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Some episodes in Scripture are more than ordinarily relatable to our lived experience. Take, for instance, this Sunday’s Gospel stories about a 12-year-old child who is near death and a woman who is in need of a healing touch after a dozen years of suffering. Mark interweaves and recounts both of their stories at the same time. 

If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured. (Mk 5:28)

Liturgical day
Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
Wis 1:13–2:24, Ps 30, 2 Cor 8:7-15, Mk 5:21-43

Can you recall one small act of goodness in this past week?

How might you reach out in faith to touch Jesus’ clothes this week?

Does fear play a greater role in your life than your faith?

It is interesting that Jesus is called “the teacher” in today’s Gospel, when in fact this passage presents a bold Jesus more as a healer. In fact, two different healing stories are being told at once. In the beginning of the passage a desperate father, Jairus, who was also a synagogue official, comes to Jesus with a specific request for his daughter’s desperate condition. “Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live” (Mk 5:23). More than any other Gospel, the author of Mark frequently recounts the act of touch—“lay your hands”—for the purpose of healing (see Mk 6:5; 7:32-35; 8:23; and 16:18). The laying on of hands was not a great deed of wonder but a common practice and one that Jesus frequently used for his mission to heal and restore within the kingdom of God.

At first glance, the readings seem focused on the possibility of life after death: for instance, Jairus’s 12-year-old daughter who has passed away. “Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?” (Mk 5:35). Jesus “resuscitates” her but does not “resurrect” the child.

Resurrection was a novel belief in the ancient world in the common person’s thinking about life after death. That some few illustrious folks could continue on after death was an acceptable religious belief. What happened to the common person remained an unsettled point, especially within the Jewish tradition. In a later biblical period, as in the first reading for today’s Mass from the Book of Wisdom, the idea of immortality for the common person of faith who lived a just life was gaining traction: “For God formed us to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made us” (Wis 2:23). This point was debated, according to the New Testament, between the Pharisees, who believed in the resurrection of body and soul, and the Sadducees, who rejected the belief. 

There are elements of the restoration and hints of the resurrection from the bold healing of the 12-year-old girl, without a doubt, but this does not overshadow the laying on of hands request for healing through touch. This is confirmed with the interjection of another story. A woman who had suffered internal bleeding for 12 years touches Jesus’ clothes with the hope for some change to her present situation. Her act of touch manifests an internal desperation to be well again. It also brings a kind of unexpected tension into the passage while Jesus is on his way to heal Jairus’s daughter. “Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’” (Mk 5:30). She believed enough in Jesus through a simple gesture of reaching out to touch, nothing extraordinary. She believed and was healed of her affliction. Jesus sees her faith: “Daughter, your faith has saved you” (Mk 5:34).

As Mark interweaves these two healing stories focused on the simple act of touch or laying of hands, one finds that Jesus also weaves together his role as teacher and healer. For in his frequent acts of healing, Jesus teaches about the extreme horizons of the faith through simple gestures like holding a sick person’s hand. The disciples are struggling to understand that their teacher’s healing mission at that moment is tied to the bigger questions that involve life after death. What he says to the scared Jairus he also says to his disciples both then and now: “Do not be afraid; just have faith” (Mk 5:36). 

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