St Eugene’s Cathedral
Francis Street, Derry
BT48 9AP | Tel: 028 7126 2302
Last week, we heard about the disciples and Jesus calming the storm that threatened to overwhelm them as they crossed over to the other side of the lake. That left the apostles asking the question as to who Jesus was. But today shows us that Jesus was not merely interested in showing off who he was. His prime identity was as the one sent by God to heal and to overcome those parts of the devil's kingdom that crush people. That is what is involved in spreading the Kingdom of God.
Today he engages with two women. One had been ill for 12 years and one had lived only 12 years. What might we, as disciples of Jesus, learn from this?
Firstly, Jesus did not come merely to knock people into keeping rules. He comes to take away sin and its consequences. The woman had a haemorrhage of some sort. That was not only a debilitating illness, but it also would make her unclean in the eyes of her fellow Jews, if they knew about it. She had to hide her pain. She was ill and needed help - but might also be excluded if she admitted her illness. The Gospel tells us that she had been getting worse, not better, because of her medical treatment. So, in order to hide her secret while seeking healing, she tries to touch Jesus' garment without being seen. That is why she comes forward 'frightened and trembling' when Jesus calls her out. It might have been safer to suffer in silence. Now it is out in the open. In seeking to be healed, she has risked revealing her ailment and being alienated because she asked for help. Jesus reassures her and refers to her faith. Like so many of us, her faith is mixed with a degree of desperation.
There are many men and women who carry hidden crosses in silence. They fear being ostracised or criticised or blamed for their condition or what they have done or suffered. Every society finds scapegoats, individuals and groups who are to be symbols of evil and loaded with the guilt of the past or the present. But scapegoating hinders healing. On the other hand, Jesus sees individuals and offers to heal their hidden wounds or painful secrets. He wants to liberate hurting people, not label them. In fact, he will be so burdened with the sins of others that he will die as a sinner. Today's Gospel invites us to bring our hidden wounds to him. Only a church that is open to acknowledging the pain that others suffer can be a humble bearer of Christ's gentle touch. Only a church that is prepared to accept its own wounds and take the risk of asking for healing will make space for Christ's amazing healing grace. Only a church with ample space for the female experience of God is really Christ's Church.
When we come to Jesus with our need for healing, we are open to what he wants to give and not merely to what we want to receive. We meet Jesus on his terms and not on ours.by Author
Thirdly, on this day we would have celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. This icon is just part of our great treasury of spiritual art that reveals who Jesus is. The original 15th century Greek painting is known as Mary Mother of God of the Passion. When you look more closely beyond the image of Mary and Jesus, you can see on the left-hand side Michael the Archangel carrying the spear and the sponge of the Crucifixion. On the right-hand side is the archangel Gabriel with a three-bar cross and the nails. Jesus in Mary's arms is looking towards the Cross for it hangs over him from the moment of his conception. The Cross is the reason why he was born. The child Jesus seems frightened by the sight of the Cross and turning towards Mary for protection. Looking at us, Mary presents the One who will suffer on the Cross to take away the sins of the world. Mary always directs us to her son, but not merely as a wonderworker. She wants us to love him with the love that she has for him. She is mother of perpetual help, who is Jesus! In the Church, she accompanies us to love that wellspring of divine mercy and healing. She is the one who bore the child Jesus and she offers support to us so that we can encounter the Jesus whom she knows and loves. The icon shows her looking at us, eye to eye – but pointing to the son in her arms. And the look on her face tells us not to be worried for God is in control, even when the Cross looms over us. That is the sort of Jesus whom the woman with the haemorrhage met. This wonderful icon is a well of deep spiritual theology for the frightened child that hides in all of us.
Today's readings and feast challenge us to encounter Jesus through the experience of the woman, the daughter of Jairus and Mary. The female experience of God and of society reveal a key part of Jesus' sensitive inclusiveness. Thus, we journey on with Jesus as he seeks to teach the disciples who he is and what God the Father wants to do through Jesus. This will always be a journey of growth that shakes us out of our human way of thinking. But whenever God breaks into our plans, it is for our good. Mary and the woman with the haemorrhage learned that lesson. They want us to know Jesus as they did.
+ Donal McKeown