In the first couple of years of my ministry while I was working as a hospital chaplain, I remember coming across a young girl of about 12 who was very sick. She was in the hospital several times and she eventually died. I can still see her pale dead body in the intensive care room and her poor parents who were completely devastated. I remember feeling so helpless as a chaplain. I have often prayed for them since. Every time I read today’s Gospel I think of that little girl and her parents.
An event like that always brings up the most difficult questions. Why does God allow these things to happen? Why didn’t God heal her? The readings today give us some interesting things to think about in regard to this. First of all death was not something that God wanted for us and although it is now a part of our earthly existence, it is only a stage of transformation, a doorway to the final stage of our life with God.
The way that Jesus dealt with sickness and death also has a lot to teach us. Since Jesus was able to heal people and even bring people back from the dead, as he did on a few occasions, why did He always want people to be quiet about it? In this Gospel He only brought three of his disciples with him and when He got to the house He made as if the girl was not dead at all. Then he asked the family to keep the whole event quiet. Why? You would think that it would be in his favour if people knew and that He would have more respect and that people would listen to him. Perhaps it was because his primary role was not about healing people physically, even though He had great compassion for people who were sick. However, his main role involved three things:
1. To sacrifice himself for us for the forgiveness of sins, so that we might have eternal life with God when we die.
2. To show us that God is with us in our sufferings. Jesus’ freely accepting death on a cross showed us this.
3. To teach us about God and what our life is all about.
Jesus wanted to teach us that God is not interested in condemning us, or ‘catching us out,’ rather that God has made us to be with him and that God will make that happen if we allow him to. During our time on earth God is gradually transforming us and helping us to become the best people we can be, if we are open to it. The teachings that Jesus left us are the path which leads us through this gradual transformation, so that we become more like God all the time. Jesus is saying, ‘If you want to be transformed inside, then live the way that I am showing you. Spend your life loving and serving the people around you. Don’t always put yourself first and don’t spend your whole life trying to store up a wealth that will disappear the day you die.’ If we get too focused on the world around us, we will miss what our life is really about.
It is tempting to think that that kind of life is only for a few people and that our own life is too difficult or too demanding to be like that; but that is not true. If it were not possible to live this way of life then Jesus would not have taught us about it. The truth is that all of us are given endless opportunities to live the way Jesus taught us, because we are all the time being faced with difficult situations where we continually have to make a choice for good or evil. All of these choices are shaping us and making us into better or worse people. The good thing is that even if we have made a mess of many of the choices we’ve been given, God keeps giving us more, because the Lord wants us to grow into the kind of people that He knows we can become. It is the ordinary struggles that we are faced with every day which are shaping us.
Often at funerals I hear people speaking about the person who has died as if they are gone forever, their existence extinguished, nothing else. But to see it that way is to completely miss the point of what our faith teaches us. What Jesus has taught us is that while we are on earth we are all the time preparing for the world to come, something which is unimaginably wonderful. If we really believe that then we can be happy for those who have gone before us, because they have already reached it, at least if they have chosen it by the way they live. We too have to choose it by the way we live. However, knowing that something wonderful awaits us should give us both a comfort and a hope for those who have died. Sooner or later we will also be there. For now we do our best to try and live as best we can, to continually choose good over evil and to live as God asks us to.
Jesus took the child by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum,”
which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”
The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around.