THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
“Little girl, I say to you, arise!” Mk. 5:41
“I forgive you.”
These were the words spoken by Nadine Collier as tears ran down her face. She was speaking to the accused killer of her mother, Ethel Lance, who was studying the Bible in a famous Black church in Charleston, South Carolina just this past week.
She went on: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and may God have mercy on your soul.”
After much sobbing, she managed to continue again: “You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you and I forgive you.”
What’s even more amazing is that Nadine was not alone. One by one, the members of the families who lost loved ones at the hand of those murdered at this church rose to do the same: forgive! The message was repeated again and again: forgive!
The power of their faith is still resonating across America and beyond. It was a day in which grace – amazing grace – won out over hate. In the words of one commentator: “Even atheists had to see divinity in these families built on love.”
“Hate won’t win.” That’s the promise spoken that day.
But where did that miraculous power come from that enabled these heart-stricken people to reach out to a mass murderer so mercifully?
Perhaps today’s gospel gives us a clue.
It’s a gospel passage that sends an enormously important message to each one of us: trust in the grace and power of God.
To illustrate this message, Mark, the author of today’s gospel, tells the story of two women, which is remarkable in its own right. Who cared about them at that time? They were disposable and without any rights. However, even though they didn’t count in society at that time, they counted deeply to Jesus – the One for whom the last were first.
The older woman had been menstruating for as long as the “little girl” had been alive. But ritually, by Jewish law, she was considered unclean, cut off from the congregation of worshipping people by her continual flow of blood. The girl was twelve, the age Jewish girls became marriageable, the age they began to menstruate.
Both of them hoped beyond hope that there was someone who could hear a desperate cry and answer it, or feel an anguished touch and respond to it. What they both discovered was that there was someone. His name was Jesus.
What both of these women discovered was that God, through Jesus, hears the cry of pain and is touched by human anguish. In these stories, Jesus even dares to get “down and dirty” in order to exalt the humiliated and to restore the “unclean” to community.
What Mark is telling us in this story of miracles is that the God we believe in through Jesus is a God that can be experienced in real life – right now.
Like in that church in Charleston, South Carolina. Like in that recent encyclical by Pope Francis that begs us to view all creation as God-inspired and worthy of our utmost care. Like in the everyday wonders of parenting, the healing that takes place in our medical centers, the birthing of children, the celebrations of life-long marriages, the recovery of addicts, the raising to new life of people imprisoned, the imparting of forgiveness in each of our own lives.
What Mark is trying to help us see is that grace is everywhere.
God is Emmanuel: with us, for us, among us.
But today’s gospel takes it a step further: God is present especially to those most afflicted. And, because of that, God is creating miracles every day: miracles of conversion and repentance and new beginnings. Miracles of hope. Miracles of courage. Miracles of faith.
It’s all a matter of our openness to see and our willingness to trust – trust that God will be there for us even in our darkest moments, even when we are ready to give up.
Jesus has the same message for each one of us who has proclaimed our hopes dead, and who has given up on the possibility of a new beginning. It’s the same message he gave to those people who were mourning a death in today’s gospel: “The child is not dead, but asleep.” Trust. Hope. Believe.
And then it happened: “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
We need to put our own names in the place of “little girl.” He’s telling all of us to “arise”: arise out of our hatred; arise out of our blindness; arise out of our disdain for others; arise out of our petty prejudices; arise out of our doubts and fears and smallness.
That’s what the members of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church did. They arose out of their anger and their hurt and their terrible sense of loss, and were able to do the seemingly impossible: forgive.
Grace can win out over hate. God is able to save them – and each one of us – from hearts filled with revenge and rage and self-pity.
But only if we trust. Only if we follow the words of Jesus: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Only if we allow the love of God to touch our hearts so deeply that we throw ourselves into His arms and let go of all our fears.
Then he will be able to touch each one of us just as he did that little girl, and lift us up – along with her – into a whole new way of living.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.