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JULY 1, 2012: THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

Historians have always had problems pinpointing the forces behind Judaism's first century BCE leap into a belief in an afterlife. Before then, the Israelites presumed we'll be rewarded or punished in this life for what we do in this life. It's the only life we'll ever have.

Past scholars presumed some of our sacred authors had read the works of the classic Greek philosophers who believed in an afterlife. But there was no smoking gun. No would could be certain who had read whom, or when they read it. Then a little over 25 years ago, experts in Wisdom literature, like the late Fr. Roland Murphy, began to realize the smoking gun had always been before their eyes - in today's first reading. The Wisdom author mentions, "Justice is undying."

"Justice" is the biblical word describing the proper relationship we're to have with God and those around us. These few words help us understand how Jews came up with the insight that we can live forever. Our sacred writer first presumes God is eternal, then reasons that if we have a correct relationship with God, God can and will continue that relationship after we die. In that case, we'll also live into eternity. Pagan Greeks had no input into the biblical idea of an afterlife. Jews figured it out all by themselves, based on their own faith.

It's significant that faith - not philosophy - is the force behind our belief in an afterlife. Technically faith is the force behind everything we do. Mark effectively demonstrates this in today's gospel pericope.

The evangelist here employs a classic literary device to show a passage of time: he introduces one story, interrupts it with another, then returns to the first. In both stories, the subject matter is the same. He already did this in chapter 3. Jesus' family sets out to take him under control because they think he's out of his mind. Mark then inserts a narrative about other people thinking Jesus has a demon in him. Then he returns to the first story, mentioning Jesus' mother and brothers finally arrived.

In today's passage, the topic is faith. It took lots of faith (and courage) for Jairus, a synagogue official, to ask a radical, itinerant preacher for a favor; even more faith when he discovers his daughter has already died before Jesus' arrival. In a parallel way, though a mob is "pressing" upon Jesus, only one person touches him with faith. Jesus tells the healed woman, "Your faith has saved you!" and encourages the distraught father, "Do not be afraid. Just have faith!" Following Jesus always revolves around faith. Only those who can use faith to reach beyond the present and move toward a world yet to be experienced can be his disciples.

Perhaps one of the most overlooks parts of the hemorrhaging woman miracle is Mark's comment that Jesus realized "power had gone out of him." Most of us think Jesus worked miracles by just snapping his finger or saying a few special words. We don't appreciate that miraculous actions drained Jesus of his physical strength. I presume that means if we, his followers, are to imitate Jesus' faith, then we can expect some of our strength also to be drained.

Paul, in our II Corinthians reading, carries such faith over into draining some of his community's financial strength. "... As a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply (others') needs….."  Such generosity is one of the ways the Apostle presumes his community "excels" in faith.

Given the insight of our Wisdom author, we who work at achieving eternal justice must be willing to drain ourselves for the sake of God and those around us. Only the faith-filled weak will truly imitate Jesus' justice.