Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Giver of Life

Homily on the 13th Sunday of Year B
Mark 5:21-24.35-43)
June 28, 2009

IF there is any universal human aspiration, it is the aspiration to live for ever. When a person becomes seriously ill, he would normally seek medical help to survive. Only lately, a friend of mine, having discovered she had a cancer, tried every possible way to prolong her life. Even those sects that commit mass suicide do so with they thought that they would be brought back to life if only in another world. If man does not like to die, it is because, according to the First Reading, “God formed man to be imperishable: the image of His own nature He made him” (Wisd 2:23).

Death seems to run against the human natural bent. Man was not created for death, but for life. It is not God’s will that we die, for He is a God who is pro-life. How explain death? “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who are in his possession experience it” (Wisd 2:24). Since it is in man’s nature to live, it is difficult to accept death, even just the though of it. Understandably, we even devise means to lengthen our days. Indeed, man has invented and continues to invent gadgets to prolong life. Or else, we extend it by other means: we live on in our children, in the arts we create, and in the monuments we erect. We wish to live in other people’s memory.

In the Bible, however, life is more than the kind of life that we seek to lengthen. Aside from earthly life, man has another life, the life with God, the life of heaven. Paul, for instance, speaks of the life of Christ in man: “The life that I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me. I still live my human life, but it is a life of faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself to me” (Gal 2:20). It is God’s very life that we share. This is also known as the life in the Spirit (Rom 8:10-11). When a person lives this life, he is full of joy, is happy. And it is for this life that Christ came so he can give it to us abundantly (John 10:10). According to the Second Reading, it is a life seen in the concern for others, in the life of love (2 Cor 8:7,9,13-25).

It is this life that the devil snatched from us; death was brought to us. Though we recoil at physical death, more fearful that this is spiritual death. We experience this death whenever we are on the side of the devil (Wisd 2:24). Sin causes this death: “Just as through one man sin entered the world and with sin death, death thus coming to all men inasmuch as all sinned” (Rom 5:12). Because to sin is ultimately to reject God, those who reject Him die.

But Jesus came precisely to restore this life to us. “I came that you may have life and have it to the full” (John 10:10). If he is able to remove sin that causes death, then he can do something about death itself. That is why, in today’s Gospel, Jesus could say of the young girl, Jairus’ daughter, that she “is not death. She is asleep” (Mark 5:39), even if to all who saw her, she was in fact physically dead. If he has power over life, he has power over death. As Mark sees it, the getting up of the young girl is an image to explain Jesus’ ability to shame death and restore life. No wonder than in the Gospel of John, Jesus describes himself as “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), for he is the source of life. Of course, this presumes that Jesus himself has overcome death at its roots. And the life with God that Jesus bestows, as the Gospel makes it clear, does not end, even if a person physically dies. Physical death, then, may simply be looked at as the last stage of one’s earthly life. Spiritual life does not die with it; on the contrary, death merely crystallizes the divine life, freeing it from all earthly encumbrances. Death, as it were, frees life. It is, in other words, a prelude to real life.

What then is the point of the Gospel story? Just as Jesus is able to raise Jairus’ daughter from death, so he is able to give us new life life. To put it differently, the narrative about the daughter of Jairus is a parable of Jesus as giver of life. In this connection, Paul says: “If the Spirit of him who raise Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring our mortal bodies to life also through his Spirit dwelling in you” (Rom 8:11). We begin to experience this life as soon as we are baptized. According to Paul, “through baptism into his death we were buried with him, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of God the Father, we too might live a new life” (Rom 8:4). We live this kind of life as soon as we accept him in faith. As Jesus himself said to Jairus, “fear is useless; what is needed is faith” (Mark 5:36). And this, we sustain this life through a life of love and of service for others. We ccrucify the flesh, the passion and desires and we live by the lead of the Spirit (Gal 5:24-25; Tom 6:6).

We must therefore avoid sin, because this only leads to death. On the other hand, “now that you are freed from sin and have become slaves of God, your benefit is reconciliation, as you tend toward eternal life. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:22-23). And it is this eternal life that satisfied our universal aspiration to live for ever. In effect, then, eternal life is not our achievement. We cannot acquire it by siring children, by raising monuments or by writing a book to remember us by. All these efforts are rather an invitation for us to transcend earthly life because there is a more authentic life that only Jesus can give, waiting for those who believe in him.

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