Today’s first reading contains one of the most important lines in all of Scripture: “justice is undying.”
Scripture scholars for a long time had been looking for a biblical “smoking gun:” a verse or passage showing how our Jewish ancestors in the faith came up with the insight that there’s a life after this one. From almost nowhere, about 100 years before Jesus’ birth, Pharisees began to believe it was possible to step beyond this mortal existence into an eternal experience of Yahweh.
The scholars’ best bet was that some Jews read the writings of the classic Greek philosophers, especially those who had divided living entities into bodies and souls. Because they believed the latter element to be immaterial, it could never disintegrate like the material body. It would exist beyond the body’s demise. The only problem with this explanation was that there was no place in Scripture that its proponents could point to as proof of this particular Jewish/Greek connection.
“Suddenly,” the late Roland Murphy always informed his students, “we realized it was right there, before our eyes, in Wisdom 1:15. We didn’t have to connect our Jewish authors with Aristotle, we just had to delve more deeply into the Scriptures we were already reading and teaching.”
The Hebrew word translated here as “justice” refers to relationships. Shortly before Jesus, some insightful individuals began to reason that if we spend our lives building a relationship with Yahweh, that relationship will continue after our deaths. Everyone agreed that God will exist for all eternity. So if God maintains a relationship with us, then we’ll also exist for all eternity. The just will live forever.
That’s why the authors of our Christian Scriptures make a big thing about having faith in Jesus. Biblical faith implies more than just acknowledging his existence as God. It presumes we’re willing to trust him with ourselves; that we’re willing to build a deep relationship with him, just as spouses have faith in one another, often in spite of fearing the consequences of showing their real selves to the one they love.
We see such faith in our gospel pericope. This “story within a story” is a literary device Mark employs to show a passage of time. He already used it in chapter 3 when he had to give Jesus’ well-meaning family time to reach and seize him because they presumed he was “out of his mind.” Mark interrupts his first narrative and inserts Jesus’ famous Beelzebub and kingdom-divided-against-itself passage. Only when he finishes talking about the “unforgivable sin” does his “mother and brothers arrive” to take him away.
Whenever Mark uses a story within a story, each narrative revolves around the same topic. In chapter 3 it has to do with misunderstanding Jesus’ words and actions. Do they come from a mad man or someone possessed by the devil? Here in chapter 5, where Jesus must have time to reach Janus’ house, the topic is faith. Jesus demands it both from Janus and the woman afflicted with uterine bleeding.
The former is put to the test when he receives word of his daughter’s death. “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” The latter’s faith becomes known the instant Jesus feels “power had gone out of him.” Though dozens were touching him, only she did so with faith. “Daughter, your faith has saved you.”
Losing power is essential to true relationships. When Paul encourages his Corinthians to “excel in the gracious act of love” for one another, he’s telling them to weaken themselves. They’re to imitate Jesus, who “though he was rich, for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” Relationships always take away some of the “wealth” that protects us from being hurt by others. Only those who surrender their present security to others can look forward to an eternity of security.