13th Sunday In Ordinary Time
Cycle B | 01/07/18
Wis. 1: 13-15, 2: 23-24
2 Cor. 8: 7-15
Mk. 5: 21-43
INTRODUCTION: One of the most puzzling doctrines of the Church is grounded on our 1st reading of today from the Book of Wisdom and is given a kind of narrative amplification in the Gospel. “God did not make death…For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” (Wis. 1:13; 2: 23-24)
(1) How odd this statements are! For death is the most natural thing around! Every living thing dies: trees, plants, insects die! We human beings are no exception to this rule. We are part of the natural world and that world includes death. What could God have meant when he says that he did not make death when it is evidently clear that he did? Are we back to the mythological understanding of things? How can it be that death entered through sin?
It is very important that we put these things in a wide perspective. Death should not be taken here simply in a physical sense as the dissolution of the body. Death is that whole psychological, spiritual, and physical phenomena that we sinners experience. All our experience of death is always connected with sin.
What is death like for us sinners? At the prospect of physical death, we sinners recoil in horror. How come? Because we have become alienated from God through sin. Cut off from God, or at least ambiguous as regards to him, we have the tendency to see death simply as the end or as something unknown and the unknown terrifies us.
We find ourselves unable to surrender and to trust and this leads to a terrible fear of death. This is the death that God did not invent. This is the death that in the words of St. Paul is the wages of sin.
(2) Can we get any idea of what death would be like for someone who never sinned? Yes, we have the example of the Blessed Mother. Popular piety from ancient times has spoken about the dormition (falling asleep) of Mary; not about her death. There is a church in Jerusalem called Church of the Dormition. Mary didn’t die; she just fell asleep!
What does this mean? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church in no. 966: “Finally the Immaculate Virgin, preserved from all stain of original sin, when the course of her earthly life was finished, was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory.”
The sinless Virgin Mary was not meant to live on this earth forever and ever. She was meant to die. How eloquent that her transition from this earthly life to death is not called death in the early tradition of the Church but dormition, one like falling asleep: effortless and without pain like when we sleep at night confident that we will wake up next morning. Mary’s Assumption into heaven is described in ancient devotion as a falling asleep without the accompanying fear we sinners experience in death.
(3) With this as background, let us read the Gospel about the raising of the daughter of Jairus. There are two details that is worth noting. One is while on the way to the house of Jairus, people met the group with the news that his daughter has died, why bother the teacher further? Jesus disregards the report and tells Jairus: “Do not be afraid! Just have faith.”
Death is what terrifies us the most. This is what terrifies us sinners. In the face of our fiercest fear, Jesus tells Jairus “Just have faith.” Trust is the attitude of someone without sin. That is what God planned from the beginning so that our transition from this earth would become like just a falling asleep.
The second thing of note is Jesus noticed the people wailing and crying out loudly. These are the professional mourners hired just for that on such occasions. Jesus tells the mourners: “The child is not dead but asleep.” The people laughed at him. Mark preserves the Aramaic “Talitha Koum” expression, holding the hand of the girl as if to wake her up. The mourners see death as something so terrible that they wail. Jesus, on the other hand, sees death in God’s perspective as a falling asleep in anticipation of man’s transition to the next life.
CONCLUSION: God sees death like a falling into sleep. God did not invent death as something terrible. A sinless person like the Blessed Mother experiences death as a peaceful falling asleep. The way of Christ enables us to face death in trust rather than in fear.
Most Rev. Antonio R. Tobias, DD
Bishop of Novaliches