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Fernando Armellini - Sat, Jun 26th 2021

Rescued from Death by the God of Life


Despite the suffering involved, people desperately love life. To Odysseus, who in Hades tries to console him, Achilles replies: "Do not embellish death for me, O Odysseus! I would rather, as a laborer, serve another man on earth than reign over the dead." The concept of the Egyptians was different; for them, death was "perpetual life" in a glorious kingdom, situated in the west, illuminated by the Sun god, from dawn to sunset, when it is dark here.

Among all ancient peoples, the conviction of the existence of an afterlife prevailed and, among the Greeks, the immortality of the soul. Inexplicably, this did not happen among the Jews who, since they were born as a people in Egypt, allowed more than a thousand years to pass before they began to believe in a life beyond death.

They proclaimed the Lord "God of life" (Num 27:16), but always with an earthly perspective. "In you is the fountain of life," sang the psalmist, but by life he meant "health and blessing" (Sir 34:17), a fruitful land, abundant harvests, numerous posterity and, finally, dying "old and full of days" (Gen 35:29), like the ripe sheaves that are withdrawn from the field (Job 5:26). The term "immortality" does not even appear in the Hebrew Bible.

Israel's slowness in arriving at the explicit affirmation of eternal life is precious and enlightening: it makes us understand that, before believing in the resurrection and a future world, it is necessary to value and love, with passion, life in this world, as God values and loves it.

To internalize the message, we repeat:

"From the Lord, I have learned to love life, every expression of life."


First Reading: Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

A few centuries before Christ, Job affirmed: "The one who lies down will not rise again; the heavens will vanish before he wakes, before he rises from his sleep" (Job 14:12) and, after him, the wise man Qohelet was still convinced that "the destiny of humans and animals is identical: death for one as for the other" (Ecl 3:19).As late as the middle of the second century B.C., everyone in Israel believed that the dead lived a permanent sleep in the "land of gloom and shadow, to the land of chaos and deepest night, where darkness is the only light" (Job 10:21-22).

By the time of Jesus, the mindset had changed profoundly. The Sadducees maintained that death marked the end of everything, but most people shared the doctrine of the Pharisees who believed in the resurrection of the dead. They circulated the saying: "The day a man dies is better than the day he is born," in fact, one does not celebrate the day one begins a long and dangerous journey; one rejoices instead when one happily concludes a journey.

This image of the rabbis is evocative, but it does not answer the more disturbing question, "Why must one die?" We come from nothing, we open our eyes to the light, and we fall in love with life, then it ends in a breath (Job 7:7), "passes like the traces of a cloud" (Wis 2:4); a relentless and ruthless force grabs us and drags us back to nothingness, to the dust from which we were taken. Did God create us in his image and establish a love dialogue with us to expose us to this cruel mockery?

The author of the book of Wisdom, who lived in Alexandria at the time of Jesus, rejects this perspective and states categorically: "God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. Since he has created everything; all creatures of the universe are for our good; there is no deadly poison in them" (vv. 13-14). The life of man is not comparable to the waves of the sea that rise and disappear without a trace of their passage. God cannot play with man as the wind plays with the waters.

If not from God, then where does death come from? "It entered the world because of the devil's envy"—our reading answers (v. 24).

A puzzling statement! Therefore, if they had not sinned, people would never have died? Science categorically refutes this statement. Biological death has always existed: the human organism, like that of every other living being, as the years go by, weakens, wears out, and ends its cycle.

This is not the death that frightened the pious Israelite of Jesus' time. The righteous knew that he was destined for life; his death, in the book of Wisdom, is defined as "departure," "liberation," "transfer" to God's rest, "exodus" from slavery to freedom, and for this reason it was not feared. The passage to a better life could not be considered a punishment.

What death, then, was introduced by sin? The verse that precedes our passage helps us to understand: "Do not bring about death by the errors of your lives do not bring about ruin by the works of your hands" (Wis 1:12). Here is who causes death: sin. Those who feed hatred, take revenge, are violent, those who lead sinful lives, even if they enjoy excellent health, have destroyed the best part of themselves.

Today's reading concludes, "They experience death who are on the devil's side" (v. 25). It is not biological death that we are talking about; this is an event, not an absolute evil. Man dies only when he ceases to love when he turns in on himself and becomes selfish when he turns away from God and his wisdom that shows the "path of life" (Prov 13:14), that is "the source of life" (Prov 3:18). Who introduces in this condition of death is the devil, is the evil force, present in every person and that distances from the Lord.

