so-called “short form” of a gospel passage. That’s that particular thing I mentioned at the onset of this homily. The “short form” of this reading is to delete eleven verses in the middle of the gospel passage. That’s a kind of violence against the scripture’s that I mentioned.
(The homily preached this Sunday begins here).
In its entirety, Mark’s gospel is the shortest of the four gospels by far, leading some theologians to believe that it was the first of the four to be written, and expounded upon by Matthew and by Luke to some degree. John’s gospel is in a category of its own.
However, today’s gospel scene, also described by Matthew and Luke, is surprisingly recorded by Mark with the most detail; a passage that spans twenty-two verses when read as a single scene.
The so-called shorter version of today’s gospel eliminates the encounter between Jesus as the woman suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. But we didn’t omit it in today’s [this evening’s] proclamation. It’s actually the focus of our message today [tonight].
The context of that encounter is rather dramatic. The daughter of a synagogue official named Jairus is near death. The very fact that we know the official’s name hints at his prominence, as someone perhaps known by the early Christian community.
But despite his elevated position and fame, he kneels down before Jesus and pleads with him to save his twelve-year-old daughter who’s dying. Jesus agrees, and journeys towards Jairus’ home, accompanied by a large crowd.
Upon arrival, it seems as if Jesus is too late. The girl has already died, and all that anyone can do now, is to simple grieve over her, and try to console her parents. Mourners wail in the background, and Jesus is mocked for saying that the girl is merely asleep. And then he enters into the home, and commands the little girl to rise. And to the amazement of all, she does. She rises, and lives again.
From the crowd’s perspective, there’s sufficient drama within this event to command our attention from beginning to end. The event contains both politics and religion, life and death, tragedy and victory, despair and hope. Who could ask for more? Nevertheless, beneath the notice of almost everyone, there’s another drama at play within our passage.
While the girl was alive for twelve years, there was a woman who was suffering anonymously for twelve years. Even from a literary standpoint, one can see the obvious connection. Their stories go together; one basking in the light of a prominent household for twelve years; the other sufferingin silence for twelve years.
This woman had spent all her means on the “science” of the day, hoping for a cure to her hemorrhages, but to no avail. Her condition only worsened. But then, hearing about Jesus, she secretly reaches out and touches his cloak, believing that that would be enough to cure her.
Now, up to that point, from a narrative perspective, there was a lot of momentum carrying the crowd forward to the home of Jairus. But all of that energy abruptly comes to a halt. That urgent wave that is the crowd breaks, when Jesus stops, as he turns and asks: “Who has touched my clothes?”
Now, only those closest to Jesus would be able to see and hear what happened next. After the woman confesses touching him, Jesus tells her gently: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”
Again, regarding this whole passage, Mark is the most descriptive in his account. It begs the question as to why? And where did he get such detail?
Mark was a traveling companion of Saint Peter. Remember Peter? The fisherman who became the first Pope? That guy. After Peter had left Jerusalem (after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ), he eventually made his way towards Rome. Mark served as Peter’s translator. Mark would write down Peter’s sermons, which would later become the Gospel according to Mark that we have today. In very many ways, the Gospel of Mark is the Gospel according to Peter; the gospel used by the early Christian community in Rome.
And so, presumably, it was Peter himself who had witnessed this exchange up close, and kept it close to his heart. Out of the countless number of things witnessed by Saint Peter of Jesus, this was one of the privileged few that we’ve inherited in scripture. By God’s grace, Peter had retained this memory. Inspired by God, he would later preach on it in his sermons. Also inspired by God, Mark would record this event. It should never be omitted.
Rather, its significance ought to be pondered. Perhaps we might consider that this anonymous woman is not so anonymous as far the gospel is concerned, because wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed, her example of faith is elevated as a model to be followed.
Nevertheless, in our passage she remains nameless. But even that can be a cause for edification. You and I likewise don’t have to be well-known by any crowd to be known by Christ. We don’t have to be famous, or persons of influence. No crowds need to champion our cause. No one needs to mourn in our behalf. We can be as nameless as that woman. The Lord already knows. Nothing is beyond God’s awareness and providence.
While the crowds were impassioned by and drawn into the drama of Jairus and his dying daughter, God also recognized the chronic suffering of the nameless woman, and he looked upon her with mercy.
As it was then, the same is true today. When the world seems to urgently move in one direction, our Lord can halt the world in its tracks, to turn his attention to you and to me.
So let us now, each in our own way, anonymously extend our hearts to the Lord for healing (from whatever it is we need to be healed of). Let this Mass be that pause in the momentum of the entire world, in which our Lord looks you and me in the eye, to impart those same glorious, beautiful, and gentle words of consolation: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”