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Reflection on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Posted on June 27, 2021, by Agnes Ann Schum SL

I’m sure many of you are familiar, to some degree, with Sister Wendy Beckett, the Roman Catholic nun from England who gained popularity on the BBC and PBS for her commentaries and critiques about some of the world’s best known paintings and sculptures.  Our first reading from the book of Wisdom brought her to mind when I read that God created human beings to be immortal.  We were made in the image of God’s own nature, and God created all things and delights in all that lives. I remember watching Sister Wendy on one of these PBS programs, bending backward in her black habit in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel and gazing up through her large eyeglasses at Michelangelo’s “The Creation of Adam.”  Sister Wendy spoke with a storyteller’s wonder at the solemn moment on the ceiling as two fingertips near the touch that began the creation of human life. It is awe-inspiring to imagine the power of God reaching out to a human and giving life.  

 In the Gospel of Mark, we meet two female characters in his story.  One is just entering her womanhood, the other older than her years for all her great suffering.  The young one had a powerful father to advocate for her.  The latter, anonymous and shamed by her condition, seemed caught between the need to hide and her intense desire to be made well. 

 Mark tells us that Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, pushed his way into the crowd in panic and concern to beg of Jesus to go with him to save his daughter who was ill and dying.  As Jesus was hurrying toward Jairus’s house, a woman came up behind him.  She had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, and it was draining her life’s energy much as her life savings had been drained by doctors who could not help her.  Because of this condition she was an outcast from her community, according to cultural and religious beliefs. This story reminds me of the taboos culture has placed on persons suffering from AIDs or other visible afflictions or disfiguration. In desperation she approached Jesus in the crowd. The suffering woman knows that she must stay isolated, yet her faith dares her to enter the crowd and touch even the hem of Jesus’ garment.  No sooner had she done so when she felt the healing power go through her body.

Although aware that healing power has gone out of him, nevertheless, Jesus continues to follow Jairus until he reaches his house. There Jesus approaches the child who had already died and, against cultural and religious norms not to touch the body of a dead person, Jesus takes the child by the hand and tells her to “arise!”  (John Lewis would call this getting into “good trouble” for challenging societal norms.)

In both of these stories the people are desperate.  Both the desperate parents and the despairing woman respond to Jesus’ healing and life-giving power with amazement. The afflicted woman is healed in the midst of the crowd; the daughter of Jairus is raised from the dead in a small, intimate family setting. Both were praised for their faith that just the touch would heal. Yet all who were witnesses moved from awe and fear to amazement.  Jesus admonished them to tell no one of these marvelous events, but how could he expect them to contain their joy?  Mark so many years later told what Jesus had done by a simple touch.  Did he have the memories of those who were there?  Was he recalling oral history or was he, too, an eyewitness?  

We know that Jesus healed many through a simple touch. He understood that human touch is one of our most basic human needs. Imagine what the woman in this Gospel must have felt after 12 years of being an outcast because of her ailment?

In our human interaction, we know that a loving touch can convey trust, care and comfort.  During the worst of the pandemic, we lived in isolation and had been ostracized from others.   We had not been able to give or receive hugs, handshakes or have any physical contact with others. And yet we know that even newborns need physical contact to thrive. Little children reach out to hold someone’s hand for a sense of safety.  A grieving person reaches for someone’s hand for comfort. How many ways have we missed the feel of a handshake or a hug these past many months?

The suffering woman had heard about this person who could heal and believed that she need only reach out and touch his garment, not even his person.  Jesus took the child by the hand and told her to arise. He praised their faith, and they were healed. We, too, through our faith, can trust that our reaching out can be a healing spirit for ourselves and for others.


Agnes Ann Schum SL

Agnes Ann , who resides at Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Ky., is a member of the Motherhouse’s pastoral community care team.