To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
In this Sunday’s gospel, the evangelist Mark runs two stories together. A synagogue official, Jairus is his name, goes to Jesus pleading that he come and cure his little daughter who’ s dying. Jairus is obviously an important figure in that area; people know him and immediately a crowd gathers to follow the synagogue official and Jesus to the house.
That story is interrupted by the story of a woman– we don’t know her name– who has had hemorrhages for twelve years and spent all her money on doctors. Obviously she’s poor, broke and stressed out. She pushes through the crowd on the way to Jairus’ house and touches Jesus cloak and is cured. Jesus recognizes her and calls her. “In fear and trembling” she approaches him. “Daughter,” Jesus says to her, “ your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” To Jesus the woman is his “daughter,” like the daughter of Jairus, someone who is dear to him.
Then the gospel returns to the first story. Jesus reaches Jairus’ house, the little girl is dead. They’re all mourning loudly. He raises the little girl up to life and tells them to give her something to eat.
It’s easy to say which of those two stories would make the 6 o’clock news tonight or the Daily News headlines tomorrow. Daughter of Synagogue Official Saved from Death.
You wonder why Mark’s Gospel runs those stories together the way it does? The unknown woman’s story seems to interrupt the far more dramatic story about the synagogue official’s little girl who dies and is brought back to life. Yet, Mark’s gospel puts the two stories together, seemingly to indicate that both them must be told and are somehow interconnected.
I’m thinking of these stories in the light of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment, which was published last week. That encyclical has a lot of interconnected stories too. You can concentrate on one of its dramatic highlights, like it’s urgent call to do something about climate change and either agree or disagree with the pope and pass over all the rest. But the pope’s encyclical is many sided. There’s a great deal in it. It’s about more than climate change or carbon credits or the impact it may have on our American political scene.
The pope is asking us to examine the way we look at things, the way we look at life, the way we look at nature, our common home. He wants us to examine ourselves in the light of our faith, but also in the view of the realities of life today. The encyclical is addressed primarily to Catholics, but he’s asking all people to look at what it means to live together on this planet now.
Encyclicals are long letters, densely constructed, and this one is too, 184 pages. But if you take your time and go through it slowly, and that’s hard because so many of us like our news in sound bites, you will find it’s stimulating and challenging. I’m sure we are going to be exposed to the “stories” in this encyclical in the months and years to come. I don’t think it’s going to go away.
The encyclical is on the internet. You can get it on the Vatican website, and I’m sure you’ll find it in print very shortly.
The pope’s language is strong, but remember the pope’s a preacher, and they say a preacher is supposed to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
It’s not just governments, or corporations and communities and systems he’s challenging. It’s all of us. We “have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism that makes it difficult to see the world as it is, particularly the world of the poor.” He’s asking us to see the world as it’s interconnected.
For the pope, the environment is not just nature, but nature and human society together. He’s calling, not just for awareness, but an awareness that translates into new habits. (209) He’s asking for an “ecological conversion. It’s not enough to think about these things; we need to change our ways.
And changing our ways and our lives is always hard. We get used to the way we live, the ways we think and the way we are.
On final thing to remember about this encyclical: the pope wants us to look at things with an eye on the poor, the poor that are close by and the global poor who live in places we never see or hear about. In his letter, the pope sometimes refers to poor as the “excluded,” they don’t enter into our world or our planning or our thinking. But they should.
And maybe that’s why this Sunday’s gospel is so pertinent. The two stories in it are about two worlds. Jairus the synagogue official is someone people know. He has a name, and Jesus goes to his house and raises his daughter to life. The poor woman who comes up to Jesus in the crowd has no name. She lives in fear and trembling. But Jesus calls her “daughter,” she’s his daughter too, and she will not be turned away.