Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 4, 2018.
Having taught high school Old and New Testament in the past and being a cradle Catholic, the newness of the Good News found in the Bible sometimes gets taken for granted. During the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday’s Mass, the Gospel reading actually penetrated my theological torpor and liturgical listlessness. Mark 5:21-43 details two healing stories in one gospel proclamation. The evangelist began with a synagogue official named Jarius pleading to Jesus to save his daughter near death.
Random or Intentional Detail in the Gospel of Mark?
On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a random tangent. He tells of the woman afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years! Jesus heals this poor woman, and the passage concludes with Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead.
Reflecting on this passage the following questions invaded my mind:
Why does Mark insert a seemingly random story within a healing story? Could he not simply detail the healing of the hemorrhaging woman after completing the passage on the healing of Jarius’ daughter?
Does this Gospel reading contain the strangest sentence uttered by Jesus: Who has touched my clothes? Is he not omniscient and all-knowing as God?
Power flowing from Jesus…what a peculiar way to describe the healing incident?
These questions initially perplexed me, however, when I had time to think about the passage and re-read the evangelist’s words and interpret in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church I learned of the deeper more spiritual meaning hidden within Mark 5:21-43 and how it relates to my life today.
Christ Willing to Save All—Social Status does not matter
Sandwiched between the beginning and the end of the healing of Jarius’ daughter, Mark inserted Jesus’ encountered a woman suffering from a blood disorder. After careful review, I noticed the juxtaposition between the two individuals. Below is a chart that showing the differences in how Jarius’ daughter and the unnamed woman came to learn about Jesus.
Woman Suffering Hemorrhage
Father’s Intercedes Actively
Passive Request for Healing
John Paul II declared, “[O]nly in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ.” Certainly, Mark 5 demonstrates people who recognize the importance and power of Jesus.
Encountering the Power of God
According to the evangelist, “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” Obsessed with superheroes, I recently received Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game from my wife for Father’s Day. Along with my passion for this geeky deck-building game, I have rented a slew of comic books from the library as well.
While my fandom seems random to the discussion of Mark’s Gospel, I need to provide a little backdrop to my thought process after hearing the priest read Mark 5:30. The first thought that popped into my head, “I did not know Rogue made an appearance. Sapping or draining of power is the hallmark of that X-Men character. Marvelously [no pun intended], merely grazing the cloak of Jesus healed the woman right away.
Joking aside, the healing power of Jesus is quite amazing. Previous consultation with doctors failed to ease the woman’s suffering. The passage that may be interrupted as a “power loss” of Jesus is not meant to infringe on his divine nature. On the contrary, Mark, like the other Synoptic Gospels, never dispute the divinity of Christ, he was utilizing language that his audience would be able to understand.
Jesus—Hope in Face of Despair
Mark 5:21-43 also focuses on hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. After healing the woman with a hemorrhage, Jesus arrived too late—at least that was what the crowd thought! Urging Jarius to accept his daughter’s fate the onlookers declared, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Men of little faith and tenacity would have resigned themselves to start the grieving process. Yet Jesus urged the synagogue official to not be afraid.
According to Saint Pope John XXII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” From the onset of this Gospel reading Jarius actively sought the aid of Jesus and pleaded for the return of his daughter to life when all looked hopeless as she appeared to linger in the shadow of death. Below is a link to a story about Jesus providing miraculous healing to another young daughter—prematurely born!
Uniqueness of the Individual
A final thought that crossed my mind when reflecting on Mark 5:21-43 was that Jesus focuses on the present moment with grace, love, and resolve. Even on the way toward healing a prominent religious official’s child, Christ paused to listen to the needs of an ordinary, poor woman. Saint Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Do not worry about the past nor the future only concern about the need of God’s children in front of you.
This is exactly what Jesus did in Mark 5:25-34. He noticed the presence of the sickly woman. And Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment.
As a father of four young children, my focus is frequently divided between juggling the various needs and adventures of my kids growing up. What I learned to devote my attention and time to the present moment and act with love instead of worrying about the various needs and whether it will be adequate or not.
The genius of the Gospel message centers on the individual first. Siphoning sanctity cannot occur as love multiplies not divides when more and more individuals come into your life.
Old Sally leaned forward expectantly in her wheelchair inside the front door of the nursing center, awaiting the Sunday visitors. She was the first person my husband and I met on our initial assignment as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist in 1985. The director had gathered the ambulatory Catholic residents into the library, which served as a chapel. Old Sally insisted on showing us the way and introducing us to the residents as her “new friends.”
