This Sunday we have the choice of reading from the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Mark a longer or a shortened version with fewer verses. I happen to believe that the more scripture we hear the more we can understand what God is telling us about himself and how we are to respond to what he reveals. No matter which version you hear this week’s favorite homily theme will be about faith. As we listen to the longer version of Mark’s gospel we will hear Jesus commenting on faith. The story starts with a father’s desperate plea to help overcome a hopeless obstacle. We can feel the desperation that motivated Jarius to get through the large crowd that has gathered around Jesus so that he could plea for his daughter’s life. He knows his only hope is Jesus performing one of his miracles to heal his daughter.
The story then includes another silent plea for help from a woman who is also hopeless and desperate. Both stories are examples of faith in action. The woman’s story shows faith overcoming the obstacles put up by others which would prevent her encountering the power of God . The story of Jesus is one where the obstacle to faith was the utter hopelessness of the situation causing one to simply give up on God’s ability to act.
While Jesus is on the way to Jarius’ house, a woman who has been afflicted for twelve years dares to touch him. The Jewish law dictates that because she is unclean she cannot touch or be near anyone. The law further dictates that if anyone would get near her, she must shout out “unclean, unclean.” Yet she dared violate the law and pushed through the crowd to get near enough to Jesus just to touch him. I suspect she believed just touching his clothing would heal her. Then she would slip away without anyone knowing she was there. But Jesus knew he was touched and because he knew she was bold enough to come forward and tell the whole story. By coming to Jesus she was exposed to the penalty of the law and yet she came forward. Her restoration was complete because of her act of faith knowing she could trust Jesus to overcome the illness and the violation of the law.
While this was going on time had expired for Jarius’ daughter – she dies. Those who were with her as she died now come to Jarius with the sad news and tell him not to bother Jesus any longer. How can you console a father after he hears the news that his daughter died before he could get home? Jesus simply tells Jarius to have faith. Those are the same words he spoke to us when he told us “…have faith in me” (Jn. 14:1).
Here is the challenge for us as Christians – I do not believe it is in having faith but it is in acting on our faith that makes a difference in experiencing the power of God in our lives. The woman in this story acted on her faith and was healed. Jarius numbed by the news of the death of his daughter responded to the words of Jesus and he saw the power of God.
We all have a faith we act on each and every day. if we did not we would not make future plans for vacations, book cruises months in advance, buy tickets to future concerts or make plans for going south for the coming winter. We have faith in these kinds of things but can we now put that faith into action by trusting God to act in our lives in miraculous ways?
It is easy for the church to talk about faith and encourage you to attend “Adult Faith Formation” programs in order to grow in faith. But to do that puts faith in our ability to learn how to be faithful Catholic’s, to learn theology or to learn about faith. Faith as we see it in this gospel is an activity of action in spite of obstacles that tell us no. Faith as we see it in this gospel is a belief that challenges the boundaries of our experience of God.
Faith should have us living our daily lives in a way that leaves no doubt about what we believe. But do we have enough faith to trust that God will act in our lives in powerful and dramatic ways? Do we dare to pray for miracles and expect God to act? I will tell you that my experience is that there are more of us whose sentiments are “I hope” rather than “I believe.” Maybe like the woman and Jarius we need to become desperate in order to seek Jesus.
I know from experience that we will see more of the power of God displayed when we violate the “expected behavior” like the woman and Jarius did. In order to exhibit our faith like they did we have to have to desire what Jesus offers to us. We must become desperate for Jesus because we have a longing for more. That woman and Jarius in today’s gospel were both desperate and went to Jesus.
A spiritual director once told me that as long as we trust in ourselves we will never know how much we need Jesus. It is like a swimmer who goes to the beach daily, waves at the life guard and swims away from the shore without another thought about the life guard. But then one day while swimming they have a cramp and begin to sink; they then know that if the life guard does not get to them they will drown. At that moment they become desperate for that life guard to come to them. It is that kind of desperation that we need for Christ to come to us. Once we become that desperate we can allow Jesus to take our life in his hands and it is then that we begin to live a life of faith.