The author of the book of Wisdom shows that he has assimilated the biblical message well. In the holy books of Israel, it is continuously reaffirmed that whoever chooses sin decrees death.

Moses says to the people: "See, I have set before you on this day life and good, evil and death; I command you to love the Lord your God and follow his ways. I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; choose life, that you and your descendants may live" (Deut 30:15-20).

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7.9.13-15

During the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.), there were several famines in the provinces of the Roman Empire. Palestine, already an impoverished region, was not spared, and the Christian communities found themselves in emergencies several times. At the end of a lively debate with the apostles in Jerusalem, Paul solemnly committed himself to help the needy of his people, recalling the duty of solidarity to the Christians of the churches he had founded in pagan territory (Gal 2:10).

It was in Corinth that, for the first time and at the suggestion of the Christians of that city, he thought of taking up a collection. As often happens with good initiatives, the initial good intentions are followed by a cooling of enthusiasm, apathy, and disinterest. The realization of the project is first delayed and then completely blocked. This is what happened in Corinth.

Writing to the Christians of that community, Paul recalls, first, the commitment they had undertaken and, to encourage them, he cites the generosity shown by the Thessalonians and Philippians: "According to their means—even beyond their means—they wanted to share in helping the saints. They asked us for this favor spontaneously and with much insistence, and far beyond anything we expected, they put themselves at the disposal of the Lord, and of us by the will of God" (2 Cor 8:3-5).

To arouse a little jealousy and holy emulation, in certain circumstances, can be an excellent expedient. The Apostle does not consider it convenient to impose drastic commands on himself, not least because his detractors have spread malicious rumors about him. It is said that, through the collection, he intended to achieve a hidden goal: to acquire the goodwill of his people. For this reason, he prefers to base his appeal to generosity on two theological reasons.

The first is the example of Christ: "He, though he was rich, became poor for your sake" (v. 9). The collection is not a simple act of generosity; it is the sign that the community has assimilated the thoughts and feelings of Christ; it is the proof of the authenticity of faith because it is a manifestation of gratuitous love, which constitutes the perfection of the Christian life.

The second reason is the need to create conditions of equality (vv. 13-14). The sharing of goods is not a marginal and optional aspect of the evangelical proposal; it is an essential requirement of the Christian vocation. It is not a question of reducing oneself to poverty to help others but showing that faith in the Risen One has made us understand the relative value of this world's goods.

Paul concludes with a biblical reminder (v. 15). In the wilderness, the Israelites had been instructed by God to gather only as much manna as they would consume in a day; there was to be none left over. Some tried to collect more than they needed, but they found it rotten and full of worms in the morning. This was the lesson that God intended to give to his people: the goods necessary for life cannot be hoarded; they must be left at the disposal of those in need; they must be shared.

Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

The passage proposes two miracles, inserted one into the other. In the first verses, Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, comes to Jesus to ask him to go and lay his hands on his dying daughter (vv. 21-24). Then the healing of a woman who had been bleeding for twelve years is narrated (vv. 25-34), and finally, the story of the illness, death, and resuscitation of Jairus' daughter resumes (vv. 35-43).

We begin with the woman's healing suffering from an incurable hemorrhage (vv. 25-34). The disease is described in all its severity: it has lasted for twelve years, it does not improve. Indeed, it continues to worsen, no doctor has been able to cure her, it has forced the sick woman to squander all her savings, it is annoying and humiliating, it affects the woman in her intimacy, in that part of her body that should be the source of life and it is, above all, the cause of religious impurity. Blood is the symbol of life, but when it comes out of the body, it recalls death it causes disgust and fear. The law establishes that she who has blood loss is not admitted to the feasts and the community meetings and that she be avoided by all as if she were a leper. Those who have contact, even casual, are obliged to undergo complicated ceremonies before resuming everyday life (Lev 15:25-27).

Like all sick, marginalized, and despised (Mk 6:56), this unclean woman feels within herself an irresistible urge to approach Jesus, to "touch" him. "If I can even touch his cloak—she thinks—I will be healed."

Two obstacles prevented this encounter: the fear of violating the strict provisions of the law and the barrier constituted by the immense crowd that crowded around the Master. Hence the decision to act in secret. She comes up behind Jesus, touches his cloak, and feels healed as if struck by a sudden force of life.

