Year B – 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Jairus and Two Daughters

(Wis.1:13-15, 2:23-24; 2Cor.8:7, 9, 13-15; Mk.5:21-43)

Today’s Gospel is crafted like a sandwich. It gives us the story of Jairus’ daughter, and in the middle of it we’re given another story about a suffering woman.

Both stories have something to teach us about our faith.

They begin with Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee and meeting a crowd of people on the other shore. Jairus is in that crowd. He falls to his knees and begs Jesus to save his dying daughter.

Sometimes we are like Jairus, desperately asking Jesus for help.

Notice how Jesus responds. He listens to Jairus, but He makes him wait. Jesus could have healed the girl immediately, just as He healed the Centurion’s servant in Capernaum. But He delays. Why? One reason is because Jesus wants Jairus to spend time with Him. But He also wants him to learn.

Sometimes we, too, have to wait when we pray for something, and sometimes that waiting is for a long time. Perhaps we’re praying for the wrong thing, or maybe Jesus simply wants us to develop patience and trust, and to go much, much deeper into our faith.

If Jesus always gave us quick solutions, how often would we simply return to our ordinary lives, unchanged? Clearly, Jesus wants us to grow.

Happily, from time to time while we’re waiting, He sends us encouraging signs. That’s what happens to Jairus today. As he walks with Jesus towards his house, Jairus sees Jesus heal someone else. He witnesses Jesus healing the suffering woman. Seeing that strengthens Jairus’ faith and it puts a spring in his step.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you seen or heard about someone else being helped while you were waiting for your own prayers to be answered? This is a gift, an encouraging sign meant to help us keep going. 

In today’s second story – the filling in the sandwich – we meet a woman who has been suffering for years. She knows all about waiting, and she has tried everything to solve her own problem. Now she realises that her only hope is Jesus, and this has given her profound faith.

She is convinced that all she has to do is touch Jesus, and she’ll be healed.  And that’s exactly what happens: she touches Jesus’ cloak and she’s instantly healed.

This famous story emphasises the importance of patience and trust, and it reminds us of the importance of touch.

When that woman reaches out to touch Jesus, He feels His power drain from Him. ‘Who touched me?’ He asks. The disciples think He’s just being silly, because they were all inside a bustling crowd. But being accidentally nudged is not the same as a personal, believing touch, for touch can be incredibly powerful: it can heal; it can console, and as Helen Keller discovered, it can teach, as well.

Helen Keller (1880 – 1968) caught meningitis before she was two years old, and it left her deaf and blind. The only way her teacher could communicate with her and teach her how to read, write and speak was through touch.

One day, she put Helen’s hand under the water pump, and with her finger repeatedly signed w-a-t-e-r on her palm. Through touch, she found a way to break through to Helen and unlock her brilliant mind.

Touch became Helen Keller’s lifeline to the world, just as it’s an important link between ourselves and those we love.

And touch is an important element in our relationship with Jesus, too. You might not have thought about it much, but every time you come forward for the Holy Eucharist, you stretch out your hands to receive Jesus Himself.

Are you aware of this? Do you feel Jesus’ personal touch when you receive Him at Communion? And does Jesus feel your loving touch in return?

Or is it all just a mindless gesture?

There is so much wisdom embedded in our two sandwiched Gospel stories today. Jairus’ prayer was answered, but he had to wait. And while he waited he received an encouraging sign that strengthened his faith.

The suffering woman had to wait, too, and that waiting convinced her that the only answer to her prayers was Jesus Himself.  

And both stories demonstrate the importance of a loving touch. Jesus reaches out to touch Jairus’ daughter, and she is healed. The suffering woman reaches out to touch Jesus, and she too is healed.

When we reach out to receive the Holy Eucharist today, let’s remember that we’ll be touching Jesus Himself.

Let’s do so with deep reverence, faith, and love.

Year B – 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Surviving the Storm

(Job 38:1, 8-11; 2Cor.5:14-17; Mk.4:35-41)

Many people love the sea; they’re fascinated by its colour, its power and its life, while others fear it. They’re scared of its sharks, shipwrecks and unstable nature. 

In Biblical times, people found the sea frightening. They thought it was dangerous and believed that only God can tame it. Indeed, God does tame it in Genesis 1:6-10.

In Exodus, God also divides the Red Sea (14:21-22). And in Revelation, we’re told there will be ‘no more sea’ when God’s peace finally descends on a ‘new earth and new heaven’ (Rev.21:1).

This is the background to Mark’s Gospel today. Jesus is tired, having taught and healed all day in Galilee. As He takes His disciples across the Sea of Galilee to the land of the Gentiles, a storm erupts. Big waves lash their little boat, and the men are terrified. They turn to Jesus and find Him asleep: ‘Master, don’t you care?’ they ask.

Jesus wakes up and replies, ‘Why are you so frightened? Why do you have no faith?’ He then calms the storm.

Year B - 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time 1

We all face storms in our lives. Sometimes it’s merely bad weather; and sometimes it’s personal storms, like financial, health or relationship troubles, or the turmoil of anxiety and depression.

