Sunday, July 01, 2018

Endangered Species

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

Picture: cc Franco Pecchio

My dear friends, do you know how many types of giraffes there are in the world today? As you may have heard, until quite recently, it was thought that all giraffes belonged to a single species. So only one kind of giraffe. But then, about two years ago, a new study discovered that there are actually, not one, but four distinct species of giraffe. Why is this discovery important? Well, it means that since, by definition, different species cannot breed with one another in the wild, then giraffes are actually far more endangered than previously thought. It’s not enough to save just one or two or even three of these species. Work must be done to save all four.

In other words, the discovery of different kinds of giraffes helps us to realise that we need to do more to preserve them all. And if this is true of giraffes, might it not be true also of the one thing that our readings invite us to ponder today? Our own life? Could it be that just as there are different kinds of giraffe, there are also different kinds, different aspects of life? And to recognise this is also to realise that we need to do more to preserve our life in all its aspects?

In the gospel, Jesus is quite clearly preserving and restoring life. But haven’t you noticed the different kinds of life the Lord is preserving and restoring? Most obviously, of course, Jesus restores the physical life of the daughter of Jairus. The kind of life indicated by the girl’s renewed ability to get up, and to walk about, and even to eat. But notice how, in the gospel, we also find the story of a bleeding woman. Although this woman is not physically dead, at least not yet, other kinds of life have been taken away from her.

For example, we’re told that she has spent all she had on doctors, without getting any… better. In other words, she is financially ruined. Dead. Worse still, her illness is very likely causing her to be barren. Unable to have children of her own. Unable to bear new life for her own family. Also, her condition renders her ritually unclean. And so, barred from participating in the community’s worship of God. Not only is she financially dead, the woman’s social life has been taken away from her. And her spiritual life suffers as well. So that, by curing her of her ailment, Jesus is not just giving her back her physical health. He is restoring her to life in its different aspects.

By inserting this woman’s story in the middle of the other one, the author of the gospel highlights to us the deeper meaning of the raising of Jairus’ daughter. The woman’s story shows us that the raising of the little girl is significant not just for those of us who may happen to be dying from a terminal illness. Or those about to succumb to old age. What the gospel reminds us is that whether we are young or old, rich or poor, healthy or sick, popular or lonely, Jesus offers all of us the fullness of life. Life rooted ultimately in right relationship with God.

Such that, even if I may lose my financial life, or my social life, or even my physical life, I can still hope in the spiritual life that Jesus preserves for us, for me, by his Dying and Rising. Isn’t this what is meant when the first reading tells us that death was not God’s doing. But that God made us imperishable, in the image of God’s own nature. Not that I will never suffer a physical death. Of course I will. Even Jairus’ daughter, after having been raised, must surely have died at some point after that. But the scriptures assure us that we will always retain our spiritual life, if only we remain in Christ.

One important implication of all this is, of course, that it is possible for me to appear very much alive–physically and financially, socially and even religiously–and yet be actually spiritually quite dead. It is possible for me to be young and fit, rich and popular, tremendously active in parish ministry, perhaps even in priestly ministry, and yet have no real knowledge or experience of God’s love. But how do I know how spiritually alive I am? Just as the ability to get up and move about and eat are indications of physical life, are there similar signs of spiritual life?

We find one such sign in the second reading, where St Paul encourages the Christians in Corinth to donate their surplus money to their needy brethren in Jerusalem. Paul reminds the Corinthians first of how much God has blessed them. Not just with material wealth, but also with spiritual gifts. And how these gifts should make them more generous. Just as Christ was generous, in laying down his life for us all. For Paul, one good indication of the spiritual health of a person, or a community, is the capacity to show mercy. To reach out and to share one’s riches, financial or otherwise, with those in need.

But what if I begin to realise that, despite being alive in other areas, I am actually spiritually sick? Perhaps even dying? How can I renew my spiritual life? The answer is very clearly shown in the gospel. The bleeding woman finds life when she reaches out to touch the Lord. But notice that, just as there are different kinds of life, there are also different kinds of touch. Many people touch Jesus in the gospel. But only the woman finds life. Even though she manages to touch only his cloak. What sets her touch apart from all the others? Jesus gives us the answer when he tells the woman, Your faith has restored you to health 

This is the kind of touch that heals and saves. The kind in which I place all my hope, and all my trust in the One whom I am touching. The touch of faith, along with the touch of mercy. These are the precious channels through which true life flows. From God to us. From us to those in need. The touch of faith, and the touch of mercy. Are these not also the kinds of touch that we are gathered here to experience and to share?

I’m reminded of these words from an old hymn we used to sing:

Lord, we touch you today. Lord, we touch you today.
You gave us your life. You gave us your love.
Lord, we touch you today.
To live is to die, and to laugh is to cry.
To live is to love with all our heart.
To live is to walk and to talk in your Word.
And to live is to sing in your Love…

My dear friends, just as there are different kinds of giraffe, so too are there different kinds of life, and different kinds of touch. What kind of life are you living and nurturing? What kind of touch are you receiving and sharing today?

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