Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fortnight of Freedom

13 Sunday B  #98

Wis 1, 13-15. 2, 23-24
Ps 30
2 Cor 8, 7. 9. 13-15
Mk 5, 21-43

Peter Maurin Farm
July 1, 2012

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us that all creation is good, and that God created human beings in his own image and likeness, the basis of all human rights.  The reading from Second Corinthians is a clear command to us Christians to share what we have beyond our own needs with those who have not.  Our reading from Mark’s Gospel is deceptively simple.  Mark is like that.  Sometimes Mark seems overly simple, if I may say so.  Jesus did this and then Jesus did that; this happened and then that.  The most common phrase in Mark is “and then.”  Sounds like a kid reprising a movie, doesn’t it?  But take a second look.

          Jairus was an official of the local synagogue, a well-respected and presumably a wealthy man.  He didn’t have to push through the crowd to approach Jesus.  People made way for him.  Then he fell at Jesus’ feet to beseech him.  It was important in those days how one approached another person in public, especially someone he did not know, and especially if he was going to ask a favor.  Although Jairus was a leading citizen, he prostrated himself on the ground before the penniless itinerant preacher-healer Jesus and begged:  “My daughter is at the point of death.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live!”   

                   Mark interrupts the story abruptly.  A poor old woman enters the scene.  Jairus is kept waiting, by an old impoverished woman, a woman suffering from a flow of blood.  It is not just that she is ill and poor and a woman; she is unclean, ritually unclean.  Women were considered unclean once a month, but this poor woman had been haemorrhaging for twelve years straight.  By the letter of the law she should not have been in any crowd.  She should not have come into contact with any other person lest that one too be declared unclean, but up in Galilee the Law was not as strictly observed as it was in Jerusalem. 

                   Notice how the woman approaches Jesus.  The crowd makes no way for her, she does not fall before him, she is afraid even to approach him face to face.  She dares only to stretch out her hand and touch his clothing, “the hem of his garment,” from behind.  When Jesus realizes that healing power has gone out of him, he demands to know who has touched him.  Then in fear and trembling she comes forward and falls before him to explain herself.  “Daughter,” he tells her, “your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” 

                   Then Mark returns to the story of Jairus and his daughter.  Word comes that she has died.  Jesus counsels faith instead of fear.  Then the din of wailing as they approach Jairus’ house.  Finally the touching scene: Jesus takes her hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”  She gets up and walks around, and finally the charming detail, “Give her something to eat.” 

                   What are we to take from this “miracle within a miracle,” as it is called, the story of Jairus interrupted by the story of the woman with a flow of blood?  The action stops, the powerful synagogue leader is put on hold, for the sake of a woman, a second-class citizen in those days, and worse, one who is poor and  worse than that, “unclean.”  The lesson is this:  in the economy of Jesus, in God’s economy, it’s not the big-shots, but the poor, the sick, those who are pushed around and those who are pushed aside who come first, not the big-shots, but the little-shots.   Nowadays we call it “the preferential option for the poor.” 

          But aren’t the poor poor because they are lazy?  Isn’t it their own fault in the richest nation on earth, the richest in world history?  During this time of economic distress, I don’t think many of us are going to fall for that line.  For decades many of us, I included, have lived one pay check from homelessness, and worse.  Imagine what it feels like when the clerk at the Unemployment Office hands you your last check and says, “Good luck!”  It could happen to any one of us.
          It is hazy, hot and humid, but we can not let pass our nation’s birthday without reflection.  On July 4th, 1776, our forefathers declared our independence in the most powerful document of political history.  For the first time in history a nation was founded on the premise of God-given inalienable rights for all, at least on paper.  No government can in justice take away our rights because no government has given us our rights.  They are from God! 

          And yet today, in the middle of the “Fortnight of Freedom” that our Archbishop, Cardinal Timothy Dolan has declared, let us take heed of the threats to our heritage of freedom.  They are real.  The President claims the right to order the assassination of anyone he deems a “terrorist,” foreign or US citizen, with no review, no appeal, no need to explain or justify.  Since 1215 the British government has been obliged to justify imprisonment, no less execution.  US law is based upon English Common Law, including Magna Charta.  Good-bye, habeas corpus!  Good-bye, Magna Charta!  One hundred and sixty-eight men are being held in Guantanamo Prison in Cuba, most of them, admittedly, simply because they are Muslim, of Oriental ancestry and in the wrong place at the wrong time.  They have been there for over ten years despite the lack of any evidence that they have committed any offense!  They are there because we simply don’t know what to do with them.

          Ours is the most wealthy country in the world, in world history, so we pride ourselves!  According to one standard that is correct.  But if you take the aggregate wealth of the nation and divide it up among the citizens, nowhere near!  Norway is the richest country in the world by that calculation.  In quality of health care, we have the best in the world, yes, for those who can pay for it; for most of us it ranks about 36, just ahead of Slovenia according to the World Health Organization. 

          Having destroyed Iraq in order to save it, we are now at war in four countries.  We spend as much on war, wars past, current and future, as the rest of the world combined.  That money could heal our sick, educate our young, create jobs to repair our crumbling infra-structure and see to a dignified retirement for our aged workers.  And yet, college students graduate burdened by debt they may work their lives to liquidate and we congratulate ourselves that they will not have to pay 7% interest on their loans, only half that for the next year.  And thereafter?  As for religious freedom, Catholic Air Force officers are forced to sign a pledge that they will not hesitate to launch nuclear weapons of mass destruction upon command even though their use has been condemned unequivocally by the highest teaching authority of the Church, the Second Vatican Council . 

          These are crimes against life itself, at least as much as contraception.  Everyone knows our Church’s stand on abortion and contraception.  How many know our stand on nuclear weapons?  The Vatican has informed the United Nations that there is no longer any legal or moral justification for the production and maintenance of nuclear weapons!  

          Yes, our religious liberty is indeed under threat.  Habeas corpus is under threat.  Magna Charta is under threat.  The planet itself is under threat.  Why all this hullaballoo about the Affordable Health Act?  Do you sense a lack of proportion here?  W