Who Are You Today?
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V. June 27, 2021
Over the past weeks, we have all been shocked, saddened, and ashamed by the revelations of the discovery of the unmarked graves of the first 215 children at the Kamloops Residential School, and now, over 750 at a similar school in Saskatchewan. If the untimely or unnecessary death of even one child is a tragedy, such loss seems almost incalculable. These events remind us as a society, and in particular, we who belong to the church, to reflect on how instead of promoting a culture in which every life is valued and cherished, we managed to support and enable a system that separated children from their families, culture, and way of life; put them in places where they were underfed, neglected and abused; and then not even inform their parents about the circumstances of their death.
In the face of such suffering, what can we say? Sometimes, the best response is not to say anything, especially not excuses or rationalizations. We need to be quiet, to sit with our First Nations brothers and sisters, to listen to them, to seek to understand how these long-ago events affect their communities still today, and to stand in solidarity with their calls for action, become friends and allies. It’s like any other tragic loss. Ultimately, words fail us; all we can do is offer a hug, a sympathetic look, the offer of a listening ear in the trying days and weeks ahead. To lose a child or a grandchild is a deep sorrow indeed. And whether the news of the death comes sudden and shocking, or after a long and lingering illness, the loss is no less real and palpable. Such it is for all of us.
In today’s Gospel, we meet a father who loves his child, who is willing to do anything he can to save her life. As a leader of the synagogue, Jairus may well have had mixed feelings about the “Jesus movement”, and how it was affecting his congregation. He was probably aware that approaching Jesus for help was not going to win him any brownie points with the Scribes and the Pharisees. But confronted with the choice between his reputation and the welfare of his little daughter, he did what any loving parent would do. He appealed to Jesus’ power to heal and save. And he was heard.
The faith of Jairus and his wife, the faith of the unnamed woman in the crowd who reached out for Jesus’ healing touch “on the way”, confronts us with our own sense of faith. How do we see Jesus? We have learned that he is the Son of God. We see him as a great religious and moral teacher. We may even acknowledge that great healings took place, that Jesus reached out and touched people, changed their lives - two thousand years ago, that is.
But do we seek out Jesus today, right here and now? Do we approach him with our own need for healing, for inner peace, or when someone we love is suffering and we feel helpless and hopeless? Like the disciples in the storm-tossed sea last Sunday, we may question whether God really cares, whether he is asleep at the helm as we suffer and struggle. But do we believe that Christ's power to heal and restore is living and active today? How can we grow in faith, in hope, in trust that God really does care, really does want to be a healing presence for us and those we love?
Many years ago, a wise spiritual director taught me about the "sacred triangle", that is, three fundamental building-blocks for our growth in the Christian life: personal experience, sacred scripture, and Eucharist. The first step is to live reflectively, taking my personal experience seriously, paying attention to it. The second is to place this experience in dialogue with the Gospel, the Living Word of God, so that it can shed new light on my life, heal my wounds, help me explore new possibilities, challenge me to growth and conversion.
Then, I bring all of this to the Eucharist: offering all that I have and all that I am with thanks and praise, grateful for God’s many blessings, and conscious of those areas I am still in need of God's healing and transforming love.
People sometimes tell me they have stopped going to Mass because they don’t get anything out of it. But if we want the Eucharist to impact our lives, we have to engage those first two steps, by paying attention to my life’s experiences, and to bring these into dialogue with the Scriptures. Today’s Gospel, which is rich on so many levels, provides us with a privileged opportunity to bring whatever need for healing and growth we may be experiencing into dialogue with the person of Jesus. When we imaginatively enter into the heart of this Gospel – by setting the scene, by connecting with the experience of those who encounter Jesus, by making ourselves present to Jesus' words and deeds, and by trusting in his desire to touch us and speak to us today – wonderful and healing things can happen.
So … who are you today? Perhaps you are …
I am Jairus. I am a leader in our local synagogue. I have heard different reports about this new teacher named Jesus, and I don't know what to believe. But my little daughter, whom I love more than life itself, is at death's door. The doctors can't do anything for her, and my wife and I are besides ourselves. We feel so helpless, and there seems to be nowhere to turn. But Jesus is here today. Maybe - just maybe - if Jesus comes to my house, and lays hands upon her, she will be made well again. She's only twelve years old! To my surprise and relief, Jesus agrees to come to my home. He says: "Of course, I'll come with you. Don’t be afraid. Only trust." It seems hopeless, but I will try.
