Trinity 24 and the Sunday before Advent form the conclusion of the 3 series of 7 Sunday’s that form the central part of Trinity Season. The subject of Trinity season has been the ascent of the church and of the soul to the heights of heaven. We have seen the soul in bondage to the earth and the passions that rage within us, we have seen it being enlightened by the gifts and graces of the Holy Ghost, we have seen it filled with the vision of glory of the commonwealth of Heaven (Epistle of last Sunday). We are just about to become “partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.” We are on the verge of entering into His kingdom, which is the subject of next Sunday. And today we see no word of the evil passions that occupied our minds in an earlier part of Trinity season. We have been cleansed and are directed to the virtues of heaven which abide forever: “the faith in Christ, the love to all the saints, and the hope laid up in heaven”. These are the so called theological virtues. The pinnacle of perfection.
But the Gospel of today [Matthew 9:18-26] stops our ascent for a moment to point to what is truly necessary if we would enter the Kingdom: our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ. In the Epistle [Colossians 1:3-12], St. Paul, like Jairus, comes to Christ and prays for us that we may be touched by the Word of the Truth that is in the Gospel. That we may know the Grace of God in truth. And this is what we find visualised in the Gospel story – the need to turn completely to Christ that we may come to completion in Him:
- both inwardly in our souls – as seen in the women suffering for years;
- and outwardly in the resurrection of the body – as seen in the raising up of Talitha, the daughter of Jairus [see gospel parallel in Mark 5:21-43].
In each of the two stories we find the same three stages through which the persons find completion in and through Christ:
- We first see the destructive consequences of sin
- We see them turning to Jesus
- We see them healed and restored by Christ
But though they follow the same steps, the context is very different. Let’s follow the steps of the woman and the little girl and see what we can learn from them as we seek to enter more fully into the kingdom.
1. The destructive consequences of sin
We have to start with the destructiveness of sin. My intention is not to be a preacher of doom and gloom. So bear with me. Both the woman suffering for 12 years as well as the girl of 12 years who departed are images of the terrible consequences of sin.
- First the woman.
- She looks for help for 12 years. She spends all her money on doctors, but nothing works. Slowly she is bleeding out, life is running through her fingers. She is cast out from society. She is desperate.
- It is an image of man spending all of his energy looking to fill the empty void in his soul that is his deepest desire – for fulfilment, happiness, meaning – but not finding it.
- How many in our society – and of us – run from desire to desire, from experience to experience, from ambition to ambition, from travel plan to travel plan? But in the end it all turns out empty.
- We see ourselves failing our own expectations and that of society. Like the women – we feel cast out. What follows is depression or we cannot keep up and burn out.
- It is our sinful condition, it is the bondage which defaces our true freedom and humanity. We don’t find perfect completion, because we don’t listen to what we truly need: Jesus.
- Secondly, the girl.
- She is sick and soon it is heard she died. It seemed her father went to seek for Jesus’ help for nothing. Death separated her from her family. She is unclean. Her parents can’t even touch her. Just like the women who has been separated from society, because of her uncleanness.
- This is one of the most evil consequences of sin. It creates separation, as it did between Man and God in Eden, and in consequence between Adam and Eve. That is why the Catholic Church has always understood marriage to be indissoluble. Christian Matrimony is a place of grace, where that separation has been conquered and two sinners find forgiveness before God.
- And yet separation and division is what we see all around us, in persons, in families, and in whole societies. And what to say about the division and separation in our societies because of the attacks in Paris. ISIS wants to sow division and distrust and hatred. We cannot give in to that.
- But let me give you an example from our own life. A man happily married with children. His marriage, his family life, his work is great. To blow off steam he regularly has a night of binge watching his favourite tv-series. He also starts watching things he does not really approve. He doesn’t want his wife to know, because he is ashamed of it. Before he knows it, he is lying to his wife about it, hiding what he watches by deleting the history on the web. But as the preacher says, “the eye is never tired of seeing”, and sin in him craves more and more, until he suddenly finds himself doing things he never expected.
