Every time Jesus tells a parable or performs a miracle or teaches us something, it is always a revelation. What is being revealed is God and the Kingdom of God. If we walk away in amazement, as many do in the gospels, we lose the revelation. But if we ponder the teaching, the parable, or the miracle, we not only learn the truth about God and God’s Kingdom, we also learn the truth about ourselves.
In today’s gospel story, we have a miracle within a miracle, a healing within a healing, a revelation within a revelation. One of the truths I learn about God, through today’s gospel story, is that God is compassion itself. And one of the truths I learn about ourselves as human beings is that vulnerability is not such a bad thing. When we risk being vulnerable in front of each other, good things always seem to happen. I love what Fr. Ron Rolheiser says in this regard: “Only when we risk enough to let someone hurt us are we risking enough to let someone love us. When we make ourselves available enough to be hurt, we will finally be available enough to be truly loved.” He goes on to say, “It is risky to expose ourselves in friendship and love. At times we will make fools of ourselves, at times we will be rejected, and at times we will get hurt. However, most times our honesty and vulnerability will meet with acceptance, gratitude, and the counteroffer of a deep friendship and a more satisfying intimacy.” To complete that thought he says, “The refusal to become vulnerable is one of the greatest causes of loneliness.” In this gospel story, everyone is vulnerability. Everyone in this story puts themselves out there, everyone risks, and something good happens.
We have a story within a story. Jesus is doing like you and I are always doing–he is multitasking. We start off with a synagogue official named Jairus whose 12-year-old daughter is on death’s door. On the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus is interrupted by a woman who has been hemorrhaging blood for 12 years. Then the story goes back to Jairus and his dying daughter. Early on in my priesthood, my life and my ministry kept getting interrupted until I realized the interruptions were my life and ministry. Whenever I feel called to do something compassionate for another person, I always initially see it as an interruption. People seem to want my time when I have the least amount of it. And I can not count how many times I’ve had funerals on my one day off—Mondays. Please, if you can help it, don’t die on a Thursday or Friday; otherwise, it will interrupt my plans for Monday. Fortunate for us, Jesus did not see it that way. Each time Jesus is interrupted, he sees it as an opportunity to reveal God and God’s compassion.
Everyone, giving and receiving compassion in this story, first becomes vulnerable. Jairus shows his vulnerability. We are told Jairus is one of the synagogue leaders. Jairus must trust Jesus at the very time when there is growing opposition and plotting among Jairus’s colleagues to have Jesus killed. Jesus is not welcomed in the synagogue and is labeled a blasphemer. Jairus reaches out to Jesus, nonetheless, and risks his own reputation among his colleagues. Jesus cares little about his own reputation and only about this gravely ill 12-year-old child.
On his way to Jairus’s house, Jesus is interrupted by an ill woman whose only desire is to touch his cloak. This nameless woman prefers to remain nameless and not make a scene, yet she is making herself vulnerable by reaching out. She knows Jesus, a good Jew, is not supposed to come in contact with blood. Should Jesus do so, he would be considered ritually unclean and scorned by all. She also knows something else. What she knows is that Jesus is the compassion of God walking the earth and just coming close to that compassion would be enough to heal her.
Later on, when she admits that she is the one who touched Jesus, it says, “she told him the whole truth.” Talk about vulnerability. Who of us would tell another soul our whole truth? There are too many embarrassing, shameful, and idiotic episodes included in the whole truth. I would like to leave out a few parts, if you don’t mind. Who of us would speak about our suffering, our weakness, and our failures? She does. And she does it with everyone listening. Why? Because the risk of being condemned by others, the risk of being vulnerable was worth the possibility of touching the compassionate One in the hopes of a healing. She is rewarded for her reaching out and finds the healing she is seeking and then some. What happens when we do not risk, when we are not willing to be a little vulnerable before others? What happens is that our deepest desires and our greatest potential become self-imprisoned in a life too small.
Besides Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman, there is a third vulnerable person. It is the 12-year-old girl. When you are at death’s door and even considered dead by your relatives, I cannot think of a greater vulnerability. No power to change her situation is coming out of her. The powerless people of this world just know they cannot save themselves. These are the ones, who to this day, are not too proud to accept the handout of amazing grace.
The last and most vulnerable person in the story is Jesus himself. He is love itself. Whenever we love, we are automatically vulnerable. And the reason is because we do not know if our love will be returned to us or rejected flat out. While love always leads to vulnerability, it also leads to compassion. Jesus is the most vulnerable in this story, because he has the most at stake; he has the most to lose. Jewish law, in Biblical times, was very clear that you were not to come in contact with blood or a corpse without risking ritual defilement, spiritual uncleanliness. Jesus does both in this story. Unclean people were automatically excommunicated from Church and society. Jesus knowingly takes the risk to touch because love of people always surpasses obedience to rules, in God’s Kingdom. In God’s Kingdom, which we are called to build, is a kingdom that cannot be overcome by sickness or even death. In that kingdom nothing can harm you permanently, no loss is lasting, no defeat more than temporary, and no disappointment is conclusive. Suffering, failure, loneliness, sorrow, discouragement and death will be part of our journeys, but the Kingdom of God will ultimately be triumphant. No evil can resist grace forever. I end with a quote from the late Brennan Manning who says, “If you call Jesus Goodness, he will be good to you; if you call him Love, he will be loving to you; but, it you call him Compassion, he will know that you know.”
Fr. Phil Mulligan