[Homily. Assumption Chapel, 31 January 2023.]
Our gospel for today describes two healings based on faith in Jesus.
The first healing is that of the daughter of Jairus, one of the synagogue officials. As Jesus preached his message of the Kingdom of his Father, opposed to the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, many synagogue officials were hostile to him. So it was unexpected that Jairus approach Jesus for help. But unexpected things happen when one’s beloved daughter is dying. “Seeing Jesus he fell on his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, ‘My daughter is at the point of death. Please come, lay your hands on her, that she may get well and live’” (Mk 5:23). Sensing the intensity of his faith, Jesus went with him. But when they neared his house, people told Jairus, “Your daughter has died…” Yet Jesus reassured him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” At his house, people were weeping and wailing. He announced, “The child is not dead but asleep.” The people ridiculed him for that. Nevertheless, he went to the child and said, “Little girl, I say to you arise.” Immediately the twelve-year-old girl arose (cf. Mk 5:21-24, 35-43).
From the Cure of Jairus’ Daughter to the Cure of the Hemorrhaging Women
The second healing is that of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. Because her condition involved flowing blood, she was ritually unclean. Being unclean, she feared to talk directly to Jesus. Her faith, however, was that should she just be able to touch his garment, she could be healed. Within the crowd pressing on Jesus, she did. And she was healed. But it stirred Jesus, “Who has touched my clothes?” he asked. The woman, realizing that she had been cured, approached him in fear and trembling. Had she been cured wrongly? Would it now be reversed? Had she made Jesus ritually unclean because she’d touched him? Was he now upset because of that? She fell down on her knees and told him the whole truth… Jesus responded: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction” (cf. Mark 5:25-34)
The context of these cures in the Gospel of Mark is the Galilean ministry, when people – even his own relatives – misunderstood and rejected him. His relatives said, “He is out of his mind” (Mark 3:21) The scribes said, “By the prince of demons he drives out demons” (Mark 3:22). The accounts of his healings may have helped convince people of the legitimacy and power of his mission: to make people well and “to bring life – life to the full” (John 10:10).
But What About Those Not Cured?
We can be happy for the many sick and disabled who put their faith in Jesus and are cured. The Father is glorified when sick people put their faith in Jesus and are healed: when the blind person says, “Lord that I may see!” and he sees (cf. Mark 10:46-52); when the paralyzed person on Jesus‘ command picks up his mat and walks home (cf. Mark 2:1-13).
But what about those who put their faith in God and are not healed? As mysterious as those who are miraculously healed by Jesus’ power is the number of people who pray in faith for healing and are not healed – in Jesus’ power. If Jesus heals in some cases, why does he not heal in other cases? Is there an unjust favoritism at play here? There are no easy answers here. But consider this. In not healing, God may be loving the person more.
Purification to Greater Fruitfulness
God may not cure because of his special care for the person, cura personalis, through which the person, already fruitful in his or her faith, might become more fruitful through the Father’s pruning – which always involves suffering. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and everyone that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit…” (John 15:1-2). Through illness and its suffering, the Father may be pruning the sick person towards more fruitfulness – towards poverty in spirit, mourning, contrition, conversion, meekness, purity of heart and peace. Recall the happiness promised in the Beatitudes (Mt. 5: 1-12). Through the Father’s pruning one is blessed with more fruitfulness. And joy.
Perseverance to Perfecting of Faith
God also may not cure because he is perfecting that person’s faith in perseverance, endurance. In our first reading from the Book of Hebrews its author in its magnificent Chapter 11 has just gone through a listing of great witnesses of faith in the OT – from Abel through Noah through David, Solomon, the kings, the prophets, and the Maccabean martyrs. It is introduced by the statement, “Faith is the realization [realizing in history] of what is hoped for [in the future] and evidence [in history] of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). In our reading for today, Hebrews says, “Brothers and sisters: Since we are all surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us [purification] and persevere in running the race that lies before us [endurance] while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Protracted illness may be a form of purification from “every burden and sin that clings to us.” It may be our endurance “in running the race that lies before us,” while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus is the “leader and perfecter of faith.” As leader, he is the exemplar of faith: For the sake of the joy that lay before him [the fulfillment of his earthly mission, heavenly fulfillment] Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, and has [since] taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Protracted illness may be Jesus’ way of perfecting our faith in uniting us to his endurance of his cross, despising its pain, and looking forward to taking our place in the heavenly sanctuary. Even to the sick person, Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to come after me must take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
Those Cured Not Exempt from Following Jesus
The cured dying daughter of Jairus and the woman cured of her hemorrhaging, in all the joy of their cures based on faith, were not exempt after their cures from following Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. They, too, needed to be purified of their sins and united to the sacrifice of the Cross unto the perfection of their faith. Faith is not perfected until it unifies the believer with the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord.
God can cure to affirm faith. He can also not cure to perfect faith. Faith is perfected in loving endurance, until faith itself is perfect love. “So faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13: 13). The perfection of faith through hope is heaven’s love – the experience of God’s consummate love for me and my love in return eternally.