Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B

Kevin F. Dwyer, O.S.A.
St. Augustine Friary
Andover, Massachusetts

Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24
Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mk 5:21-43 or 5:21-24, 35b-43

Ask this question of people who are somewhat familiar with the contents of the four Gospels: What command does Jesus give to His followers the most during His public ministry? You probably will get answers like: Love your neighbor as yourself. Do not murder. Do not lie. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

While these are commendable, they are all wrong. The command that Jesus gives His followers the most during His public ministry is: Do not be afraid. Today’s Gospel reading is a case in point. Jesus said to the synagogue official: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.”

It is very important to note that this is a quote from the Gospel according to Mark. Mark was the constant companion of Peter in the early Church. He also served as Peter’s translator when Peter’s Aramaic needed to be translated into Greek for Greek-speaking audiences.

Most, if not all, biblical scholars are of the opinion that Mark’s Gospel is the best eyewitness account of Jesus’ public ministry because of what the scholars label the “Markan details.” Today’s reading contains just such a detail: He took the child by the hand and said to her “Talitha koum,” which means Little girl, I say to you, arise! The little girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. He said . . . that she should be given something to eat.

Only someone who was there – Peter – would be able to recall the exact words that Jesus said. The same goes for the other Markan details. (1) He took her by the hand. (2) The little girl was 12-years-old. (3) She gets up and walks around. (4) Jesus says that she should be given something to eat.

You can just picture Peter telling his early audiences about what happened that day. He is reliving it, and Mark is writing down everything that Peter says. When you think about it, eyewitness accounts even today contain details that are similar. For example, I was sitting in my car at the corner of such and such streets eating my lunch, when this huge truck went through a red light and crashed into a car in the intersection. Sitting in one’s car, eating one’s lunch etc.? No need for the investigating police office to include that in the accident report!

Do not be afraid appears 70 times in the New Testament. This does not include many variants such as the comforting words Courage. It is I. (Mk. 6:50) that Jesus told His disciples after He had walked on the water of the lake. In another variant, He tells His disciples about His impending death: Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . . (John 14:27)

If you consult a thesaurus for synonyms for the word “fear,” you find terms like: terror, fright, horror, alarm, panic, trepidation, dread, distress, anxiety and worry. In today’s reading Jesus gives us the antidote for all of these. He not only tells the synagogue leader not to be afraid, but also to have faith. The two go hand in hand. Faith, as we all know, is a gift from God, and St. Augustine cautions us about taking it for granted. Woe to . . . a [Christian] unless the Lord safeguards his/her faith. (Enarr. in Ps. 120.2)

In the 21st century, do we have anything in common with the synagogue official? Of course we do. We fear the death of our loved ones too. We also fear nuclear war, riots, looting, climate change, pandemics, wildfires, tsunamis – the list goes on.

Can we do anything to allay our fears in this day and age? Yes. We do it at every Mass when, after we finish saying the Our Father, the celebrant, in our name, says Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil . . . and [keep us] from all distress. From today on, resolve at every Mass to recall all those synonyms for fear, and mirror in your lives the faith of the synagogue official. He obviously did what Jesus told Him to do, and so should we.