He Didn’t Come to Dazzle Us with Miracles

13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – July 1, 2018

Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Psalm 30:2-6, 11-13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Have you ever had a near death experience? Was there ever an experience you had when you thought or just felt, “This could be it.” I remember when I was younger and still learning to swim, I would go down the water-slide at the swimming pool. And there was a lifeguard at the bottom with his rescue tube, catching the kids who couldn’t swim and helping them to the ladder. Well, one time I went down the slide and missed the rescue tube. There I was, in water too deep for me to touch the bottom, no support; I started thrashing around. It’s hard to describe the feeling: just complete and utter hopelessness; the overwhelming fear and terror; and then that very real and visceral thought that comes into your very being: “This could be it.” 

Being confronted with death in such a real and tangible way is terrifying. But if we look at our experiences, we can see that this fear manifests itself in many others ways and in many other places of our life. Maybe it was a moment when you were drowning. Or maybe it is something more simple: the dread of missing out on something fun that your friends are doing; or the need to accomplish something with your life or to be successful; maybe it’s a fear for your children, a fear for their safety; maybe it’s not being able to have children and the feeling of finitude that it brings; or maybe it’s just the anxieties of life, the fear of life, of being alone, of not being known (1). And this is a vicious cycle! Because as much as we want to be free from it, it is life itself that awakens that fear and keeps it alive (2).

The readings we have today all focus on this issue of death, our fear of death, and what the presence and action of Jesus does to overcome it. And to put it quite simply: Jesus comes to conquer and destroy death, or rather, to free us from our slavery to the fear of death (c.f., Heb. 2:15). We can miss this simple point, though, because we get caught up in the miracles Jesus is performing, and we forget why he does them at all. Jesus did not come with the sole intention of performing miracles, or of traveling around Galilee fixing particular terrible and tragic situations; no, Jesus came: to give us confidence in the fact that, in and through him, death is not the end; to assure us that death has no power over anyone who has faith in him; to concretely show that our fear of death had no grounds when our faith in him is solidly grounded.

Take for instance the woman with the hemorrhage. For twelve years this woman had been afflicted, for twelve years her very life-blood had been pouring out, for twelve years she could not have children or even be a real part of the community. She would have been an outcast, alone, poor, and not truly known by anyone. But she had heard of this man Jesus from Nazareth. She had heard about the many signs he had performed. But most importantly, she had faith that God was working through him. And so she goes to him, seeking only to touch his clothes. The question Jesus asks is not made in anger, but one of great amazement. He does not ask, “Who has touched my clothes?” so that he can scold her. No, he asks, “Who here has such faith to merely touch my clothes, knowing that this would be enough to heal them?” It is in amazement and joy in the face of this woman’s faith that Jesus proclaims, “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” The miracle Jesus performs is not to show how powerful he is, but to show how powerful faith in him is, to show how transformative that radical faith can truly be.

Now, if I were you, right now I’d be saying, “Yeah, that’s nice, Father, but…” And I get it. But bear with me, because we see it all again with Jairus and the raising up of his daughter. This story is the climax of several other miracles related to death that Saint Mark gave us: the rescuing of the disciples from almost certain death in the storm, the rescuing of a man living death among tombs, the restoring of a woman whose life was bleeding away, and now the raising up from death of the daughter of Jairus (3). And the child is not just in danger of death, but actually dies. The greatest fear all parents has cometrue: their child has died. But what is the first things Jesus says? He says, “Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid, only believe, have faith. Place your trust and confidence in me. Entrust all of this to me, put your faith and confidence in me.” This event, quite like all the other events, is not about the miracle! It is about faith, confidence, and trust in Jesus. Even when faced with the evidence of death, it is about placing our faith, confidence, and trust “in God who brings his creation back to new life in and through Jesus” (4).

This is what the miracles are for! The miracles show that in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God is present and continuing to break-in to every part of reality, even death itself. The miracles are visible evidence of the power of faith in Jesus Christ. The miracles do not produce faith, but are the evidence of it. Jesus himself said, “even if one were to rise from the dead” (Luke 16:21), those who lack faith will still not believe (c.f., John 4:48; 12:37).

So what do we base our faith on? Quite simply, we base it on the fact that God became man, on the fact that God has proven the depths of his love for us through sending his own Son. “Though he was rich, for our sake he became poor, so that by his poverty we might become rich” (c.f., 2 Cor. 8:9). He came not just to perform a miracle and magically save us from death, but he actually came and shared our human condition, our experience of the fear of death, and even experienced death itself–the worst of all deaths. And it was through that death that he destroyed the one who has the power over death, and thus freed us from our slavery to the fear of death (c.f., Heb. 2:14-15).

When we come to mass, this is what we celebrate. We pray in the Mystery of Faith, “Save us, Savior of the world, for by your Cross and Resurrection you have set us free.” You have set us free, delivered us from our fear of death itself, delivered us from every evil. We need no longer feel that “this could be it,” that death is the end, because he has given us every reason to place our confidence in him that he has overcome even death itself. And for this, we give him thanks and praise through this celebration of his death and resurrection.

Daughter of Jairus at Magdala
Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus (mosaic at Magdala, Israel)
Magdala Encounter Chapel
The woman reaching out to touch Jesus (from the Encounter Chapel at Magdala, Israel)

Footnotes:

  1. C.f., Twenty-One Pilots, “Goner” from the Album Blurry Face.
  2. C.f., Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death, 66.
  3. C.f., Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark, 110.

  4. Kereszty, Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, 117.

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