YEAR B: HOMILY FOR THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
HOMILY THEME: “Jesus said, ‘Do not fear, only believe. The child is not dead but sleeping.’ Jesus took her by the
hand and said to her, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up.” (Mark 5:36, 39, 41-42)
BY: Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC
What is death? I’ve been intrigued by this question with its illusive answer as far back as I can remember, the many pet graves in our backyard attesting to my fascination with the beyond. How many beloved birds, fish, hamsters, and turtles were laid to rest as I presided over the burials. What is this thing DEATH?
Just recently, in casual conversation with a hospital colleague, I was asked what I might have become were I not a priest. I heard words emerging from my subconscious, “I think I’d be a funeral director.” A bit stunned by what I heard myself saying, I realized that the question—what is death?—remains a gnawing mystery.
Divine Providence, I believe, has led me to become a priest and a hospital chaplain, has led me to the very center of the continuing search. Indeed, I have been walking through the valley of the shadow of death for many years now. And here, where one might expect to encounter dismal darkness, I regularly experience vibrant life—honest, pure, simple.
The gospel passage we hear today invites us to consider the mystery of death. By the example of Jesus, we are challenged to put our faith in God who is Lord of both the living and the dead. When approached by the grieving family of a young girl who has just died, “Jesus said, ‘The child is not dead but sleeping.’ Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Do not fear, only believe. Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up.” (Mark 5:36, 39, 41-42)
Now, it could be that the girl really was only asleep, not dead, and Jesus was the only one to perceive the truth. More likely, I believe, is that Jesus is speaking metaphorically of death. The little girl was truly as dead as dead could be. Were it not so, Jesus raising her would be no miracle at all, only an abrupt arousal from her nap. And we must keep in mind what the gospel doesn’t reveal: while Jesus did raise up this little girl, she eventually died and stayed dead, as did every one of the other miraculous resurrections Jesus worked as related in the gospel accounts. Death is the only doorway to heaven, and Jesus greatly desires heaven for all of us.
What, then, to make of so many questions about the meaning of death? We have to admit that there is just so much we do not understand, even about our physical, observable world. A news report reminds us that we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do: “Soon after scientists landed by helicopter in Indonesia’s Foja Mountains, an area in the eastern province of Papua with roughly 2 million acres of pristine tropical forest, they stumbled on a primitive egg- laying mammal that simply allowed itself to be picked up and brought to their field camp.
Describing a ‘Lost World,’ apparently never visited by humans, members of the team said they also saw large mammals that have been hunted to near-extinction elsewhere and discovered dozens of exotic new species of frogs, butterflies and palms.” (Associated Press, February 8, 2006)
If we have not yet discovered all there is to be discovered in the physical world, how much of the spiritual must yet remain a mystery to us. How much remains to be comprehended only by heaven’s glorious light!
While I don’t expect my curiosity about death to be stilled during my earthly sojourn, the journey towards an answer is not in vain. Daily it thrills me, the unaccustomed intimacy with those at the edge, with life at its most honest, pure and simple.
Until that day of final revelation, then, let us strive to content ourselves with Jesus’ words in the face of the great mystery, “Do not fear, only believe.”