Sunday, July 1, 2018

Good News in a Hard World

July 1, 2018: 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom 1:13–15, 2:23–24 / Psalm 30 / 2 Corinthians 8:7,9, 13–15 / Mark 5:21–43
Good News in a Hard World

We do not need to be convinced we live in a hard world, but we should regularly think about what that means for Christian Faith. In my rather small circle of what I consider to be “close” family and friends are ongoing issues of cancer, acute financial insecurity, relational stress, and imprisonment. At Pastoral Council this past week we heard a ministry report about people only ten miles from our church who are never sure from day to day if they will have enough to eat. It is hard to follow national and international news because the stories are often so awful and seemingly next to impossible to solve.

If all of us were open and honest, we would admit there is no one who goes through life with no serious worries and struggles. Today’s Gospel tells us of two scenarios where people are hurting. One is Jairus, a synagogue official––a man of relative wealth and high position––whose twelve-year-old daughter is at the point of death. The other is a poor woman––a socially “insignificant” person––who had suffered from a chronic hemorrhage for twelve years. Stress and suffering has no respect for social status. Hard things can and do hit any and every one.

The Gospel proceeds to tell of the power of God and the gracious healing action of Jesus. This is the essence of the Good News. God is more powerful than the awful things in this world. Jesus has come into our world to turn what seems “natural” upside down and to give a hope that the brokenness we see and experience in the created order will be healed.

When Jesus was on earth he healed some people. In today’s reading he healed the woman and even raised the young girl from her death bed. Yet nowhere does Scripture or the Christian Tradition claim that Jesus healed everyone around him who was ill or distressed.

On one level this is one of the great unanswerable questions. If God is all powerful and loving, why doesn’t he heal everyone? Why does he allow awful things at all?!

As Christians, we need to have a good grasp of the early story line of our Faith. The Wisdom reading affirms the initial two chapters of Genesis: God created the world very good. Wisdom is explicit: God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living….. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him.

Because God created us in his image—rational, creative, and volitional, we were created with the ability to make real choices. The most basic of those choices is whether or not to honor God as our Creator and so obey him as Sovereign Lord. Writing to the Romans, St Paul summarizes what happened: Humans have made the choice not [to] accord him as God, and there was an  awful result––they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened (Romans 1:21). Our human parents made a choice that brought brokenness (Christian theology calls this the Fall) not only in human nature; the whole physical universe has been affected: creation was made subject to futility (Romans 8:20).

And so we have stories like Jairus and his daughter, and the afflicted woman. We have awful reports in our news. And we face hard thing in our own lives and the lives of those we love. This is because God allows the effects of bad decisions made by millions of people throughout history to happen. God honors the image of his own nature he created in us, and that includes being able to make real (even if awful) choices. But beyond our limited choices, God is still at work to restore all of creation to fullness of life.

In the meantime, the big issue is how we handle these things. One popular way in our culture is to be entertained to distraction. Keep life full. Try not to think about the bad things. Have as much fun as possible. Focus on dreams of accomplishments and purchases and vacations that we hope are yet to come. That works…. for a while.

But how do we really handle the hard things? My wife’s father is fighting a battle with late-stage cancer right now. It’s not something that is going to go away. What is real and sure and lasting when all that is temporal is going to be lost?

The Gospel tells us that this world does not have the last word. The battles we face and fight are not between equal forces of good and evil. God formed man to be imperishable.

God is the author of life, not death. No matter what the hard circumstances might be, God is greater. Goodness and life are always at work, even in the hard things.

I had a close friendship with a psychiatrist in one of my previous congregations. I once asked him, out of all the horrible things he heard from many of his patients, what surprised him the most. His answer totally surprised me; he said, “The one thing that surprises me the most is how so many people are able to function as normally as they do.” For all the awful broken things he helped people deal with, he saw the power of God’s life and grace at work beyond anything he could understand or ever take credit for.

God does not magically “undo” a world that has been affected by that choice long ago to let a power other than the Lord of all to have influence. But God will not allow the power of sin and death to have the last word. In his Son he has shown us what happens when Death tries to extinguish the Light. John starts his Gospel saying, The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it. [Yet] the true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

That Light came visibly and powerful into the lives of Jairus, his daughter, and the afflicted woman. Jesus is about to come to us yet again in the Mystery of the Eucharist. Keep your life open to Jesus. The Light and Life of God himself is here for all of us.

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