13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) - God made us to live forever. What in our experience tells us that is true?
“God did not make death… For he fashioned all things that they might have being…For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him…” Those are some pretty big claims. God made us not to die. We were made for eternal life. We read this in sacred scripture; we profess that we believe in “life everlasting” in the Apostles’ Creed, but what in our experience would make us think that it is true? Everybody we know dies. Equally puzzling is the claim that we are made in God’s image - in the image of his own nature. What could this mean? God is divine - he has a divine nature. God is infinite. We are finite creatures. We are limited in every way. What in us could possibly be an image or reflection of God? What in us is infinite or without limits? We have an infinite desire or longing for fulfillment in life. And all of our attempts and efforts to achieve fulfillment always fall short. Even when we get what we want - that award, promotion, new car, new television - that thing on our wish list - it doesn’t take long before we are wanting more. It doesn’t satisfy. It doesn’t fill the void completely. We often think getting married or having a child will make us happy - will make our life complete. But they won’t. We are always left expecting more. It is this expectant longing that is the image of the divine in us. This fact of our human existence is a sign that we are made for something greater than this life - that we are made for eternal life. The inability to be satisfied by any worldly thing is a sign of our greatness as human persons. This fact of the human experience points to something unimaginable that is beyond our measure. This experience is the cry of our heart for a presence that responds to and fulfills our humanity. It is the cry for salvation. It is the cry for an answer to death - that our life is not a life lived in vain. Being in touch with this experience and attentive to the questions it provokes allows us to recognize Christ as the answer to what we are looking for - the unforeseen that corresponds to our heart’s desire.
That his daughter is “at the point of death” moves Jairus to come to Jesus and beg him to lay his hands on his daughter that “she may get well and live.” He is asking that she be “saved” and “live” - the same words used often in the gospel for the fullness of salvation and eternal life that Jesus came to give. The man’s desire that his daughter be restored to physical health reflects the deep human longing for ultimate deliverance from death. Likewise, the woman with the hemorrhage is moved to come to Jesus because all the human attempts to bring her healing were in vain and in fact made her condition worse. The woman’s affliction is more than physical. Because of her flow of blood, she would have been ritually “impure” and prohibited from temple worship and coming into close contact with others. So she also suffered from a lack of human contact - isolation - as well as a spiritual suffering from separation from the worship of God. Blood is synonymous with “life”. The woman with the hemorrhage is losing life - unable to sustain life on her own. She has a deep desire for life - to be “cured”, literally to be “saved” - the same word used by Jairus for his daughter. Being healed physically is not enough for us. What we long for is not to be saved anonymously but to be saved personally. Salvation doesn’t happen apart from a personal encounter with Christ. (Remember the 10 lepers healed by Jesus? They were all healed but only the one who came back to thank Jesus was “saved”. He was the only one who allowed the physical healing to move him to seek a relationship with the one who healed him. It is in the personal relationship with Jesus that we are saved. As we see in this episode with the woman, Jesus desires this personal relationship with us. She approaches Jesus with “fear and trembling”, not because she’s been busted for touching someone in violation of the ritual purity laws, but because that is the natural human reaction when someone recognizes they are in the presence of God. It is the response of someone who has come to faith, ie., she has recognized in Jesus what corresponds to what she’s been longing for. In the face of this exceptional presence of Jesus, an unimaginable encounter with God’s personal love that embraces her totally, she is free to tell Jesus everything. Faith is what saves, but this faith has its roots in this deep longing for life that defines who we are as human beings. To suppress what it means to be human precludes the possibility of faith and salvation. That is why Jesus ignores the message about the young girl’s death. The temptation represented by the people bringing the news of the daughter’s death is that the desire for life be turned off - that we stop expecting life. “Do not be afraid; just have faith,” Jesus says to Jairus. In other words, believe what you’ve recognized in me and don’t shut off your desire. Keep following your desire. Jesus does not let anyone accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John and the father and mother of the child. He asks everybody else to leave. Why? Because unless someone already has faith, seeing the miracle will not bring someone to believe. Unless one’s desire for life is awakened, the gift of life and the one who answers that desire will not be recognized. When Jesus says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” the verb for “arise” is the same word used for Jesus’ resurrection. Here Jesus foreshadows his ultimate victory over sickness, death, and all the effects of sin. Death is not the end. Yes, we will all die, but there is an answer to death. We will all be awakened to eternal life at the resurrection. There is an answer to our longing for eternity - our longing for life. It is an answer that we discover here in this life through an encounter with Jesus. As Jesus gives himself to us today as the Bread of Life in the Holy Eucharist with the promise that whoever eats this bread will live forever, may we be attentive to the longing in our hearts for life. That longing is brought to the fore not only by the reality of suffering and death but the futility of our successes. May we let Jesus awaken our desire for life and clarify that desire. What we are waiting for is for the Lord to come. He comes to us in his poverty - in the humble disguise of the Eucharist, so that we might become rich and share in the fullness of his divine life.