Sunday, July 1, 2018

Reach Out & Touch Someone

   Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

The passage just proclaimed to us is the first Bible story I specifically remember hearing in church as a child.  It’s been more than 30 years now, so I don’t remember everything the priest had to say about it in his preaching.  But I do remember being struck not so much by the healing, nor by the raising from the dead, but by the story within a story.

This is more than just a good storytelling technique employed by St. Mark.  It points to the way that two people—previously strangers, I would guess—find their lives eternally intertwined after encountering Jesus.
"If I but touch his clothes..."
There are already a few connections between those who experience miracles in this gospel account.  For starters, they’re both women—which meant they weren’t exactly at the top of the pecking order in their society.  (It’s noteworthy that we’re told that Jairus is the name of the synagogue official, but both his daughter and the woman in the crowd remain unnamed.) The older woman has been sick for twelve years, which is also the exact age of the young girl; one’s been sick as long as the other has been alive.  And both of these women have been cut off, have become untouchable.  The hemorrhaging woman’s flow of blood resulted in more than the loss of her savings to unscrupulous doctors; it made her ritually unclean, and so cut off from community and worship in the temple.  Death has cut the girl off from life itself and from her family; it also means that anyone who touches her corpse becomes unclean.

But these two are now bound together even more intensely and intimately.  Both have been raised up, have been restored by coming into contact with Jesus.  Both are healed by his touch.  And as long as the story is told, it will be told of the two of them together.

Having such deep connections, being so closely intertwined, is not unique to these two biblical women.  We were made to be together (although I certainly understand if you don’t want to sit too close together in this heat).  After God creates the first human being, he fairly quickly observes, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18).  And what’s true of humanity in general is even more so the case for us Christians: God made us for communion with each other so that he could draw us into communion with himself.

But this coming together, this sticking together—we’re not doing such a good job of it lately.

Not long ago I read an article that addressed the prevalence of “diseases of despair” here in the U.S. today.  It spoke about the widespread sense of hopelessness in society, of the large number of people with an unfulfilled desire to belong.  We see it in the increasing diagnoses of depression and anxiety disorders.  The suicide rate has jumped 20% in just ten years.  Substance abuse—and deaths from it—are on the rise as people look for ways to numb the pain they’re feeling.  And mass shootings—which can only happen if you think that life has no real meaning or purpose—have become all-too-common these days.

We may be communicating information back-and-forth more and faster than ever before by means of invisible signals and those powerful little computers in your pockets…but we’re spending less and less time actually being together.  A recent study revealed that the average American family now spends less than 8 hours together out of the entire week.  One observer has called the way we over schedule our lives—especially the lives of our kids—“systemic abandonment.”  Modern life is practically programmed to keep us apart.
Jesus took the child by the hand...
While statistics and studies can be interesting, they also allow us to think that a problem is “out there,” “somewhere else.”  But I have to tell you: I now get a steady stream of people who want to talk to a priest because they feel utterly hopeless.  It’s for all kinds of reasons: divorce, a break up, a falling out with family, sickness, the loss of a job or housing, legal problems—you name it.  The problems aren’t new at all…but the deep sense of despair that results from them is.  I’ve noticed a common denominator.  I always ask these people, “Do you have a trustworthy friend or two that you can talk to—so you don’t have to face all of this alone?”  The answer I keep getting is, “I have no real friends.” I’ve come to realize that they’re not being melodramatic, since I hear the same thing again and again.  Their feelings of hopelessness come from feeling so very alone.  Remember that these folks aren’t seeking me out from across the country; they live right next door.

Our lives are meant to be intertwined…but instead we’re coming apart at the seams.

Our first reading this Sunday, from the Book of Wisdom, begins with a bold assertion: “God did not make death.”  Death, of course, is the ultimate disintegration.  Your body comes apart from your soul.  And I don’t at all mean to be disrespectful or distasteful, but it’s rather amazing how quickly (in moments, really) the human body begins to break down after we die.  Not to mention that our ties with the people we love are also broken.  Death is a coming apart in the most profound way.  But that was not God’s original plan for us.  Death came hot on the heels of sin—sin being the disintegration of our relationship with God.  And because God means to stick to his original plan, because God made us to be imperishable—to hold together within ourselves, among one another, and with him—God himself came to our rescue in Jesus.

The Lord rescued us the same way you rescue a drowning child: he jumped all the way in. (Jumping in…that’s kind of a refreshing thought in this heat, isn’t it?!) The Son of God fully immersed himself in our humanity.  He so perfectly enmeshed himself, so completely intertwined himself with us, that he willingly took upon himself our rejection, betrayal, isolation, abandonment—even wondering if he’d been forsaken by God his Father.  Neither did he shy away from that most bitter unraveling which is death itself.  But Jesus underwent death so that he could destroy it from the inside.  Jesus jumped all the way in so that he could rescue us from hopeless and despair, so he could restore us to right relationship with God and with ourselves and with each other.  In other words: Jesus dove in to bring us back to life again.

Jesus Christ still wants to come to our rescue.  But he’s looking of our help to do it.

Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Many people today are disoriented and lost in search of genuine fellowship. Often their lives are either too superficial or shattered by brokenness. Their work often is dehumanizing. They long for an experience of genuine encounter with others, for true fellowship. Well, is this not precisely the vocation of a parish? Are we not called to be a warm, brotherly family together? Are we not people united together in the household of God through our common life? Your parish is not mainly a structure, a geographical area or a building. The parish is first and foremost a community of the faithful. This is the task of a parish today: to be a community, to rediscover its identity as a community. You are not a Christian all by yourself. To be a Christian means to believe and to live one’s faith together with others.”

Those are such important words to hear on this fourth anniversary of the founding of St. André’s Parish.  And they’re so important to hear at this time of challenge and change in our parish.  It really is all about coming together.

To touch Jesus, to be touched by Jesus—as the hemorrhaging woman and the young daughter of Jairus attest—means allowing oneself to become completely intertwined with Jesus and with all those others he has come to save.  So let Jesus touch you, let him heal all that is broken inside you.  But also reach out to those who are hurting, those who feel hopeless.  They’re all around!  Make contact, make connections, with the folks in next pew, your classmates or coworkers, the stranger you meet on the sidewalk, the person sitting across your kitchen table.  Bring them—bring their wounds, bring the places in their hearts that have died—to Jesus.  Let Jesus touch and be touched by them through this parish.  Let Jesus touch and be touched by them through you.

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