Approach With the Fear of God and with Faith

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Healing of the Woman.jpg

Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
[Thirteenth Sunday Per Annum B]

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

A Story of Two Healings

Two miracles. Two women. The first is a twelve year old girl with all the promise of life before her, the other, a woman exhausted by twelve years of chronic suffering. Saint Mark intertwines the stories of the one and of the other. The connection is not merely coincidental, it is complementary. The underlying message is found precisely by taking both stories together.

Faith and the Power of God

Neither Jairus' twelve year old daughter, already at the point of death when he approaches Jesus, nor the woman with the twelve year hemorrhage can be helped by human means. Both are beyond the pale of what medical science can do. Both will be saved by the conjunction of Jesus' divine power with the power of faith. In the case of the sick woman, it is her own faith, a faith at once timid and bold. In the case of the girl, it is her father's faith, the faith of a distraught parent at the bedside of a dying child.

The Number Twelve

You may have remarked that the girl is twelve years old, and that the woman has suffered her affliction for twelve years. Saint Mark did not choose these two numbers at random. As is so often the case in the Bible, these numbers are charged with meaning and with mystery. In Sacred Scripture, the number twelve signifies fulfillment, completion.

In Saint Luke's gospel, Jesus uttered His first prophecy at the age of twelve (Lk 2:42, 49). Jesus calls twelve apostles to signify the arrival of the fullness of time and the coming of the Kingdom of God (Mt 10:1 15). After the miraculous multiplication of the loaves, twelve baskets remain, "full of broken pieces and of the fish" (Mk 6:43).

The glorious completion of all things at the end of time is imaged by the twelve gates of the heavenly Jerusalem, with twelve angels as gatekeepers. The gates are inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel, and the city has twelve foundations, inscribed with the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (Ap 21:14). The woman of the book of the Apocalypse (an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and of the Church), is crowned with twelve stars (Ap 12:1), and the tree of life that flourishes in the heavenly city yields twelve kinds of fruit, one for each of the twelve months of the year (Rev 22:2).

Finally, we know that for Jesus the day is made up of twelve hours; in Saint John's gospel, He says, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (Jn 11:9). What is Saint Mark trying to say by his symbolic use of the number twelve in today's gospel?

The Fullness of Time

These two miracles are more than the benevolent gestures of a faith-healing rabbi. They are more than the revelation of Jesus' compassion in the face of human suffering. They signify the arrival of the fullness of time, the completion of God's plan of salvation--and salvation means the restoration of health, of wholeness--in Christ. Saint Mark's use of the number twelve is a way of crying out, "At last, at last, God has kept His promises! The Messiah, the Christ of all our desires and longings is here!"

She Suffered Under Many Physicians

The woman exhausted by twelve years of chronic suffering is an image of humankind from the fall of Adam and Eve to the coming of Christ, a history of blood and of tears, a history of oppression, violence, and disease. The woman of the gospel "had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better, but rather grew worse" (Mk 5:26). So too, had humanity suffered much under many physicians. Various philosophies, political systems, and kingdoms had come and gone, leaving, in their wake, a bitter trail of cynicism and disappointment. Societies and individuals spent all that they had, and were no better, but rather grew worse.

Blood is Life

The woman of the gospel comes to Jesus as to her last recourse. Having lost everything, her life was wasting away; that is the significance of her flow of blood. Life was seeping out of her! She was being drained of all vitality! For the people of the Bible blood is life. She felt herself sinking slowly, inexorably, into the pit of despondency.

Touching God

Then, timid and fearful, a veiled, stooped figure in the crowd, she approaches Jesus from behind, not daring to speak, but bold in reaching out to touch the hem of His garment. In faith, she touches, not the hem of a wandering, wonder-working rabbi's garment, but the very mystery of God. Power surges from Jesus, divine energy goes forth. In a single instant, faith cures where human skill had failed through twelve years.

Little Girl, Arise

Jairus' twelve year old daughter is on the threshold of womanhood; she is also on the threshold of death. Could any situation be more tragic? Her father tears himself away from her bedside and goes in search of Jesus. Seeing Our Lord, he falls at His feet, and beseeches Him, saying, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live" (Mk 5:23). Any parent who has watched at the bedside of a dying child knows the anguish that gripped this man's heart, almost suffocating him with grief. When Jesus follows Jairus home, they find that the girl is already dead. The Jewish funeral rites are already underway. The cries and laments of mourners make a ghastly din. Jesus goes in to the girl, takes her by the hand, and says, "Tálitha, cúmi," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise" (Mk 5:41). Immediately, she got up and walked, and Jesus ordered that she be given something to eat.

God With Us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death

Saint Mark's message to us today is that Jesus Christ is mankind's one hope, the long-awaited Physician who, in His very person, establishes contact between the power of God and the faith of every human heart. In entering the history of the human race, Jesus Christ descends into the "valley of the shadow of death" (Ps 23:4). The rejected Christ, the condemned Christ, the suffering Christ, carrying His cross, passes through the midst of those who weep, and wail, and mourn: suffering children, the victims of war, of violence, of discrimination, of oppression, those who are afflicted by chronic illness, men and women living with cancer or with any one of a number of life-threatening diseases. To the prayer of faith, to the touch of faith, this Jesus who was crucified brings the power of God, the power that brings light out of darkness, joy out of tears, and life out of death itself, the power by which He, after three days, was raised from the tomb.

His Real Presence

This is the mystery that lies at the heart of every Holy Mass: the real presence of Christ. Like the crowd that thronged about Him in today's Gospel, though many may brush against Him on His passage, not all touch Him, as did the afflicted woman, with faith. It is not enough to be here, not enough to go through the ritual motions, not enough fulfill a duty in compliance with the letter of the law, not enough to say, "I've been to Mass." Jesus waits for us to touch Him with the touch of faith.

We may be like Jairus' daughter, on the verge of something new and wonderful in life, or we may be like the other woman, weary and spent after years of suffering. To each of us the Most Holy Eucharist holds out the power of God, a power unleashed by faith. After raising up the little girl, Jesus said, "Give her something to eat." And that is why we go now to the Holy Table, that all of us who have been raised up by the Word of Christ from the ambo, may be fed with the Body and Blood of Christ from the altar of His Sacrifice. "Approach, then, with the fear of God, and with faith" (Byzantine Liturgy, Invitation to Holy Communion).


Dear Father,

Thank you for this beautiful homily, which I wish we had heard at Mass today. Your writings are a rich source of spiritual nourishment, as are many other blogs on the 'Net. I am so thankful for those who, like you, use this technology to strengthen and support those of us who couldn't access such material otherwise.

God bless you, and Happy Year of the Priest.

Patricia Gonzalez

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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