My prayer is that I will always see my ministry through the "eyes of the kingdom", working always to give those whom I serve not just what they ask me for, but what God wants for them: the complete restoration of their lives in His kingdom.
Homily: 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle B
One of the more “epic” moments in television in the last twenty years occurred in 2004 on the Oprah Winfrey show. In many ways, Oprah was at the height of her popularity at this time and she was using it to great advantage for others. Now, I don’t recall of the background of that day’s show, but I remember that Oprah started by gifting eleven teachers, who were reputed to be extremely self-giving and, thus, were in financial trouble, with a new car. This was an incredible gesture by itself, but Oprah wasn’t finished. She then told the audience that she had one more car to give away and that one of them in the audience would receive it. The staff then brought out identical gift boxes for each member of the audience and Oprah instructed them that in one of these boxes was a key to the twelfth car and whoever had that key in their box would take that car home.
What happened next, of course, is what launched this moment into “epic” status: when Oprah commanded that the boxes be opened, the audience members found that each and every one of them had a key in it. No, this wasn’t a trick. Oprah intended to give each audience member a brand new car. Because there was so much excitement—screaming and crying—mixed with confusion about whether or not this could be real, all you see is Oprah screaming over and over again: “You get a car, you get a car, you get a car… everybody gets a car! Everybody gets a car!” Now, perhaps none of us were in the audience that day, but you would have to have a pretty cold and hard heart not to feel a sense of joy for those audience members who received such an undeserved gift from someone that they didn’t even know.
I can imagine, too, that every audience for every show after that day walked in wondering “Will today be another day like that one? Will I walk out of here with something I never dreamed of getting?” None really have since then, of course, which is what makes that moment in 2004 so epic. Sometimes, however, I wonder if this isn’t how we approach Jesus, especially here at Mass.
As we read the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, we learn of how Jesus often healed the sick and even brought back to life those who had died. Most of us, I’m sure, were already following him before we came to understand his incredible power to heal: in other words, we were coming to Mass and trying to follow his teaching. Perhaps one day we came to know that Jesus worked a healing in someone else’s life. And perhaps, once we learned of this healing, we began to expect a healing for ourselves. And so, perhaps, we began to come to Mass hoping that this time would be one of those times that Jesus would appear before us and, like Oprah that day, dole out healings to everyone: “You get a healing, you get a healing, you get a healing… everybody gets a healing!”
Perhaps, however, we aren’t even expecting anything that dramatic. Perhaps, we are more like the woman in the Gospel today, who had been afflicted for twelve years with a hemorrhage. Since a bleeding like that made her “ritually unclean”, she was excluded and needed to refrain from coming in contact with others for fear of making them “unclean” also. And so, it’s understandable that she would approach Jesus in the way that she did. “I’m embarrassed enough to have this defilement,” I imagine her thinking, “so instead of approaching Jesus directly, I’ll simply sneak up behind him and touch his clothes: surely his power to heal will come to me.” Surely enough, it did.
Having been healed, the woman then tried to slip away; but Jesus wouldn’t allow it. You see, Jesus didn’t come just to bring healings: that is, just to spread joy by doling out healings to anyone who approached him, without concern for who the person was. Rather, he came to bring forth the kingdom of God, which was a restoration of God’s original plan for each of our lives. Therefore, when the woman was healed—that is, when the power of healing had “gone out of him”—Jesus took notice and decided to make this moment a teaching moment. He wanted people to see this woman—whom they all knew to be the one who had been afflicted by hemorrhages for twelve years—and to see that she was now healed by her faith in him and thus restored to her status in the community. In other words, for Jesus it wasn’t enough that she was healed; rather, he desired that her life also be restored; and for that, he needed to address her personally.
This is also true of the young girl whom Jesus brought back to life. Jairus, the synagogue official, came in faith to ask Jesus to heal his daughter, who was sick and at the point of death and Jesus agrees to come. Even though the delay of addressing the woman healed from hemorrhaging meant that the child died before he arrived, Jesus remained unperturbed. When he arrived and saw the mourning of those already in the house, he invited them to see this situation with the “eyes of the kingdom” when he said “the child is not dead but asleep.” It was a reality that wasn’t visible to them, but that he would soon make visible to them: for in the “eyes of the kingdom” worldly death is no longer death, but rather a temporary sleep; and to prove this, Jesus resuscitates the twelve year old girl.
As incredible as this was, Jesus once again proved that he didn’t come simply to dole out healings or to resuscitate people after they died. He came with a concern of restoring people in the fullness of the kingdom of God. Therefore, Jesus didn’t simply give the breath of life back to the little girl; rather he then saw that the girl was hungry and demanded that she be given something to eat. In other words, his healings were never functional only; but rather they always came with a tenderness—a deep and abiding concern for the one who was healed: that he or she would not only experience healing, but also have his or her life restored completely.
This, my brothers and sisters, is God’s plan for us. We heard in the reading from the book of Wisdom that “God did not make death”; and in the Gospel reading Jesus proves to us that, even though God did not make death, he certainly isn’t powerless before it. No, death was never part of God’s plan for us. Death, rather, entered the world because of Satan’s envy, which led him to deceive our first parents into sinning against God. God sent his Son, though, not just to demonstrate his power by doling out healings to anyone who asked for it, but rather to restore us to life—that is, to his original plan for us—by freeing us from eternal death.
This restoration, however, isn’t automatic. Like Jairus, the synagogue official, and like the woman afflicted with hemorrhages, we must first come to Jesus in faith to seek this healing if we ever hope to receive it. This faith, however, must not only be in Jesus’ power to heal—though that is fundamental—but it must also be faith in his will: faith, that is, that Jesus’ will is wiser than my will so that, if his will is that I not be healed at this time, I might not despair and thus lose all faith, even in his power to heal.
Ultimately, my brothers and sisters, the choice is ours. When we choose to place our faith in Jesus—and in his power to save us—we choose God’s original plan for us: which the book of Wisdom tells us is a plan “to be imperishable; the image of God’s own nature…” When we do otherwise—placing our faith in ourselves or in someone or something else—we place ourselves in the company of the devil, through whose envy death entered the world. The book of Wisdom tells us that to keep company with him makes us susceptible to it: death, that is, in the “eyes of the kingdom”, which is eternal suffering and sorrow… eternal separation from God.
You know, Oprah did a great thing that day back in 2004. Her gift, however, was a momentary thing and could not restore the lives of the people in her audience that day. Through Jesus God offers us so much more than a one-time gift can give us: he offers us the opportunity to have our lives restored to his original plan: a plan where death—and the sorrow and suffering that comes because of it—no longer has any place. Ultimately, we must choose this plan over the many others that the world offers. We choose it by saying “Amen” to Jesus when he appears on this altar; and when we live our lives with the “eyes of the kingdom”, looking beyond our life in this world to our life in the world to come. My brothers and sisters, God desires to give us this life, because we matter to him. Let us choose this life for ourselves today—and everyday—so that we, too, may go in peace, healed and ready to proclaim this Good News.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN - June 27th & 28th, 2015