Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – B

““Talitha, Kum!” (Mk 5:41)” (Mk 4:39)

Stories of two women

Gospel reading of today narrates to us two stories. Both, stories of women. One story is contained within another. Both are stories about women who are ‘dead’ in their own way. It is interesting to note that all the synoptic gospels have these two stories put together and narrate them in very similar words (Mt 9:18-25; Mk 5:22-43; Lk 8:41-56). The two women represent two different age groups: the younger one has died before time, at the onset of adolescence, and the cause of her death is unknown; the older woman is socially dead. Jesus raises both to life – New life.

Let us focus on the older woman. Mark adds an important detail about the woman which Matthew and Luke prefer to omit: she “… had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years; after long and painful treatment under various doctors, she had spent all she had without being any the better for it; in fact, she was getting worse (Mk 5:25-26).” There are many implications here that flow from the Book of Leviticus chapter 15:19-33. Given her condition of the haemorrhage for 12 years, she would have been physically weak. She was religiously ostracised since she could not have participated in worship – she could not enter the synagogue or the temple. She was socially isolated because she could not participate in any social events. May be even her husband left her because they could not touch each other. Moreover she was economically drained out since “she had spent all she had.” She was as good as dead!

The healing that she received from Jesus now re-establishes her humanity. She could sing as Mary did in the Gospel of Luke: “The Lord has looked upon the humiliation of his servant… For the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He has used the power of his arm… He has raised high the lowly… He has filled the starving with good things… He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love” (Lk 1: 46-55). This is a hymn that many women could sing even today.
The humane compassion of Jesus

At the heart of raising these women to life and restoring their humanity is the humane compassion of Jesus. In both cases, there is touching involved. In both cases, that touching was a taboo-broken. The bleeding woman was not supposed to touch anyone; she would render unclean everything that she touched. But that was a special touch even for Jesus. In that touch her faith is made tangible, and Jesus appreciates it: “My daughter,” he said, “your faith has restored you to health; go in peace and be free of your complaint” (Mk 5:34).

In the second case, Jesus breaks the taboo by touching a dead child. Touching the dead body would have rendered him unclean. He could not have participated in social interaction without having a bath following such a contact with the dead body. He could have worked the miracle just by uttering a word. But touching was necessary to re-establish the humanity of the child. And finally, here is yet another powerful expression of Jesus’s humanity: he told them to give her something to eat.
The role of the Church today

Today the believing community – we, the Church – have the responsibility to be channels of that humane compassion of Jesus, especially to women. How can the Church accompany young people so that they don’t die before time? How can we ensure the dignity of women within the Church today? Rather than justifying the unfair traditions within the Church through our theologising should we not just face the reality and act as Jesus did, even if it means breaking some age-old taboos?
For sure, in this regard we are living through very promising times in the Church and society. Thanks to Pope Francis there is a greater expression of courage for soul-searching within the Church. However are we willing to be open to the Spirit that the Pope invites us to respond to?

Penitential Rite: Forgive us for the sins committed against women!

we ask your forgiveness for the sins committed against women…
by male domination all over the world,
and in the known history of humankind:
for inventing customs & rituals to maintain the status quo,
for not giving women equal opportunity in education and work,
in decision making and leadership.

we ask your forgiveness for the sins committed against women…
in the mass media:
for making use of them as advertising objects to sell our products,
for not treating their bodies with dignity and respect,
for propagating male structures and values in the media.

we ask your forgiveness for the sins committed against women…
in the institution of marriage and family:
for refusing them the right to choose their marriage partners,
for denying them of their right to pleasure in conjugal love,
for using them as sex objects…

we ask your forgiveness for the sins committed against women…
by reducing them to mere property and possession:
for selling and buying them
in the market of marriage by our dowry systems,
for considering women as a mere work force,
for leaving all the menial jobs to them,
for overloading them with household work,
for inventing numerous taboos to perpetuate this inequality.

we ask your forgiveness for the sins committed against women…
in Christianity:
for denying them equal opportunity
in church leadership and service,
for imposing masculine structures
on women religious orders.

we ask your forgiveness for the sins committed against women…
in not being grateful to women:
our own mothers and sisters who have helped us grow,
our teachers and nuns who taught us,
our house helps, bar tenders, receptionists and secretaries,
for not appreciating their role in our lives.