For many people, this is the only time they turn to God. The rest of the time they ignore Him. However, there’s a problem with this approach, for if we don’t connect with God when all is calm, we’re unlikely to find Him when we’re in trouble. We’re much more likely to panic.

Many people today also think that if God truly is with them, if He genuinely cares about them, then there’d be no storms at all. And if a storm does arrive, they think that simply proves that God either isn’t there or He just doesn’t love them.

Today’s Gospel tells us that this thinking is wrong, for Jesus is present when the storm hits His disciples. Indeed, His presence doesn’t stop the storm; it just helps the disciples to know that He’s in it with them.

We know that difficulties are a natural part of life. Even Jesus’ life was never trouble-free, and He warns us that anyone following Him can expect to face ‘tribulation, distress and suffering’ (Jn.16.33).

But He also promises to help us. ‘I will not leave you as orphans,’ Jesus says, ‘I will come to you’ (Jn.14:18).

In Deuteronomy, too, we read: ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified … for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you’ (31:6).

So, we remember that God is always with us. But what else can we do to weather these unpleasant storms?

In his book Captured Fire, Joseph Krempa says that today’s readings offer us some useful guidelines.

Our first reading from the Book of Job, for example, reminds us that all storms have limits; they always pass, however intense they may be. The Lord knows the limits of our tolerance, Krempa says. Any storm, the Lord says as in Job, ‘thus far shall you come and no further.’

And as we wait out the storm, Krempa tells us that it’s important that we keep praying. And even if our prayer sometimes seems ineffective, we need to keep our hand on the tiller because our prayer life will give us the stability we need in any turbulence.

Krempa also says that during a storm is not the time to change direction. We should not make any serious life-changing decisions during times of deep anxiety or loss, he says. The storm is not the time to make a major career change, to write a difficult letter or to rearrange our finances. Such changes can be made when calm returns and we can think clearly.

And finally, he points out that in our second reading, St Paul encourages us to see things through the eyes of Christ, for storms have great power to transform the landscape. Through the storms of life, things might seem to be breaking apart, but through the eyes of faith we can see that they are actually breaking open, that things are changing for the better.

For personal tragedy can lead us to a new life with God; physical loss can be a moment of spiritual gain, and illness can lead to spiritual renewal. [i]

Being buffeted by the storms of life isn’t pleasant, but remember this: you are never alone. God is always with you, even if you think He’s sleeping.

So keep up your prayers, and be aware that storms can not only bring us closer to God, they also often create pathways to something new.

[i] S Joseph Krempa, Captured Fire Cycle B, St Paul’s, New York. 2016:106-107.

Year B – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Like a Mustard Seed

(Ezek.17:22-24; 2Cor.5:6-10; Mk.4:26-34)

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus says the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. What does He mean by that?

Let’s begin by explaining the Kingdom of God, a phrase that is used 122 times in the New Testament.

In his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI says that the Kingdom of God isn’t a particular place or a thing, but a way of living that has three dimensions.

Firstly, the Kingdom of God is a person. It’s Jesus Christ himself, and Jesus, of course, is God’s presence among us. He represents both truth and the way we should live if we seek the best for ourselves.

Secondly, the Kingdom of God is inside us. It becomes real when we welcome Jesus into our hearts. It also becomes real when we allow Him to rule over our lives, and when we choose to live as He does.

And thirdly, the Kingdom of God is the Church. Despite all its faults and limitations, it’s through the Church that Jesus continues his mission and ministry in our world today.

How, then, is God’s kingdom like a mustard seed?

In the Gospel, Jesus says it’s ‘… like a mustard seed which … is the smallest of all the seeds … yet once it’s sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’ 

Now, we know that Jesus isn’t speaking literally here, because the mustard seed isn’t the smallest of seeds. What Jesus is using here is an expression that was common in ancient times. But what does He mean?

In her book Everyday God, Paula Gooder says the mustard plant sometimes behaves like a weed. It can spread like wildfire and grow into a very large shrub where birds love to build their nests.

This is just like the Church. It has grown very large and just as birds like to nest in a tree, so many people flock to the Church as a great source of nourishment, rest and shelter.

But there’s another way of looking at today’s Gospel. The seed also represents our own efforts, and God’s grace is the action of the sun and rain on that seed. As St Paul says, it’s God who gives the growth. He makes seeds grow. 

Sometimes all we have to do is provide a small beginning and God will do the rest.  Even a kind word or a good deed can start something big.

In 1860, for example, St Mary McKillop went to look after her young cousins in Penola, South Australia, and soon started a school and a new religious order, the Josephites. Their ministry spread rapidly, and today they work in Australia, New Zealand, East Timor, Ireland, Scotland and South America.

In 1949 Mother Teresa of Calcutta went alone into the streets of Calcutta to help the sick and dying, and so began what is now an enormous ministry of love across the world, with thousands of priests, nuns and laypeople helping the poor in 90 countries.