I am the suffering woman. For twelve years - twelve long years - I have been suffering from these hemorrhages. I have done everything possible to be healed, have spent all my savings on doctors, and I am worse, not better. I have become an outcast. My people believe that this flow of blood is life flowing out of me, a curse which is contagious. So everyone stays away: contact with me will also make them unclean.
But this Jesus seems to be different. I am so tired of living this way. I know it's against the Law, but if only I could touch this Jesus, even the hem of his robe, it might make some kind of difference. Surely no one will even notice ... All at once, the bleeding stops! But Jesus is asking: “who touched me?” I am afraid. It would be easier for me to just slip away into the crowd. But I must tell him the truth. At least, I have to thank him. But Jesus is not angry. He lifts me up - he touches me – he looks me in the eyes - he calls me "daughter". No one has called me that since my parents died so many years ago. "Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed," Jesus says. I am no longer an outcast; I am redeemed.
I am a person in the crowd. I like to follow Jesus, but always at a safe distance. It feels right to be near Jesus, and I am fascinated by what he has to say, by seeing what he can do. I get close enough for that. And yet, I've never really interacted with Jesus, gotten close enough to speak with him, to ask his advice, to share my struggle, my need for healing with him. Part of me looks down at those people who are so helpless, that they fall down at Jesus' feet and implore his help. I'm too proud for that. But part of me envies them; Jesus seems somehow closer to them, more part of their lives. Will I ever get up the courage to go up to Jesus myself? In the meantime, I stand here on the sidelines, taking it all in, hoping that one day, I'll get close enough.
I am the daughter of Jairus. My parents love me, but who am I? Where do I belong? I have been sick so long, it’s hard to hold on to my will to live. I don't even have the strength to pray for myself anymore, I'm so tired. But I can feel the prayers of the people around me, those who want me to get better, my parents especially. I've fallen into a deep, deep sleep. Will I ever wake up? But then I feel someone touch my hand, gently but firmly; I hear a voice, telling me very simply, to "get up". All of a sudden, I want to get up, I want to live. I am hungry: for the first time in months, I have an appetite. I feel like my life is being given back to me. Now I want to grow up, I want to experience all that life has to offer. And all this, because one day, Jesus came to my house.
We are, in fact, all of these people. The same Jesus who spoke these words, who performed his healing actions two thousand years ago, desires to speak to us today. He invites me to look at my own life, my own personal experience, but also the experiences of the world around me.
What is my need for healing? Is it a physical ailment, an emotional difficulty, crushing loneliness, a spiritual crisis? Is it my own struggle, or of one who is close to me: spouse, parent, child, sibling, neighbor, friend? Is it a bigger, more englobing need for healing, like the need to restore right relationships between the First Nations, our churches, and our nation?
Whatever it may be, God is calling me out of the crowd, away from the sidelines, and onto the playing field. Jesus wants to encounter me, to heal me, to strengthen me, to tell me: "Do not be afraid; only trust"; to lift me up and say, "my daughter, my son, your faith has made you well, go in peace." As I have loved you and reached out to you, so must you now reach out a loving and healing touch to others.
This is not magic. It is the power of the living God, the love of God, active in us and through us. It is this saving encounter between our lives and the word of God, that we offer at the Eucharist today.
In our second reading, St. Paul tells us, "the Lord Jesus Christ for your sakes became poor, that by his poverty you might become rich." So let us not be afraid to bring our poverty, our neediness, our struggles to the Lord – our personal ones, and all the brokenness we encounter in the world. Let us trust in Jesus, in His desire to share his strength with us, in his power to bring life out of death, joy out of sorrow. May our celebration of the Eucharist help us to encounter the healing power of God's love in a new and powerful way, so that as our own lives are transformed, we may be empowered to bring that transforming and healing love to all of our sisters and brothers, to our waiting world. Amen.