By FATHER DONALD DILGER
First Reading: Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Response: Psalm 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13; Second Reading: 2 Cor. 8:7, 9, 13-15; Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
The Old Testament Book of Wisdom is also called The Wisdom of Solomon. This name originated from Wisdom 9:7-8, 12, a prayer for wisdom describing a king who fits the description of King Solomon in 1 Kings and in Chronicles. Solomon, died 922 B.C., succeeded his father David, ruling over the combined tribes of Israel and Judah. Wisdom was composed sometime between 100-50 B.C. in Egypt for the Jewish communities living there. It was not uncommon to attribute a current literary production to some great figure of the past. It happens also in the New Testament. Wisdom is part of a group of Old Testament books known as Wisdom Literature. Another one is Ecclesiasticus, also known as The Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach. Our Book of Wisdom is one of seven books included in the Old Testament but usually excluded or relegated to a secondary status in Bibles of Protestant origin. The author of Wisdom wrote for fellow-Jews whose faith was shaken by the cultural life of the cities of Egypt. They were confronted by schools of philosophy, mystery religions, astrology, advances in science, and popular cults. It was New Ageism before the New Age movements of our time.
Leading Jews had rejected their religion and traditions — a scandal to the faithful. The Book of Wisdom defends Jewish beliefs and practices, therefore a form of apologetics. In the first reading of today the author defends God as author of life who did not intend the destruction of the living.
God fashioned his human creatures to have existence, to be immortal, because they were created in his own immortal image. He defends God’s creatures as wholesome. This is reflected in the people’s response in the creation hymn of Genesis 1, “And God saw that it was good, very good.” Ideas of the netherworld were prominent in Egyptian religion. The author denies that the netherworld had any claim on humanity. So what happened? According to the author, the devil was envious of the happy life of humans in the setting of a Paradise. Then came the temptation and the fall. “By the envy of the devil death entered the world.” This sentence gives a new meaning to the serpent in the story of the temptation and fall. Only a symbol of temptation in that story, but now evolved into the devil. The author adds a stab at the apostates, “and they who belong to his (the devil’s) company experience it.”
Psalm 30 began its existence as a prayer/song of thanksgiving and praise for recovery from a mortal illness. Thus the words, “You have brought me up from the netherworld. You preserved me from among those going down into the pit.” Pit and netherworld are parallel words. A characteristic of Hebrew poetry is to repeat the same thought in a different word. In ancient times pit and netherworld were expressions for the place of the dead. It was thought to be under the earth, or under mountains, or in the west where the sun goes down. It is sometimes depicted as a dark place where people lie in rows in grim silence. Netherworld and pit connect with our first reading and with the gospel story of a resurrection of the dead.
The second reading is part of Paul’s appeal for contributions to a collection he planned to deliver to the poor Christians in Jerusalem. Their communal living described by Luke in Acts 2:44-45 may have led to communal poverty. Not only would such a sum of money help the poor. It would also help the Jerusalem Christians forget the reign of terror Saul/Paul inflicted on them before his conversion. Paul treats of the proposed collection in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. This should be required reading for anyone engaged in fundraising for the Church.
The gospel reading depicts a miracle story within a miracle story, a form that can be called a Marcan Sandwich. Jesus had just crossed the Sea of Galilee from the northeast shore to the northwest shore and landed probably near Capernaum, his center of operations in Galilee. An official of the synagogue approached him with an appeal to cure his little daughter who was dying. Jesus set out to accompany him to the house. A large crowd tagged along. Within the crowd was a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Mark unkindly remarks that she had “suffered at the hands of many doctors, but only got worse.” The woman’s faith goes into action. “If I just touch his clothes, I will be cured.” She does. The cure is instant. Jesus noticed that he had just lost some power. He wanted to know who touched him. The disciples mockingly note that he was pressed by the crowd around him, and now he asks who touched him. Jesus ignores them and looks for the guilty party. The woman knew she was caught, and tearfully relates her story. Jesus attributes the cure to her faith. All are still on the way to the house of the synagogue official. Messengers arrive, “Your daughter has died. Do not bother the Teacher anymore.” Jesus replies to the bereaved father, “Don’t worry. Just have faith.”
When they arrive at the house, they encounter a crowd wailing and weeping. This would have included a group of hired professional mourners — a practice still in vogue in some countries. Jesus said to them, “The child is not dead, just asleep.” They ridiculed him. The point is that death is a temporary sleep from which Jesus can awaken the sleepers. Our English word cemetery is derived from the Greek word for dormitory or bedroom. Mark continues, “He threw them out.” He uses the same Greek word used elsewhere for casting out demons. Jesus takes with him into the bedroom the child’s parents and the Big Three of the apostles, Peter, James, and John. Why these three? They would eventually become the primary witnesses to his own resurrection.
Jesus takes the child’s hand into his own, and says, “Talitha! Koum!” (“Little Girl! Arise!”) Also on other occasions Mark preserves expressions in the Aramaic language which Jesus spoke and in which he first learned to call his parents, Abba and Imma.’ Mark closes the story with a caring statement of Jesus, “Give the child something to eat.”