28 Jun 2009
“[Jesus] said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.’” (Mark 5:34) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
Last weekend I was driving down to Northampton for the Saturday evening Mass when I passed a couple in about their 50’s driving down the road on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. As I drove by them, the license plate caught my attention. It was “F-R-B-I-R-D.” I’m heading to church and because of that my first read of “F-R-B-I-R-D” was “Fr. Bird.” That didn’t sound too convincing to me though. Why would anyone put that on a vanity plate? Then by the time I pulled back into the right lane, it hit me that “F-R-B-I-R-D” stood for “Free Bird,” the old Lynyrd Skynyrd ballad. Now that made perfect sense for this couple out riding on their Harley-Davidson. Perspective has a lot of effect on perception. What we carry around with us makes a difference on what we see around us.
This comes into play in today’s Gospel too. Mark shares with us two stories of healings, with one embedded in the other and affecting the other. Let me begin with the woman afflicted for twelve years with hemorrhages. Her bleeding, according to the Jewish Law of that day, would have made her ritually unclean. Unclean meant isolation and ostracism, and not only from other people, because it also implied being shunned by God. And she would have passed-on this uncleanness to anyone or anything she touched. This is why she tried to be healed by Jesus without anyone knowing about it, and this is why she only sneaks a touch of His clothes. Her very presence in that crowd of people has broken all of the taboo-laws of the religion of her day, and on top of that she has defiled a popular religious teacher like Jesus. If she’s caught, she’s in a lot of trouble.
The reason she has this perception of Jesus is that her perspective is that men of religion are to be feared. It’s not all that far fetched. I watch the pent-up frustrations of the people of Iran who are now protesting in the streets. I’m pretty sure that they’re all observant Muslims, that they all believe fervently in Allah, but men of religion in Iran have taken control of that faith for their own good and their own purposes. It’s not so much about morality anymore; it’s about power. And of this I can be sure because the power of religion is its example. It draws people to its truth. If the example is unconvincing or uninspiring, it isn’t of God. It will then be ignored, unless of course men of religion don’t mind taking out clubs and guns to force people to worship. And so this woman is terrified when Jesus stops the procession to Jairus’ home and asks who has touched Him. Her perspective has clouded her perception of who Jesus is as a man of religion.
This perspective must have been shattered when Jesus turns to her and says instead, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” Everything that had led her to fear men of religion was reversed with that one statement from Jesus, but this isn’t the end of the story either. The woman’s story is embedded within the story of Jairus, the synagogue official. In a very public venue, Jairus has already gone out on a limb and begged Jesus to come to his home and heal his daughter. His perspective is desperation. His daughter is dying. Jairus is willing to reach out to Jesus, this acclaimed but unconventional miracle worker. Now though, Jesus has been outed as ritually unclean, therefore separated from God, and on top of all that word reaches Jairus that his daughter has already died, “Why trouble the teacher any longer?” say his family.
Jairus was surrounded by a crowd of people, probably people who were members of his synagogue. Would he allow an unclean Jesus to enter his house? Would he allow the uncleanness of Jesus to knowingly and willingly be passed on to his entire household under the preposterous assumption that Jesus could raise his daughter from the dead? If Jairus continues, no matter what happens to his daughter, his position in the synagogue is over and done with. So just as dangerous as it was for the woman to embrace Jesus, it is for Jairus to do the same. Jairus’ perspective as a synagogue leader, a man of religious law and power, has to be telling him to send Jesus away, bury his daughter, and try and wave-off his going to Jesus in the first place as an act of an emotionally distraught father. But Jairus’ perspective is now also being influenced by what he has witnessed on the way to his house, not only the miracle but also the compassion. His perception is being changed. The ailing woman held a perspective of religious fear and Jairus held a perspective of religious power, and both of these affected their perception of Jesus. And just like the compassionate “Daughter your faith has saved you,” we now hear, preserved in the original Aramaic of Jesus’ own voice, the words “Talitha koum,” “Little girl, arise.” We’re watching religious severity become obsolete in the presence of Christ’s compassion. Perspectives are changing and accordingly so are the perceptions of Jesus.
What is our perception of Jesus? What do we carry with us when we think about God and religion? No one approaches these thoughts in a vacuum. Do we bring to our thoughts of Jesus ideas of fear like the suffering woman? Too much of faith is about judgment I believe. Do we come to Jesus with images of power like that of Jairus the synagogue official? This can happen when faith becomes obligations and buildings, and little more. What we need to do instead is find the Jesus of compassion and understanding, the Jesus who frets little about ritual uncleanness when compared to healing and comforting a woman who has long suffered, the Jesus who urges Jairus to push his new found faith forward, and who holds a traumatized little girl by the hand and gives her back to her parents, this is the Jesus who makes faith real and life-changing. This is the perception of Jesus that Mark shares with us today, and hopefully that we personally know today or will come to know today, and for his we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)