Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 1 July 2012
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30:2, 6-8, 11-13; 2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43
The Old Testament equivalent of ‘and they lived happily ever after’ is: ‘and he died, old and full of years.’ The death that marks the ending of a full and long life is not seen as an evil, an aberration of God’s good creation. But that isn’t quite how the sage sees it in the reading from the book of Wisdom, a later book written in Greek, not Hebrew, and strongly reflective of Greek philosophy. Here death is not given a role in God’s original intentions for God’s creation, but is the result of evil entering the world. It is hard to know quite how to think of death. Our understanding of the cosmos as a vast integrated and dynamic system gives us an appreciation of the role of endings as well as beginnings, how physical death and decay is not necessarily the antithesis of life but can be what supports and makes it possible. My imagination fails when I try to picture a world without death. I come up with the static and boring images that used to secretly disturb me as a child when I thought about heaven. But thankfully the mysteries of God are not limited by my imaginative ability. The death that is alienation and annihilation and which is the negation of life is not part of God’s eternity. Life in all its fullness is there.
The intrinsic ‘wrongness’ of death is easy to spot in the story of Jairus’s daughter. Here sickness cuts a young life short and Jesus intervenes to raise her up. The miracle shows the power of God at work, the breaking-in of the Kingdom of Life. The woman who touches Jesus on the way to the home of Jairus may not be literally dying, but she is experiencing a physical brokenness that robs her of the fullness of life. Not only is she suffering in her body, but the religious conventions of the day mean that she is also socially ostracised as being permanently unclean. She too is given the gift of life. It was believed at that time that anyone who touched someone unclean would themselves become unclean. Instead what happens is that Jesus’ power for life transforms the woman. Wholeness is contagious.
Fear of death can lead us to hold on to the things we think will give us life. But Jesus has shown us another way. He became poor so that we might become rich. He willingly suffered death so that we could find life. The Corinthian Christians that Paul addresses have much more in material resources than the believers in Jerusalem for whom Paul was organising a collection. They think they are rich, but when they do not share from their riches, they reveal themselves to be spiritually impoverished and deficient in love, however much they might think that they excel spiritually. There is much food for thought here in global terms. Bringing life into a world marred by alienation and death requires both generosity and the humility to receive. It is not the materially rich Corinthians who are asked to do all the giving. Those who give of material abundance receive back so much more from those who in their poverty know how to live by faith, those who are rich in relationship and in wisdom. Paul quotes from the story of the manna in the wilderness which God provided for the people. Those who gathered too little discovered that they had enough, and those who gathered too much and tried to hoard it discovered that it was ruined the next morning. A world governed by life and not death is a world in balance, not one where some gain at the expense of others. It is characterised by gratitude and generosity, and has no place for selfishness. It is a world that is whole.
Psalm 30 is a psalm of gratitude for a great personal deliverance. It is the song sung on the other side of chaos: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” As we pay attention to and give thanks for the little deliverances in our lives, and the big ones, we learn to trust God so that we can approach the dark night of death with confidence that there really is a morning beyond. And if we are spurred on by that confidence, we can bring life into the dark places now.