Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

By Father Paul Nord, O.S.B.

Sunday Scripture

First Reading: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24; Response: Psalm 30:2, 4-6, 11-13; Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

Our first reading comes from the Book of Wisdom, which begins: “Love righteousness, you who judge the earth; think of the LORD in goodness, and seek him in integrity of heart” (Wisdom 1:1). This theme of “righteousness” (or “justice”) returns in 1:15 (today’s reading): “for justice [righteousness] is undying.” This is wisdom — the seeking of God by loving righteousness.

Wisdom 1:12 says that the consequence of committing injustice is death: “Do not invite death by the error of your life, nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands.” This theme of “death” continues in the first verse of today’s reading (1:13): “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” God is the source of all life. Wisdom’s author recounts God’s creation of “all things.” Further, “the creatures of the world are wholesome.” Recall Genesis 1, after God creates, “God saw that it was good.”

The second part of our reading begins: “For God formed man to be imperishable.” This reference to Genesis’ creation account continues with “the image of his own nature he made him” (Wisdom 2:23). This is a reference to Genesis 1:27: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them.” There is probably an allusion to Genesis 3 in the next verse — “But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world” (Wisdom 2:24). Today we are accustomed to identifying the serpent of Genesis 3 with the devil. But this theological interpretation may have originated not long before the composition of the Book of Wisdom — approximately the century preceding Christ’s birth.

Next is our second reading. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul had several pastoral problems that he needed to resolve. First, Paul needed to explain to the Corinthians why he had not visited them as soon as he had promised (2 Corinthians 1:12–2:13). Second, he needed to heal the conflict which had prompted him to write a “letter of tears” (2:4) to correct Corinthian misbehavior. Third, Paul felt it necessary to rebuke false apostles who had tried to lead the Corinthians astray with a false gospel (2 Corinthians 11–12).

As if these concerns were not enough, Paul also wanted to take up a collection to support the poor among the Christians in Jerusalem. Paul speaks of this collection in Galatians 2:10 — where he describes it as something that James, Peter and John had requested of Paul and Barnabas. Several years had passed since that request had been made, but Paul believed that the Gentile Christian communities which he had evangelized were now ready to demonstrate this kind of generosity.

Paul had needed to discipline and correct the Corinthian Christians on multiple occasions. For this reason, it was awkward for Paul to ask them to generously give to this Jerusalem collection. But Paul asked anyway. He knew that the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem were suspicious of his Gentile Christian communities, but he believed that giving the Jerusalem community a generous collection would demonstrate that Gentile Christians were their sincere brothers in faith. In 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9, Paul is asking the Corinthians to generously give to this collection. He says he expects them to “excel in this gracious act.” This probably really means that Paul is worried that they won’t.

St. Paul concludes this section by quoting Exodus 16:18 — which describes the Israelites collecting manna in the desert after God freed them from Egypt. The manna was miraculous food given daily by God. If the Corinthians recognize that everything they have is a gift from God — like manna — then they should be generous.

Today’s gospel is a classic example of the “sandwich” narrative technique sometimes used by Mark in his gospel. This is when “story A” begins, but then is interrupted by “story B.” After “story B” finishes, then “story A” resumes and is finally finished. “Story A” is like the two pieces of bread of a sandwich, while “story B” is the “meat” of the sandwich — placed in between.

First, Jesus is approached by Jairus, a synagogue official, who begs Jesus to cure his daughter who is “at the point of death.” Jesus follows Jairus toward his home. But on the way, there was “a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years.” She believes that simply touching Jesus’ clothing will heal her. She has profound faith in Jesus’ healing power. This “story B” is interrupting “story A.”

Because of the crowd “pressing” upon Jesus, the woman is able to touch Jesus without it being obvious. But Jesus is “aware at once that power had gone out from him.” So Jesus seeks and asks who did it. The woman is filled with “fear and trembling” — but also with the recognition that she has been healed of her great suffering. When she falls down before Jesus, he addresses her with fatherly affection: “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The first story (“A”) resumes — people arrive and tell the synagogue official: “Your daughter has died.” Restoring a dead person to life is much different than curing the sick. But Jesus says to the synagogue official: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” When Jesus restores the girl to life, he shows great love. He takes her by the hand, and commands her to “arise.” He calls her “talitha” — Aramaic for “little lamb” — a term of affection.

The “sandwich” narrative structure — described above — should prompt us to recognize similarities between “story A” and “story B.” First, both the afflicted woman and the synagogue official show faith in Jesus, who commends them for it. A second similarity is that Jesus heals both the woman and the girl by touching them. Third, both the woman with hemorrhages and the dead girl would be considered “unclean” according to Jewish law. Touching such “unclean” persons would make the person touching them also “unclean.” Jesus has no such concern. Instead, Jesus heals them both because he has the life-giving power of God.