Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Image: Daughter of Jairus by Joseph Brickey (Click on image for larger version)

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(Scripture readings for today's liturgy)

The superstitious say, “trouble comes in threes”
and many have applied that to the deaths this past week
of Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson.

But the rule of three is upset now
by news of the death of the daughter of Jairus!

(The scripture fails to give us this young girl’s name,
so for our purposes here, let’s call her Rachel.)

It may seem anachronistic to include Rachel
among this week’s more recent obituaries
but her status as a biblical celebrity spans two millennia,
a record today’s stars still have a long way to go to challenge.

Rachel’s fame, of course, is based not in her talent or popularity
but rather in her relationship to Jesus.
Had Jesus not entered her life as he did,
it’s likely we would never have heard of her.

But Jesus did come into her life, not at her request,
but at the pleading, the prayer of others
and he entered Rachel’s life when she was at least in a deep coma
-- if not dead.

And there’s a message for us.

Nothing can impede the Lord’s desire to be in our lives,
nothing can keep him out: not sin, not even death.
Jesus even enters the lives of those who are not looking for him,
who are not conscious or aware of him or his love for them.

Curiously, Jesus instructs Rachel’s family to "tell no one"
what he has done for them.
Obviously, they didn’t do a good job of keeping his secret:
if they had, we would not be hearing this story today.

Jesus told them to keep quiet about what he’d done
because he understood that its full meaning
would not be revealed or understood
until he himself rose from the dead.

We know of Rachel because Jesus entered her life
and her story is still with us not on its own merits
but because the story of Jesus is still with us:
her story is part of his story,
just as our story is part of his story, even today.

Jesus raised Rachel, Lazarus,
the widow's son in Naim and others from death
as a sign, a preview of his own rising from the dead.
In the light of Jesus rising on Easter
we see that the gift of life-after-death given to Rachel
is the gift of life Christ offers all of us,
even if we are unaware, not eveconscious, of his desire
to enter our hearts, to share his life with us.

I wonder if anyone here who does believe that trouble comes in threes
was miffed because I referred to that as superstition?

Well, I won’t retract that but I will point out
that the other unnamed woman in today’s gospel
(and let’s call her Rebecca) had her own superstition
which didn’t keep her from Jesus -- or Jesus from her.

Rebecca superstitiously believed that there was healing
- in Jesus’ clothes.

She also appears to be afraid of Jesus;
fearful of coming face to face with him
she approaches him from behind
to get what she so desperately wanted.

And Jesus did heal her -
but the healing didn't come from his clothes.
He makes this very clear when he tells Rebecca,
“Daughter, your faith has saved you.
Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.”

As with Rachel, we know Rebecca’s story not on its own merits
but because her healing enfolds her in the story of Jesus.
Jesus works through Rebecca’s fear, her shyness,
even through a superstitious faith to enter her heart and life
-- just as he worked through Rachel’s sickness and death
to enter her life and the hearts of those around her.

In my life and yours, today,
through what is Jesus working

that he might reach us and bring us
healing, mercy and the gift of life?

Of course, sometime later, in events not recorded in the gospel,
Rebecca died… and Rachel died… again:
and then was revealed to them the fullness of healing and life
of which Jesus had already given them a taste.
What began in Rebecca’s healing, what began in Rachel’s rising
came to fulfillment in the risen Christ.

The stories of our sisters Rebecca and Rachel are still with us
because they are part of the story of Jesus.
And every week at this altar,
Jesus invites us into the same story of love and healing,
and offers us, in the Eucharist,
a glimpse of what is yet kept partly secret,
yet to be fully revealed.

In the bread and cup of this sacrament:
he heals us;
he gives us a taste and a sip of the peace that will be ours;
he invites us to become part of the life of his story,
the story of the One who will never forget us.



  1. Thanks. This was helpful to me. I love how in most homilies you remind us how these gospel stories and themes are connected to our Eucharist.
    We had a visiting priest today. It was obvious to me that he did little preparation for the homily. His thoughts were scattered and were never brought together. I was thinking it would not be a bad thing during the Year of the Priest if each diocese held classes, a review perhaps, on homiletics/preaching.

  2. This is wonderful. And of course I did EXACTLY what you reminded us against last week and got the whole family ready for...11:30 Mass. OOPS! I'm so glad your homily is available here.

  3. I'm not sure I'd call "Rebecca" shy. She knew she was ritually unclean, according to Jewish law; touching Jesus would render him unclean in his own eyes and the eyes of others. So there was some reason for her trepidation other than fear of him, or shyness; she would be acting against the law.

    Also, "healing didn't come from his clothes." We do, in fact, know that Christ had the power to heal at will. Does healing depend on the faith of the person healed? The little girl was dead; she did not perform an act of faith... Those around did not believe the Lord would raise her, although he, in his mercy, did. Also, later in the Gospel, Peter's shadow is called "healing" and Paul's apron was cut into pieces, and when the pieces were laid on the sick, they were healed. God apparently chose a material medium through which to work his miracles on these occasions. The Church today still honors relics of saints, and recourse to the relics have, at times, resulted in God exercising his healing power.

