13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Secure Enough to Reach Out?
Secure Enough to Reach Out?
Readings: Wisdom 1:13-15,2:23-24; Psalm 29:2,4-6,11-13; 2 Corinthians 8:7,9,13-15; Mark 5:21-43
Pictures: cc USAG–Humphreys
Sisters and brothers, what do you think? If I were to walk up to a complete stranger, who happens to be eating at the hawker centre nearby, shout out a cheery hello, and offer the person a handshake, what do you think will happen? Do you think the person will reach out and take my hand? Maybe. If I’m very lucky. But the person is also at least as likely to take me for a salesman, or a crook, or just plain crazy, and chase me away. And what about if the person I approach is a local. And I am a foreigner? Will that change things? Whether or not the stranger reaches out to take my hand depends on how s/he perceives me. Does s/he think that it’s safe to talk to me? Am I worth the risk? Does s/he feel safe and secure enough to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone?
Quite clearly reaching out isn’t always an easy thing to do. (I know it’s not easy for me.) And not even when we have good reasons to do it. We need to feel secure enough before we’re willing to reach out. This too is the situation in our Mass readings today. In both the second reading and the gospel, we find people who are being invited to reach out in some way. In the gospel, both Jairus, the synagogue official, and the unnamed woman feel an impulse to reach out in their need. They both need something very badly. They both desire healing. The woman, for herself. Jairus, for his daughter. And, although their sicknesses may be different, the situations of the woman and the girl are really very similar.
We’re told that the woman has been suffering from a flow of blood for 12 long years. To the Jews, blood meant life. So the woman’s illness is sucking the very life out of her. In addition, the bleeding renders the woman ritually unclean. Cutting her off from normal interaction with others. Thus, both physically and socially, the woman is at death’s door. And it is this movement from life to death that makes the woman’s condition so strikingly similar to that of Jairus’ daughter. Just as the woman has been bleeding for a dozen years, we’re told that the girl dies at the significant age of 12. Her life is tragically taken from her just as she approaches the time for bearing children. The time for bringing new life into the world. In other words, both the woman and the girl are caught between life and death. This is why they need to reach out to Jesus for help.
But still, although their respective needs are so urgent, even though it’s no less than a matter of life and death, reaching out remains very challenging, as much for Jairus as for the woman. For her part, the woman could not have known how Jesus would react. To touch Jesus was to render him ritually unclean. Wouldn’t this make him angry? And Jairus had no reasonable expectation that Jesus could actually do something for his precious daughter. As his servant tells him: Your daughter is dead: why put the master to any further trouble? And yet, each of them, Jairus and the woman, somehow manage to reach out. From where did they find the courage? What made them feel secure enough to do so? We find the answer on Jesus’ lips. To the woman, he says, your faith has restored you to health. And to Jairus: Do not be afraid; only have faith. For both the woman and the synagogue official, faith in Christ is what gives them the security they need to reach out for help. And when they do, their situations are reversed. Death is transformed into life.
In the second reading too, we find people being invited to reach out. But for a different–for an opposite–reason. Here, St. Paul writes to the Christians at Corinth to beg them to donate money to their poor brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. Unlike Jairus and the woman–who reach out because they themselves are in need–the Corinthians are being invited to reach out to meet the needs of others. They are asked to to reach out to care for others. To turn away from the selfishness that brings spiritual death. And to embrace the compassion and care that brings the fullness of life. But, although the reasons may be different, the act of reaching out remains just as challenging. Why should the Corinthians reach out? After all, they live in an uncertain world. A world filled with insecurity. Why can’t they be allowed to look to their own concerns first? Why should they bother about the needs of others? These are among the questions that Paul sets out to answer in the second reading.
And, as it turns out, the answer that Paul gives the Corinthians is not much different from what Jesus tells Jairus and the woman in the gospel. In order to help the Corinthians feel secure enough to reach out to care for others, Paul reminds them of their faith. In particular, he encourages them to recall how, in Christ, God has reached out to them in their need. Remember how generous the Lord Jesus was, writes Paul, he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty. Paul’s hope is that, just as faith in Christ moves Jairus and the woman to reach out in their need, this same faith will move the Corinthian Christians to cater to the needs of their brothers and sisters in Jerusalem.
As much for Jairus and the woman of the gospel as for the Corinthian Christians, it is faith in Christ that gives them the courage and generosity to reach out. It is faith in Christ that somehow produces in them the sense of security they need to risk making contact. Not just contact with other people, but also contact with God in prayer. And this is as it should be. For, in Christ, we see the truth of what the first reading tells us. That God takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living. On the contrary, in Christ, God continually reaches out to us, leading us from death into the fullness of life (John 10:10).
And it remains important for us to remember this today. Even though scientific advances have made human life far more comfortable now than it was in the time of Jesus. Even though we can cure many more diseases now than we could then. Isn’t it true that we often continue to feel overwhelmed by the radical uncertainty, the unavoidable insecurity, of life? Who knows what will happen tomorrow? Such that, even in a relatively safe place like Singapore, it appears that more and more of us are finding it difficult to reach out to others, whether it be to seek or to offer help. And more so if the other is someone from another country. For example, the latest issue of Today newspaper reports that in a recent forum on xenophobia (the fear of foreigners), the panellists, including several prominent bloggers... were unable to reach a consensus on whether they should take a collective stand against (xenophobic) behaviour (on the internet). Are we really so insecure? Even to the extent of not being able to agree on something as basic as that?
Sisters and brothers, in an uncertain, unpredictable world, in a world where racism and xenophobia continue to rear their ugly heads, the treasure that we Christians have to offer continues to be our faith in Christ. Our faith in the deep ongoing desire and power of God to lead us from death into the fullness of life.
How might this same faith give us the spiritual security to reach out to others today?