As she made her way to her place in the center of the room, Old Sally stopped gave each person a hug or a pat on the hand. After the Communion service, I found that Old Sally had a story for everyone, many about answered prayers, healings, miracles – and some of them involved her great-grandchildren. Her contagious laughter permeated the halls and drew the curious out of their TV stupors.
When I fast-forward for thirty years, I realize that I am about the same age as Old Sally was then. I’m not confined to a wheelchair in a nursing home, but I have stories—journals jammed full of accounts of what God has done in my life. The odd assortment of notebooks recount answered prayers, healings and miracles — some of them involved my new great-grandchildren.
Evangelization is about God’s Work
Old Sally taught me that evangelization is not about me or how well I can convince those lonely souls on the fringes of the church that they need God. Evangelization is about sharing what God has done in my life.
My spiritual biography began when I was a year old when I was baptized in my grandmother’s Protestant Church. I grew up going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School and Youth Ministry. When I was 15, I realized God was real and loved me. Me! I gave my life to Jesus at a Youth Ministry Retreat but kept my relationship with God a deep secret I couldn’t put into words. When my father died suddenly three years later, Jesus was the only one to comfort me and I knew he would never leave me.
I worked in the church office in college, fell in love with a Catholic man and struggled with the difference in our denominations before we married in the Catholic Church. We moved around frequently in the military service. After three years of sporadic instructions and trying out the Catholic lifestyle, I knew by the peace in my heart that I belonged in the Catholic Church. There I’ve found the fullness of my Faith.
During post-Vatican II fits and starts of renewal in the church, I learned from Saint John Paul II that the most effective way to evangelize is through our personal witness—what we know best and what we have available to us. Could I do this? I participated in every renewal program I could find, and recorded accounts of spectacular encounters with God in my journals.
Experience More Powerful than Logic
Saint Peter’s call to “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for the reason for your hope (1 Peter 3:15), called me to start blogging. I rummaged through decades of journals to find stories to share on the Internet. I discovered that I had greatly underestimated the power of my simple story and stopped focusing on all the “do nots” and “should nots” of evangelizing.
I’m not a theologian or a gifted orator. If I was, my audience could question my logic. No one can refute the experience of my personal encounter with Christ! As for you, think of all the life lessons God has taught you through your God-moments!
God promises us, through the Psalmist,
“The just shall flourish like the palm tree, shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon. Planted in the house of the LORD, they shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall bear fruit even in old age, always vigorous and sturdy, as they proclaim: “The LORD is just; our rock, in whom there is no wrong.” (Psalm 92:13-16)
I’m part of the elder generation of faithful Christians who know the Truth and bring that Truth to the spiritual orphans of our secular culture. Vigorous and sturdy. We shall bear fruit among those whom no one else can evangelize but who can relate to us right here and now. We interact with the walking wounded at Walmart and can minister to the casualties of the culture of death.
Don’t be Afraid to Share Your Story
When you share a story that’s relevant to the problem your listeners are struggling with, they will hear you. The cancer diagnosis they just received is less frightening in light of how God brought you through chemo and radiation treatments.
Trust the Holy Spirit. Prepare to tell your story by clarifying it through journaling but don’t rely only your own power. The Holy Spirit has empowered you to evangelize through your personal testimony and will guide you beyond what you can ever imagine. He knows who and when and where to share your story, for he has prepared the way.
As for what to say, rely on the promise Jesus made to us in John 14:26 that, “The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.”
God Will Take Care of You
Jesus keeps his promises. The Holy Spirit has come! He will remind you of everything that Jesus has told you about your faith and your faith story. Then he will help you keep focused on what God does.
Know your story and know that God’s grace makes his presence real to those who receive your testimony. The encouragement they feel from your story is an answer to their prayers because you were available and ready for God to evangelize through you.
Old Sally didn’t worry about the “correct way” to evangelize or what reactions she would get. She exemplified the spirit of the New Evangelization in letting the love of Jesus overflow from within her to those around her. She trusted the Holy Spirit. Sally took St. Peter’s instructions as a direct order and was always ready to share a story to bring hope to anyone.
Because you have lived a one-of-a-kind story, you alone can tell it from your heart in your one-of-a-kind voice with your authentic wording and emphasis. Someone is waiting to hear your story. Are you ready to share it?
Recently, the news featured stories about attacks and vandalism at Catholic parishes around the world. This is not really unexpected given the current state of the world. However, we should look at this though the lens of history and realize that this kind of stuff isn’t new. It was not different in the days of Christ and it is no different now.
Our Enemy Hates the Church
The evil one does not like God or what the church itself stands for. Thus, he will use any means he can to destroy us. Even in the Gospels Christ warns us several times that following Him carries risk. Not all will be accepting of the truth He has given us.