    I'm not sure "superstitious" is the correct word here, Concord Pastor.

    Irish Gal

  4. Welcome back, Irish Gal:

    You're reference to Jewish law is correct and certainly is a direction my homily might have taken. The preacher is sometimes caught between exegesis which plumbs such scriptural and cultural background and an interpretation which relates more directly to experience today. (Would it have been more valuable a preaching direction to explain how blood, and especially blood from women, was unclean in Jewish law and culture? My call on that was, no, it would not have been.)

    The gospel does mention that Rebecca finally speaks to Jesus with "fear and trembling." While ancient Jews were observant of uncleanliness on account of flows of blood, other experiences today keep folks "shy" of approaching the holy. That's what (and who) my homily was hoping to include.

    A balance is achieved, I believe,in homilies that do not deny the scripture scholar's insight (even if it goes unmentioned) and that connect the listeners to the heart of the message: here, Jesus as the source of healing and Jesus' healing and power as prelude signs (miracles) of healing, mercy and life that would be offered in his suffering, death and resurrection.

    As the homily points out, healing does not depend on the faith of the person healed. On the other hand, Jesus says quite clearly, "Daughter, your faith has saved you."

    I'm not aware of references to Peter's shadow and Paul's apron in any of the gospels but I know you can find them in Acts 5 and Acts 19.

    I regret, Irish Gal, if you heard in my homily a criticism of relics, although certainly I have often seen relics and other religious articles used in superstitious ways. Still, as I said in my text, Jesus' power will not be impeded by anything, not even superstition.

    This question would remain, however, with reference to shadows and apron scraps: was the source of the healing power in the shadow? in the cloth? in the Lord?

    I'll opt for the Lord as the source every time, regardless of how he wishes to convey that power.

    My point in the homily? It's all about Jesus, and the story of Jesus, and faith in Jesus.

    Preaching is a ministry and art form. No one homily can contain all truth and every homily refracts the truth through various images.

    Look at the graphics illustrating my homily this Sunday. One shows Jesus standing at the doorway with Rachel, Jairus and Mrs. Jairus in the foreground. The scripture clearly indicates who did and didn't enter the house of Jairus and the room where Rachel was to be found, yet some of those individuals are not in the painting. Does that lessen the value of the image? I don't think so. The image gives us a "slice" of the story and one might preach a whole homily just on the four figures in that painting and how they relate to one another and to the observer.

    Homilies are something like that. In 10-15 minutes, after hearing three scripture readings to preach on, the homilist is charged with breaking open the Word for the nourishment of all and to give the assembly reason to come to the table in thanksgiving and praise.

    I did not preach on either Wisdom or 2nd Corinthians today - although both might have made a valuable contribution to my homily. But one has only so much time: an unfortunate but real constraint.

    Feedback after Mass and in email response tells me that many people found this homily helpful on a number of different levels, in a number of different ways.

    I'm not sure that "superstitious" is the incorrect word here, Irish Gal.

  5. Dear Fr. Fleming and Irish Gal, (1 of 3)
    ----------Please read this and the continued post. I think there might be a mildly interesting tidbit or two. :) I appreciated your discussion of Jesus' ostensibly inadvertent healing, and Fr. Fleming's related homily. First, I think that it is best to define superstitious, which according to Princeton WordNet Database means, "Showing ignorance of the laws of nature and faith in magic or chance." Consequently, one must be cognizant of the laws of nature to avoid superstition, but I might add that such laws must necessarily encompass that which is the fundamental basis of all matter: spirit. I will reiterate as this is an important concept: spirit is the basis of all physical matter. Jesus said God is spirit, and that we are created in God the Father's image. Necessarily, this means that the human being is fundamentally *spiritual*.
    ----------*I am Catholic and I believe that the Catholic Christianity possesses a fullness of truth*. Christ was and is Truth, and he also spoke only in parables to the masses. Jesus is our savior; He is the son of God the Father and one in being with the indivisible one God. Everything Christ spoke was the deepest of truth, but with many parables or spiritual teachings, it is the Holy Spirit (i.e., the true teacher) that later reveals their meaning (e.g., often in deepest contemplative prayer). No religion has a monopoly on God who is infinite truth, however. There is much truth (conscious knowledge of material processes) that is tangential to or unnecessary for salvation. Only love and self-giving matter--they are expressions of that which is true faith. Christ's message is all that is necessary for salvation, and all of the rest (e.g., the theory of relativity, knowledge of photosynthesis, detailed metaphysical knowledge, etc.) is nice *but not essential*.
    ----------Related to aforementioned tangential details, we have a *soul mind* and a *soul body*; our *physical* body is just a shell that is cast aside in the process known as Earthly death. Our true bodies and our true minds are spiritual in nature, and are made of non-physical or spiritual material. For material expression, our soul minds and soul bodies interact with the body physical, and such is why organic deterioration affects material expression. The underlying soul body and mind are *not* similarly impaired. Jesus' resurrected body shows us the possibility of spirit controlling and healing physical matter.
    ----------God is omnipresent, so He is necessarily inside each of us human beings--closer than consciousness itself. This applies to all human beings, equally, regardless of any arbitrary distinctions or cognitively salient socially stratifying variables a human being might utilize. God must be inside pagans, atheists and Christians alike. To deny this is to deny the omnipresence of the infinite One God. Jesus' resurrection does not mean that it was necessary for him to resurrect his dead *physical* shell, it only shows that such is possible. Heck, in a nuclear blast, one's physical body could be entirely deatomized, and this would affect neither the soul body nor the soul mind. *Continued*