So far, the fact. Now let us examine the details that allow us to grasp the "sign" beyond the miracle. We are in front of a woman, nameless, impure for twelve years. The evangelist wants to emphasize the number twelve; in fact, he uses it again later when he speaks of the age of the daughter of Jairus: "She was twelve years old" (v. 42). Twelve is the symbol of the people of Israel, which—as I have repeatedly pointed out—is a feminine name.

In the evangelist's symbolic language, the woman's impurity and the child's lifelessness indicate the dramatic condition of the woman Israel whose spiritual guides are not only incapable of healing her infirmities but are repulsed, shunning her miseries, and not favoring, indeed hindering, the encounter with the one who can communicate salvation.

A sickness is undoubtedly a form of death. The psalmist considered it a step toward the realm of the afterlife (Ps 30:3-4). Contact with a sick and unclean person implied a diminution of life. Everyone was afraid of it.

Jesus assumed a singular attitude: he did not avoid in any way those considered unclean; he let himself be approached, touched, and did not run to make the ritual purifications prescribed by the book of Leviticus. He is aware of having a life force that cannot be affected by any form of death, and he wants this to be known to all, so he calls the woman and places her in the middle, not to humiliate her, but so that all may see, reflected in her, his condition.

The woman goes forward "afraid and trembling," as if being sick, feeling unclean, having felt the need to turn to Jesus were a fault. There is no illness, neither physical nor moral, that justifies the refusal or that constitutes an impediment to approach God. Before the Lord, all are impure, but they are made pure by the encounter with his envoy, with Christ. Only hypocrites can consider themselves holy and raise barriers not to be united with sinners. These people do not need to "touch" Jesus; they delude that they are already in perfect health.

Christ's attitude towards the woman is an invitation never to feel discomfort, never to flee in front of those considered impure. The Christian is not afraid to lose his dignity or good reputation by approaching or allowing himself to be touched by those whom everyone tries to avoid. The only thing he must care about is finding a way to restore life to a brother or sister. If he must challenge even the gossip and spite of "good people," he need not worry about it so much.

Power of life emanates from Jesus, but not everyone who touches him materially receives it. In today's passage, we notice a large crowd around him (v. 31). These are not enemies, but disciples, people who are very close to him, who perhaps push him and possibly get in his way. Yet, he claims that only one person has "touched" him. Only the sick woman touched him "with faith." "Daughter, your faith has saved you," he tells her; you alone, amid so many people, were able to accept God's gift.

The crowd represents today's Christians who are close to the Master, can hear his word, and "touch" him in the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist. If their lives are not transformed if their "illnesses" are not cured, and their vices and sins remain the same if their intractable character is not changed and their offensive words do not diminish, it means that they have remained a "crowd" that crowds around Christ without ever really "touching" him; they have superficial and external contact with him, his word is a sound that enters the ears but does not reach the heart.

Let us move on to the second episode, Jairus' daughter (vv. 21-24,35-43). The element that unites this miracle to the previous one is the faith that saves. Here we are not faced with a severe illness, but with a desperate situation, with death. Can the power of life that Jesus communicates to the sick still do anything in an extreme case like this? Humanly speaking, it seems that there is nothing more to be expected, and yet to the leader of the synagogue, Jesus recommends: "Do not fear, just believe" (v. 36).

Here is the unprecedented message: his power to give life does not stop even in the face of man's greatest enemy, death. By awakening the child from the sleep of death, he shows that faith in him can achieve this victory as well. He does not conquer death because it adds a few years to man's life in this world. If faith in him only achieved this, we could not speak of a final victory; death would still have the upper hand in the end. He defeated it. He turned it into a birth because he made it a passage to life without end.

Then he wants to tell us that there are no irretrievable situations for those who have faith in him. Faced with only a few minor faults, those who commit some venial errors, who succumb to some weaknesses, one has no difficulty in admitting that faith in Christ can obtain excellent results. Still, when one comes across people who have completely ruined their existence, who are depraved and practically "dead," almost everyone is discouraged and listens to those who, like the friends of Jairus, go on repeating: "Forget it, it's not worth insisting, why bother the Master anymore?"

To these people tempted to lose hope that something can still change, Jesus says: "Do not fear; just believe." Whoever believes in him will see, even today, all those whom everyone considers definitively "dead" "rise" to new life.

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