Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time • Year B

John D. Merkelis, O.S.A.
Providence Catholic High School
New Lenox, Illinois

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

I remember it like it was yesterday: a very competitive basketball game between the Augustinians and the Passionists during our years studying Theology. In the course of our heated contest, one of my opponents swiped at the ball but hit my eye by accident. I crumpled to the ground in pain, and then panicked when I opened my eye and saw. . . . nothing! I lost sight for several precious minutes, and the ensuing fear and anxiety was paralyzing. I knelt, putting a hand over my eye, on the verge of hysteria. The only thing I remember in the immediate aftermath is the hand of my friend, placed on my shoulder, a reassuring gesture of presence and prayer. I felt calm and consoled. My sight fully returned later.

Touch is a powerful sensation. In today’s readings, there are several examples and types of touch. Jairus is a “synagogue official” whose daughter is “at the point of death.” Although he is an authorized representative of Judaism, Jairus is also a caring parent whose daughter is sick. What do you suppose it took for him to reach out to Jesus, an itinerant preacher already on the radar screen of the Jewish and Roman authorities? Parents will do whatever is humanly possible to provide for the health and well-being of their children. His heart must be hurting deeply for him to break ranks and reach out to Jesus. But his heart is also full of trust, as he pleads (on his knees, in front of Jesus) for Jesus to heal his daughter. Jesus’ heart must have been touched deeply by such a display of emotion, to follow Jairus home with the intention to restore a young girl to health.

In the meantime, a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years (we should probably pause and let that line sink in!) quietly approaches Jesus. She spent all her resources on doctors with no results. She heard about Jesus, and this may be her last opportunity. The reading does not imply she is in despair; in fact, she has a strong conviction that she will be cured simply by touching Jesus’ clothes. Imagine, for a moment, the joyful anticipation that fills her heart. Because of the crowd, she can gain access to Jesus without being detected. Her dream of health and wholeness can be realized with no one being the wiser. Mission accomplished! But something else is revealed – Jesus’ healing power can happen without his intention. The faith of the believer is enough, and the vehicle for transmission is touch. Another “touching” scene follows, as the woman kneels before Jesus and tells him the truth. Expecting to be reprimanded, she is praised for her deep faith.

Jesus then arrives at the house of Jairus, and there is an exchange with those who have gathered to mourn the little girl, who is presumed dead. This time, it is the faith of the parents that is operative. Jesus takes the child by the hand, and she is healed. Once again, touch plays a significant part. There are several take-aways to this beautiful passage.

  • Approach Jesus with our woundedness. Everyone who humbly and sincerely asks for healing will receive it; not always in the form expected, but in a way that is nonetheless helpful and life-changing.
  • Express your faith in His loving kindness. I am embarrassed to admit that I often do not show the deep trust that Jairus, or the woman in today’s story, or (in other stories) the centurion, or the friends of the paralytic demonstrate when they seek Jesus’ help. Can we pray with confidence, expressing our firm belief that Jesus will help and heal us if we but ask?
  • I have spent a great deal of time and energy developing a callous over my emotional side. This is partly the result of living with an alcoholic parent, and partly the natural desire to be less vulnerable in a world where we experience hurt and fear. As scary as vulnerability can be, it can also be the touchpoint for an encounter with the Holy. Jesus was not afraid to lead with his heart when he encountered people in pain. Can I recognize this gift and be more understanding, and less defensive, in my interaction with others?

This story accurately and genuinely reflects the common human experience that some of our most beautiful moments happen between tasks, moments that may seem to be a kind of distraction or happenstance. Lord, help us be attentive to the times You reach out to us while we are busy doing something else. Jesus’ trip to the home of Jairus was interrupted by a magnificent moment; give us the grace to spot these opportunities as they unfold.

As disciples of Jesus, we can play a vital role in the transmission of God’s healing grace. Whether it is by intercession (Jairus and his wife on behalf of their daughter) or by personal contact (a friend putting his hand on my shoulder), we touch the lives of people around us spiritually as well as physically.

I’ll close with an observation from Rachel Naomi Remen, a physician whose story, “Kissing the Boo-Boo,” is cited by John Shea in The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers (p.167). Dr. Remen is speaking with a friend, and notes, “Even children instinctively run to others when they fall down.” The friend replies, “Yes, I’ve never understood that. It’s so silly. Kissing the boo-boo doesn’t help the pain at all.” Dr. Remen was stunned by the answer, and responds, “It doesn’t help the pain. It helps the loneliness.”

Perhaps the most powerful gift that our healing touch provides is the reassurance that those in pain are not alone.