  6. [Dear Fr. Fleming and Irish Gal *cont.* (2 of 3)]
    ----------When we are in our physical bodies, our subconscious *is* our soul mind and our superconscious is the Holy Spirit (*not* us). That is why the subconscious (soul mind) never forgets whilst in the body physical. Upon death, the soul mind is the conscious mind and the Holy Spirit is the subconscious. That is why those who build a barrier of self between their soul mind and the *NON-self* Holy Spirit suffer so very much upon physical death. The tormented entity would no longer be able to hide from God's divine presence and fundamentally good nature. In essence, such an entity built their own experience of hell. In extremely polarized cases, such a process may be insurmountable, and the soul eventually loses its identity--it is figuratively consumed by purifying fire. It will still exist, but will not no itself to be itself. That is why giving up self is the only way toward true immortality. Jesus was already in Heaven before birth, and it was physical birth that initiated the process of physical growth of His physical body.
    ----------The nature of the physical Earth dimension is transient--nothing lasts. Our soul minds become attached to transient things, illusions. One such attachment is to our physical bodies. I mention this because the definition of superstitious is predicated upon the assumption of the validity of commonly accepted laws of nature. Immutable laws say radical materialists, but we religious know that Spirit (i.e., God, hence the capital S) created and has control over all *physical* matter. It is spirit (lower-case s) that sustains the body physical, but spirit does not depend upon the body physical for continued existence. *Continued*
    ----------Currently, scientists tell us that matter is 99.99999% empty space, and what appears solid is only so due to the cloud of electrons spinning in empty space around a tiny nucleus; think of the tiny electrons as extending to the edges of a giant stadium, and the nucleus being a tiny pea (much larger than the fast spinning electrons) at the center of the stadium. It is all empty. Empty, empty, empty! Spirit does not depend upon matter, but spirit can control or operate upon physical matter--just not the other way around! Jesus said not to fear those who destroy the body (physical), but to fear He who can destroy both body and soul (i.e., God).
    ----------Lastly, Jesus would most certainly NOT have thought that the woman's touch would make him unclean. How can the son of God be unclean? Jesus said that it is not what goes into our mouths that makes us unclean, but rather what comes out of our mouths. Jesus also said that the Pharisees taught human precepts as divine law. The Pharisees would have thought that such an innocent trans-gender touching act would make one unclean. Jesus would have known better! Yes, God gave us free will and out of love He respects our free will. God can do anything, to include healing one said to be faithless. However, just because God can do something does not mean that He would choose such an option. *Continued*

  7. [Dear Fr. Fleming and Irish Gal *cont.* (3 of 3)]
    ----------In this gospel scenario, is not God the Father showing us the power of faith--through his dearly beloved Son. Christ knew that all true healing comes from God, and Christ would have known the woman's thoughts--just as he knew the thoughts of the Pharisees. Everything Christ did, he did for our *spiritual* salvation and for the purpose of showing us the true nature of the one God. It was spirit that healed the woman, and the energy flowed *through* Jesus' garment. Jesus noticed the flow of energy, and that is why he turned around and queried the crowd. It was not the cloak. The cloak was physical material, so an analogy of electricity through physical copper wire might somewhat apply to the flow of healing energy that originated within the *spiritual* body of Jesus.
    ----------I think that both of you make valid points and we all know that the same coin often has two sides one might analyze. Ultimately, God *chose* to heal the woman due to her faith, as Jesus would not have spoken an untruth. Did God have to heal the faithful woman? No, God does not have to do anything, but everything He does he does for our *spiritual* betterment. God bless both of you, and may He continue to both of you and all of our wounded souls. All of our souls are hemorrhaging-- hemorrhaging the love that God continues to give us, but that we squander on the illusory *self*. Serviam.
    ----------Sincerely, Jesse Hofseth

  8. Irish Gal: I hope you're reading the other post (Four takes on one gospel) - seems like you may have more folks on your side of this debate than I have on mine.

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  10. Readers:

    Please know that I read and publish (or reject) comments in the order in which they arrive. I recently published a comment only to find that a subsequent comment from the same reader asked me not to publish the first which I had already posted. Not too much time had intervened so I doubt that many had seen the comment the reader asked me to remove. Just be sure before you hit "Publish Your Comment" that that's what you want to do. I write this only because a longer time might intervene between my reading of two comments and result in the publication of a comment that a reader did not want made public.


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