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JULY 2, 2006: THIRTEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR

Readings: 

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

At several points in his gospel, Mark will begin a story, interrupt it with another narrative, then go back and finish off the original story. He does this as a literary device, to show a passing of time, just as movie directors rip off calendar pages or depict a tree going through the seasons. In today's passage, it takes time for Jesus and Jairus to travel to the latter's house where his 12 year old daughter lies sick, time for the girl to die before the pair arrives. Mark fills that interval by having a woman along the way brave a crushing crowd to touch Jesus' cloak and be cured of her uterine bleeding.

But, as in all these situations of interrupted and completed stories, the interruption conveys the same message as the original narrative. In Mark 3, for instance, when Jesus' family sets out to "seize him, for they said, 'He is out of his mind!'" Mark's interruption revolves around scribes from Jerusalem who claim, "He is possessed by Beelzebul. By the prince of demons he drives out demons." Both passages deal with a Jesus whom people presume is not in his right mind.

Here the basic issue which holds our two narratives together is faith. (But also notice that both stories deal with women for whom the number 12 is significant.)

Mark makes a big thing about the crowd pressing upon Jesus only because he's trying to distinguish the suffering woman's touch from that of others. Jesus emphasizes that only she touches him with faith, the same faith which he demands of Jairus when he's told his daughter has died. "Do not be afraid," he says. "Just have faith."

Christians might do many of the same things others do, but our sacred authors expect us to do them with faith, recognizing something in our actions that other's don't perceive.

That's why Paul can ask his Corinthians community to be generous in giving to the famine-plagued churches in Judea. These were the communities which most hassled Paul over his practice of baptizing Gentiles without first converting them to Judaism. In some sense, they were the "enemy." That seems to be why he begins his request by reminding his readers that they excel in faith. Only people of faith would be willing to help those who didn't want them to exist. Among other things, this collection was Paul's way of testing the faith of the communities he evangelized. Would they cooperate with his passion of unifying all Christian churches, even those who held different theologies from their own? One had to have lots of faith to participate in such a project.

The author of Wisdom demands the same faith from his readers. With death and destruction playing a part in their daily lives, he begs them to believe in a God who "did not make death nor . . . rejoices in the destruction of the living." Only faith can draw them out of their frustrating existence and help them form a relationship with a God who offers them something better.

The late Scripture scholar Roland Murphy always insisted that the words "justice is undying" in this passage were the basis for Jewish belief in an afterlife. Though the vast majority of the Hebrew Scriptures know only this life, about 100 years before Jesus' birth, Jews eventually began to understand the implications of building a relationship with Yahweh. If Yahweh never dies, and you have a relationship with Yahweh, then, they reasoned, as long as Yahweh maintains that relationship, you'll never die. (The word "justice," as used here, refers to that relationship.)

All three authors agree: faith brings us life. We simply have to have enough faith to die to ourselves and reach out to form the relationships that guarantee we'll live.