Seeing places of worship ransacked always brings sorrow. The Catholic Church stands for something profound. It represents a bridge from the present to Christ’s teaching (2000 years ago). These lessons and wisdom passed down though the generations in the lives of the Saints. Not all accept this truth. They will hate and fear what they don’t understand. If they did not then we would not have anyone who would be considered martyrs.
The Church is Beyond a Building
We must remember that we are more than the buildings and the statues. If the suspension of public Mass during a pandemic has taught us anything is that our faith has to be deeper than the foundations of the buildings. Statues can be vandalized and toppled. Churches can be set on fire and destroyed. They are a focal point for the faith. But they are not the faith itself.
Our faith lies in the path that Christ has given us in this life. Doesn’t matter what happens around us so long as we hold true to the Catholic faith and not make compromises because the world demands us to. We have a commitment to Christ that goes past the world. When we commit to walking with Christ we live in hope.
Nothing should stop us from living the Gospel. No matter what evil the world will throw our way. Much like the days of the Apostles we must be willing to face the hatred! According to Matthew 5:11, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.” True words to live by in an age where the faith is under more attacks than ever before.
About our guest blogger
JM Kraemer is a Catholic artist out of Saginaw, MI who uses LEGO as creative way to evangelize. He writes on issues related to the Catholic Faith and disability awareness. Visit his Facebook page Lego Church Project to read more content to help you build your faith (and enjoy amazing Lego constructions).
My favorite healing story in Mark’s Gospel is the curing of the blind man at Bethsaida. God confirmed this because the lone bookmark in my study bible remained on Mark 8:22-26. I placed that bookmark over 4 years ago!
Like most of the healing stories in Mark, the curing of the blind man is short. Here is the text,
22When they arrived at Bethsaida, they brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. Putting spittle on his eyes he laid his hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”g 24Looking up he replied, “I see people looking like trees and walking.” 25Then he laid hands on his eyes a second time and he saw clearly; his sight was restored and he could see everything distinctly. 26Then he sent him home and said, “Do not even go into the village.” (Mark 8:22-26 New American Bible)
I call this Jesus’ “apparent failed miracle” mostly because he has to cure the blind man in stages—the cure does not happen instantaneously. The man’s statement, “I see people looking like trees and walking”, is the oddest sentence I ever read in the New Testament.
It took me a long time to realize the purpose of this story. I give two reasons for why Mark 8:22-26 is the turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
The healing happened in stages
This healing stands unique against Jesus’ other healings because Jesus does not heal the blind man right away. St. Jerome in Homily 79 viewed this passage allegorically to signify mankind’s gradual increase in wisdom. In other words, God’s revelation of truth throughout the Old Testament, New Testament, and current in the age of the Church is incremental.
Peter’s declaration happens immediately after this healing
I previously mentioned the significance of having a contextual reading of the Bible as a whole. Most people tend to see this as reading books in the context of other biblical books. Yet, in the case of Mark 8:22-26 a contextual reading to draw out this passage’s meaning can occur within the gospel itself.
Peter declares Jesus to be the Christ in Mark 8:30. I do not think this was a coincidence on the part of the evangelist. I believe Mark placed the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida before Peter’s revelation strategically. He wanted to show how God’s truth is revealed gradually.
From this point of the gospel until the end Jesus starts to ramp up his predictions of his Death and Resurrection. He reveals his identity more and more!
Living out the Gospel
I challenge you all to reflect upon this healing story and ask yourself these questions: At what stage am I at in my faith journey? Do I truly recognize Jesus to be the Christ as Peter proclaims, or am I still partially blind in my faith and seeing “theological trees”?
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When I was 20 years old I got a job working for a real estate appraiser. One of the job assignments I was frequently given was to drive to Los Angeles to photograph residential and commercial buildings.
Now allow me to tell you a little secret. “I don’t know how to read a map.” To this day, I still get lost in my hometown of San Diego! That’s why you will usually see me in the passenger seat with my lovely wife driving. I’m a lot better now since the invention of the GPS, Google Maps and an episode of the hit 90s comedy Friends.
Ask for Directions
Friends? How did I learn how to read a map from Friends?! It was the episode when Joey and Chandler were in London for Ross’s wedding. Not knowing how to get to their destination, Joey Tribbiani lays his map on the ground and steps on it. In order for Joey to know where he is going he puts himself in the map. Genius! Isn’t it? It’s just like the maps you find at the mall. In order to get around you look for the store you want to go to then you look for the little man with the notation, “You are here.”
For those who know how to read a map this is nothing new. However, to a simple-minded man like me it was pretty profound.
