|Memorial - St. John de Britto,
S.J. and Jesuit Martyrs of the Missions
Psalm 22:26-27, 28, 30, 31-32
Today’s Gospel wraps together two accounts of profound faith in Jesus the healer. A synagogue official, one Jairus, breaks through the crowd around Jesus and begs him to come lay his hands on his dying daughter for healing. Then, in phrases that evoke our worst nightmares about malpractice and the high cost of health care, Mark speaks of a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhage for as long as that little girl had lived, twelve years. To appreciate her predicament, we need to know that a woman with that kind of illness would be considered ritually unclean and untouchable. And anyone who came in contact with her would also become ritually unclean. Learning of Jesus’ reputation as a healer, she demonstrates a faith that overcomes her desperation when she makes her way through the crowd and dares to touch his cloak. That simple action of faith is enough to access Jesus' power, and she is cured.
Meanwhile, when some people from Jairus’ place come to say that his daughter has died, Jesus encourages him, “Don’t be afraid; just have faith.” Jairus apparently does just that, as they proceed to his house, where Jesus takes the dead 12-year-old’s hand and tells her, “Little girl, get up.” And by God she does.
Our meditation could well focus on Jesus’ amazing power to heal, but I think Mark wants us to pay special attention to the faith of Jairus and the faith of the hemorrhaging woman in that healing power of Jesus. Driven by different motives—Jairus by his concern for a dying child, the woman by her desperate state of suffering and alienation—each takes bold steps to reach out to Jesus for healing. And, beyond any normal expectations, it comes—physical healing (and social restoration) in one case, and an amazing resuscitation in the other. Mark surely presents these two figures as models of the kind of faith with which we are invited to approach Jesus for healing in our own lives.
But today’s first reading, a wonderful exhortation from the Letter to the Hebrews takes us a step further. To encourage his readers, apparently a community of Jewish Christians, the author of this letter presents Jesus himself as a model of faith. The translation of the New American Bible (1986) is accurate when it says that Jesus is the “leader and perfecter of faith.” Other versions (e.g. the 1970 NAB, “Jesus, who inspires and perfects our faith”) make it sound as though the passage was entirely about our faith, and they bypass the issue of Jesus’ faith altogether. But scholars give us good reason to understand this passage as speaking about Jesus as both enabler and model of faith. Some people are nervous about attributing faith to Jesus, apparently feeling that such a thought challenges Jesus’ divinity. But there is good reason to acknowledge that when the Word became flesh, i.e. became fully human (what the hymn of Philippians 2 calls “emptying”), that incarnation entailed the need to trust in the Father in a fully human way. And this, surely, is the plain sense of our reading from Hebrews.
And so we have much more to support and encourage our faith than
did Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman. We have the example of the
faith of Jesus himself. What’s more, Jesus not only models faith
for us; he makes that faith possible with the gift of his Spirit.
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