- That is the path of sin, separating ourselves from our loved ones. The man in the example creates a separate reality where he can fulfil his desires. And how many of us lead a double life where we cling to some favourite desire which we imagine necessary for our functioning? But to whom are we lying, if not to ourselves. Who are we robbing, but ourselves?
At such a time, it is time to pause. To turn inwardly and ask where did things go wrong? We need to find help! But where to? The Gospel has the answer
2. Turning to Jesus
We need to turn to Jesus. That is the second step in our progress.
IN the Gospel they go to Jesus: there is no better place to go. And here we find two different accounts.
- The woman
She approaches Jesus “in secret” from behind. She touches the hem of His garment. How scared she must have been.
- And so we are invited to come with our sins and troubles in secret and speak with the priest or a spiritual friend and confess our sins. Our inclination will be not to ask help from others and certainly not from God. But that would mean remaining in that state of separation. Asking for help, means being connected again to God and our fellow brothers and sisters. This is usually the biggest battle to overcome. Brothers and sisters, if you are in that place, don’t remain there. Don’t be afraid others will condemn you, we have been and are all in that place of shame and guilt. Throw it off.
- But also. We have the sacraments on earth, which are the hem of Christ’s garment as he is in heaven: whether it be Holy Communion or Absolution. We are here today, and there is opportunity for us to turn away from the path of destruction and separation and to touch Christ like the woman in the Gospel.
- The girl
- She is a different affair. The girl is not asking for anything. Her father is asking: He fell at his feet and begged him: “my little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”
- How true is this for us! They would be the very words we pray for our loved ones who are on that path of separation and whom we have lost to the devastation and dehumanizing effects of sin, in whatever way. They are seemingly dead. Our words and deeds have no effect on them. We are at the point of giving up. But listen to Jesus’ encouragement to the father: “Do not fear only believe, and she shall be well.” “And do not weep for she is not dead but sleeping.”
- But maybe you think: if that is what the person wants, we should respect that choice, and let it be. But then we come dangerously close to what the servant is saying to Jairus: “your daughter is dead, why trouble the master.” No! We are never to give up on people!
- Maybe some of you have heard of Augustine. One of David’s favourite theologians. He lived in the 4th. But he left the faith in his younger years for an ambitious career. His mother Monica never stopped praying for him. One time she spoke to a bishop about it and wanted him to talk to Augustine. But he counselled her to be patient, saying, “God’s time will come.” Monica persisted however, and the bishop sent her away: “Go now, I beg you; it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.” What if she had stopped weeping and praying for him…
3 Jesus healing and restoring
Finally the final step of Jesus healing and restoration. And one salient point comes forward in both cases: of course they are healed inwardly and outwardly. But most interestingly, they are brought in connection with others again. Separation is ended.
- The woman.
- Many wonder why Jesus had to call out the women. I mean what kind of person is he that he wants her to come forward and tell such a private matter for such a huge audience? Doesn’t he have any sense of privacy?
- No, not when it comes to sin. As sin separates, so forgiveness is about restoration by being reunified with the people of God. She is publicly welcomed in so that all people will know that she is fully healed; and that no one is to treat her differently. It is an act of grace.
- So it is in the case of the little girl.
- She is restored to her parents. And Jesus directs that something is given her to eat, the very sign of communion.
- Interestingly, here we find a completely different approach of Jesus. He directs that the father does not speak of the miracle.[parallel in Mark 5:21-43] Some miracles are not to be bragged about. It is not our doing.
- Notice the release of energy, how burdens are taken away, how joy fills the house.
Thus we saw three steps:
- Realizing and seeing who and what we are in bondage to sin.
- Turning to Jesus and being enlightened by the word of truth
- Being healed and made one with Jesus.
They are the very steps we go through in our liturgy, and we went through Trinity Season. Today the Epistle and Gospel stop us and ask: have we turned fully to Jesus or are we still fooling ourselves?
Lets not fool ourselves. We know the answer.