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Sunday 27 June 2021: Trinity 4, Thirteenth in Ordinary time, Proper 8

The Touching Compassion of Jesus

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

By Terry Tastard

a Catholic priest of the diocese of Westminster, and a tutor in its seminary. Also a Fellow of the Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion, Birmingham University

Context: a mixed suburban congregation in London, people of faith who sometimes ask questions as they seek greater understanding.

Aim: to ask how God in Christ brings healing through both divine power and human frailty.

The attitude of Jesus towards women is something we have begun to pay more attention to recently. He lived in what we now call a patriarchal age. Yet he showed respect towards women. He was not condescending. He appreciated women who spoke up. Take for example the woman who has some problem of bleeding, perhaps associated with the change of life. In Jewish law her condition made her ritually impure. She could not enter the Temple, or even mix in the community, lest she accidentally touch a man. This means she could not ask Jesus to lay hands on her to heal her. Instead, she seizes the initiative and touches him in the hope that he will not notice. But he does. And when detected she comes forward frightened and trembling and falls at his feet. You know already how he responded: with affirmation, and a word of encouragement and peace. So often this is the pattern of Jesus’s healing: not only is the physical complaint healed, but the sufferer is offered a new dignity and self-confidence and restored to life in the community.

TALITHA, KUM

The story of the healing of Jairus’s daughter shows another aspect of Jesus’s care and compassion. There is a crowd in commotion. Jesus knows that the girl is in a deep coma. When he raises her up, there will be a sensation, a tumult. He does not want to make this girl into a public spectacle. Besides, for someone waking from a coma, loud noise could be terrifying and put them into shock. So, Jesus bundles everybody out of the room, except her parents and his closest associates. Now we hear the very words that he used, in Aramaic, a popular form of spoken Hebrew of his day. ‘Talitha, kum.’ It is enormously moving. The gospels were written in Greek, and we almost never hear the words spoken by Jesus in the original language. Think of another instance where we hear his words in Aramaic: ‘Eloi, eloi, lama sabacthani?’ he groans on the cross, in great pain (Mk 15:34). We feel that something so awesome has happened that the gospel compiler wanted us to hear the actual words spoken.

Serious illness is one of the times when we sometimes find ourselves wondering, ‘Where is God?’ For parents especially a seriously ill child brings a time of great worry and possibly of heartbreak. Sometimes we pray for healing and we witness healing take place. Sometimes we pray for healing and it seems that our prayers have not been answered. But remember these two occasions when we hear the actual words of Jesus.

‘Talitha, kum.’ It is God’s will that there should be life. As our first reading tells us, ‘Death was not God’s doing ... the world’s created things have health in them’ (Wis 1:13-14). We see the truth of this shown in the healing work of Jesus and in the healing work of those inspired by Jesus: rolling back disease, disability, death itself. If we work with God, we will work to restore the original wholeness that was the divine plan.

ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACTHANI?

Yet for some reason we do not understand, there are times when this cannot happen. Death, chaos, disaster can bring great suffering. With Christ on the cross, we cry out, ‘Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani?’ In moments like these we do not have an explanation from God. Instead, we have the sight of God in Christ identifying with us in the depths of suffering, even perhaps despair. In Paul’s words that we heard today: ‘The Lord Jesus was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty’ (2 Cor 8:9). The Son of God entered the pain and poverty of our world, so that nothing could come between us and God. In this way, too, God heals, because we know that we are not alone in suffering. God in Christ walked this path before us and knows how it feels. In keeping with classic spirituality, we bury our wounds in the wounds of the cross.

There is always love to be offered. There are always people to be helped. There is always faith to be encouraged, broken hearts to be healed. Life must get through, and love sustains life, until at the very end, we are taken into the life of God.

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