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The Master of Life and Death

Homily for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Master of Life and Death

Of all the mysteries that we ponder through the Scriptures, the mystery of life and death is perhaps the one that occupies more time than any other. In the Gospels, there are several incidents where Jesus raises up those who were thought to be dead; the servant of the Roman centurion, the daughter of Jairus, the son of the widow of Nain, and Lazarus, the friend of Jesus. There can be no doubt that the evangelists were fascinated by the mystery of life and death and Jesus’ power over it.

Although the four individuals I just named were brought back to life through Jesus’ touch and words, they also eventually did die just as all living things do. In fact, careful reading of both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures reveals that whenever the topic of death is raised, the sacred writers are not telling us that biological death is the result of sin. Rather they are speaking of spiritual or moral death; that is, separation from God.

This may be hard for us to accept as most of us have been brought up thinking that God created humanity to be immortal and that immortality was lost when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Book of Wisdom seems to say just that. However, one slight clue that we might be misreading the text lies in a single verse that reads: “The creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the netherworld on earth.” After each act of creation, the Book of Genesis records that God looked at what had been created and said, “This is good.” However, we sinful humans have managed to created poisons and dangerous drugs from the good that God created. So the Scripture must be speaking of death on a different scale than biological. The other clue lies in the fact that the Book of Genesis tells us that God made humanity from the dust of the earth. Dust, the product of decay, is the very symbol of biological death.

All of humanity was created to live with God forever. This is the immortality of which the Scriptures speak. Life means being in God’s presence. This is precisely what was lost when sinned entered the world. This fact is clearly indicated by the Book of Genesis which tells us that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden after they disobeyed God’s command. They could no longer live with God. This was moral or spiritual death rather than biological death.

The Gospel for today tells two stories: one of a man who publically implores for the life of his daughter, another of a woman who surreptitiously touches Jesus in the hopes of being healed. These two represent both biological death as well as spiritual death. The girl is lifeless. She has ceased to draw breath. She is biologically dead. The woman is not biologically dead, but because of her flow of blood she is considered ritually impure, unclean. As such she is separated from the community and communal worship. Jesus intervenes in both situations. He raises the little girl to life again and restores her to her family. He also recognizes that power has gone out of him and has dried up the woman’s flow of blood. She is restored to her family as well. Jesus has power over both kinds of death. His healing touch is life giving. Notice that in both instances, the lynchpin is faith. 

All of us will die one day. Some will live long lives, but they will eventually go to the grave like every other human being before them. However, for those who put their faith in Jesus as did Jairus and the unnamed woman, we will never be separated from God. In the eyes of the Hebrew Scriptures, this is the only kind of life that is worthwhile.

The Gospel also relates that the crowd ridiculed Jesus when he declared that the girl was not dead. Unfortunately, people are still ridiculing those who believe in Jesus and his power over death. Notice that Jesus raised the little girl in secret with only a few witnesses. Jesus excludes those who do not believe. They will never know exactly what happened. This action on Jesus’ part is a warning to all who would ridicule faith.

Adam and Eve separated themselves from God by their willful disobedience. This kind of death is still in our midst. We, however, are here as we are every Sunday to receive the Bread of Life, our surety that we will never be separated from God as long as we believe.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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