Above all, Lord,
we ask your forgiveness…
for equating gender-difference with inequality,
for mistaking equality with sameness,
for not accepting that we can be different yet equal,
for not accepting the fact of complementarity.[1]

[1] These invocations could be used for penitential rite during Eucharist celebration. Each of these invocations could be accompanied by a male person coming up to wash his hands, assisted by women, or accompanied by any other appropriate symbolic act.

“No minister will ever get close to a person who he is unwilling to physically touch. If you are not willing to touch a homeless person, or an alcoholic, or a terribly dirty person, you psychologically are unwilling to minister to them.”

These are the words of an eminent psychologist, Dr Charles Gerkin of Emory Divinity School. His student, Larry Daniel, who became minister of First United Methodist Church in Murray Kentucky, learnt this lesson the hard way in 1988 when one of his church member came down with full¬-blown aids. He had gone to the hospital to visit with the sick man and the nurse advised him to put on rubber gloves before entering the room. He did. The sick man was so happy to see his pastor and immediately extended his hands in welcome. But when the pastor extended his own hands all he saw was the latex gloves. Instantly the initial feeling of joy and comfort turned into that of embarrassment for both of them. The pastor apologized. In future trips to the hospital he wore no gloves. “I simply felt that I could not be Christ’s representative in that situation,” he later explained, “unless there was direct touch contact.”

Touching, like hugging and other forms of gentle, direct bodily contact, express love and acceptance of the other person in ways that words cannot. Touching is a two-way traffic; it affects both the person touched and the person doing the touching. Traditional societies regulated touching by making rules regarding who and what could or could not be touched. It was believed that touching the wrong persons and things would defile the one doing the touching and render him or her unclean. According to ancient Jewish ritual law, the woman suffering from hemorrhage was in a state of impurity and any person who touched her or anything that had come in contact with her was instantly rendered impure (Leviticus 15: 19-30). Holy people such as priests were forbidden to touch dead bodies or they would incur defilement (Leviticus 21 :1-12). Today’s gospel, therefore, is not simply a story of Jesus’ power to heal the sick and raise the dead. It is also a story of Jesus giving and restoring life by doing exactly what he was not supposed to do, namely, touching and letting himself be touched by those whom the Law had declared unclean and untouchable.
There is a detail in the story that gives us a glimpse into the character of Jesus as someone who challenged accepted rules of conduct. A religious leader was expected to dress in special attire and move through the crowds surrounded 13 a circle of disciples who would prevent anyone suspected to be unclean from touching him. But Jesus did not avail himself of this religious protocol. Apparently everybody in the Crowd had access to him. That is why when he turned and said, “Who touched my clothes?” the disciples answered with surprise, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ”Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31).

Actually, two kinds of touching are happening in the story: the touch of the crowd which produces nothing and the woman’s touch which produces miracles. What is the difference between the many touches from the crowd and the one touch from the woman, which releases the power of Jesus? You are right if you say that the difference lies in the degree of expectant faith with which the touching is made. There is a joke which asks the question: What is the difference between people who pray in church and those who pray in casinos? And the answer is: The ones in the casinos are really serious! The woman with hemorrhage was really serious and expecting something to happen when she approached to touch the clothes of Jesus.

If Jesus were passing by here today and you had a chance to touch his clothes, would you touch him with curiosity or with a faith that you were going to be transformed and made whole? Well, actually Jesus s h r too y and you have a chance to touch not just his clothes but his very body. This is what we are privileged to do in the Eucharist. Let us put all our heart and soul into it as we say the prayer before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Let us reflect:
- How do we do it?
- How do we use our hands: to bless, to curse or to be indifferent to others
- All need a touch to grow physically, spiritually and mentally.
Many in the world die due to the lack of being touched.
Our touch, should enhance and bring life.

Today, let all that we touch, bring life, joy and happiness.
God bless

Fr. Franco Pereira, S.D.B.

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