And in 1976, Muhammad Yunus began the world’s first microcredit bank in Bangladesh, providing tiny business loans to entrepreneurs trapped by poverty. He began with a very small seed – by lending just $27 to a group of 42 women to start a business making bamboo stools. Since then, his Grameen Bank has spread to 59 countries and it has helped over 300 million people.

Clearly, a tiny seed can start something good, but it can also stop something bad.

In the early 400s, a humble monk named Telemachus travelled to Rome, and found himself in the crowds going to the Coliseum. Sitting there in the stadium, he was appalled to see gladiators killing each other.

He called out, ‘In the name of Jesus, Stop!’ But no one seemed to hear. He jumped over the wall into the arena and again called out, ‘In the name of Jesus, Stop!’ The people laughed, and the gladiators turned on him.

They killed St Telemachus and at that moment everyone was shocked. In silence they all went home.

That same day the Emperor Honorius banned violent games right across the Roman Empire.

There’s nothing ordinary about all this. This is how the Kingdom of God grows.

Each of us can start something great, or end something awful.

Sometimes we don’t even know we’re doing it, but all it takes is a small act of love, done in the name of Jesus.

And God then gives the growth.

Year B – Corpus Christi Sunday

The Food of Life

(Ex.24:3-8; Heb. 9:11-15; Mk.14:12-16, 22-26)

Where do people tend to gather at your place?

I’ve often asked this question, and the most common answer is that people tend to gather near food – around the table, in the kitchen or near the barbecue.

Why? It’s because people love food and food preparation seems to be at the heart of every home. Food also serves as a kind of magnet, keeping body and soul together, and bringing people together, too.

Indeed, we create a family whenever we share a meal at table. We also create a community when disparate people come together for a feast.  

Some people see food as little more than a solution for hunger. But it does so much more than that.

Food can be nourishing, of course, and it can keep us healthy. But it can also spread joy, and it’s a wonderful way to say ‘I love you.’

Food is also comforting in times of fear and uncertainty; it calms people down and cheers people up. It can be healing, too: a nice hot soup is reviving when you’re sick. And don’t we often seal deals over a meal?

In every culture, food is deeply meaningful, because it always involves heart, effort and sacrifice. It’s also important, because it shapes community and gives us identity.

Food has also been described as God’s love made edible.

Jesus understands all this. He knows that families and communities are formed around a table, and that breaking bread and sharing a cup can help people grow and connect with each other.

That’s why all through Scripture we see Jesus sharing meals with all sorts of people, including social outcasts. He eats with tax collectors and sinners (Mt.9:10–11); with the Pharisees and lawyers (Lk.7:36–50), and with lepers (Mk.14:3). He receives a disreputable woman at a men’s dinner (Lk. 7:36–39), and he invites himself to the house of Zacchaeus, the ‘sinner’ (Lk.19:1–10).

Jesus is often criticised for this, and some say he eats too much (Lk.7:34). But Jesus knows that food is more than just food. It’s an effective way to bring people together, to nourish and heal them, and to create family and community.

That’s why He gave us the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. There in the Upper Room, as Jesus and His disciples celebrated the Passover, He took the bread and broke it, just as they broke His body on the Cross.

Then He gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body. Take it and eat it, and remember that I’m with you, always.’

Then He took the cup filled with wine, blessed it and said, ‘Take this and drink it. This is my blood spilled for you on Calvary so that your sins may be forgiven.’

In the New Testament, the word body (soma in Greek) refers to the whole person, and not just to their flesh or physical body. And in Hebrew, there’s no specific word for body. A living being isn’t considered a person within a body; the body and the person are one and the same.

In other words, when Jesus offers us his body, he’s actually offering us his whole being, his very personhood.

Likewise, in Jewish thought, blood was believed to be the very life of a living being. So, when Jesus offers us his blood, he’s inviting us to ‘consume’ his very life. [i]

When we receive the Eucharist, then, we consume Jesus Himself. He becomes part of us and we become alive in him. We are truly receiving Jesus’ actual being and life, and not just engaging in some symbolic re-enactment.

The Curé of Ars, St John Vianney used to say that it’s not only our bodies that need food – our souls do, too.

‘But where is this food?’ he asked.

This was his answer: ‘When God wished to give food to our soul to sustain it in this pilgrimage through life, he looked over all creation and found nothing worthy of it. Then he fell back on himself and resolved to give himself.’

The Eucharist, then, is God’s most precious gift to us. It’s God’s family meal.

It’s not just a sign or a symbol. It’s Jesus Christ himself – true God, true man, sacramentally present to us in the form of bread and wine that is, after consecration, transformed into his body and blood.

Many years ago, Jesus appeared to St Augustine, and said: ‘Believe and eat me, and you’ll be changed into me.’ [ii]

That’s what this is all about.

[i] Dominic Grassi & Joe Paprocki, Living the Mass. Loyola Press, Chicago, 2011:148-149.

[ii] Cardinal Saliege, Spiritual Writings. St Pauls Publications, Bucks. 1966:57.