From Maps to the Way, the Truth, and the Life
So how does this all tie to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The Good News too is simple— yet profound. You have to step into the story. Many have said that the Bible is boring. I’ve said in the past, “The Bible is boring!” I’ve come to realize the reason I believed the Bible was boring was because I didn’t know how to read it. Over the years I’ve come to a better understanding of the Bible. If I can give you one piece of advice, try stepping into the story.
In Mark 12:38-44 Jesus tells a parable about the scribes, the wealthy and a widow. “And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to go about in long robes, and have salutations in the market houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.”
Put Yourself into the Gospels
Now that you’ve read the Gospel try placing yourself into the story and ask yourself, “am I the scribe who wants to be seen by others? Am I the wealthy who only gives of my excess? Or am I the widow that gives my all?”
When I read the Gospel and I place myself in the story I can see sometimes in my vanity that I am the scribe who wants to be noticed by others, hence the title of my latest book: Stop Googling Yourself. Sometimes I am like the wealthy who only gives of my excess financial treasure. But sometimes I am the widow when it comes to giving of my time and talent to the church. When I read the Bible with me in it, the stories begin to come to life. It comes to life because I am not reading a stranger’s story. I am reading my own personal letter from the Almighty Father. He is showing me that He knows me and can see what’s in my heart.
Questions to Ponder
Do you know God in the most intimate of ways? Do you want to learn more about God? If you want a deeper relationship, then read your Bible daily. And when you read the Bible take the time to step inside it and watch it come to life. When you do that you will find a faith beyond ordinary. That’s my hope for you!
This weekend I heard the following comment on the floor as I began work, “Catholics and I don’t get along much. I live to destroy Catholics.” While his statement may certainly be hyperbolic—that co-worker is definitely known for exaggerated and bombastic claims—there is truth to it. During my college years, his statement would have provoked righteous anger. Immediately, I would have engaged in debate on the level of St. Nicholas, the hectic-puncher, himself!
According to Venerable Fulton Sheen, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” Perception trumps reality more often than not. Refraining from leaping to judgement, unlike my co-worker, will allow me to demonstrate the love and truth of Catholicism. This article will look at three reasons why I no longer debate opponents of the Catholic Church.
Change the Heart, Not the Mind
Arguments only appeal to the rational side of a person and usually only leave the parties further entrenched in their respective beliefs. The 20th century American actor Will Rogers said, “People’s minds are changed through observation and not through argument.” You just have mention the words politics, religion, or Trump to prove his claim. Social media simply adds more fuel to debates.
Instead of seeking to be the winner of an argument, focus on changing the human heart. The Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas plainly wrote, “To convert somebody go and take them by the hand and guide them.” Entering into a relationship with those of different beliefs from will not able help you understand their point of view, but also open their heart to the beauty of Catholicism. I have many college friends I try to keep in contact who oppose the teachings of the Gospel. Whenever we hung out in the past, I never sought to impose my beliefs on them actively. I demonstrated charity and clearly articulated the reasons for my belief when they asked.
Preach Gospel—Use Words Only When Necessary
Another reason I no longer actively seek debates with opponents to Catholicism is because I have learned the value in actions speaking louder than words. I used to tout the importance of charity, yet I failed so display that same virtue in an argument, on social media or real life. Mark Twain purported, “Action speaks louder than words but not nearly as often.” Despite the progress I have made over the years, I still fail at having my words match my deeds 100% of the time! If you too struggle with hollow words and insincere actions, hope is not lost—now is the best time to start over.
Strengthening the Will
Work and family life presents plenty of challenges, annoyances, and irritations. In other words, opportunities for holiness. My parish priest said in his homily for Pentecost, “We must ask the Holy Spirit to widen our narrow view.” We can only see our perspective.
Those bigoted words from my co-worker about the Catholic Church did not spontaneously spew out. His experience with the Church or what he perceives the Church to be is jaded. I asked the Holy Spirit to provide me the strength to remain calm and silent.
St. Josemaria Escriva wrote, “Don’t say, ‘That person bothers me.’ Think: ‘That person sanctifies me’!” That is how I approached that man’s attitude—as an opportunity for me to exercise patience. Catholics must not fight fire with fire. We can only douse out the incendiary actions of our opponents with help of the Holy Spirit.
No Need to Defend Truth—Truth is Undefeated!
Our natural reaction when someone we love dearly is attacked is to rush to their defense. In my early twenties, I acted boldly, yet rashly, in defense of my faith. More times than not, I regretted my hotheadedness. Experience and the Holy Spirit has taught me a different approach. As St. Augustine put it, “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.”
It is not my job to save the Church. My primary role as husband, father, and a member of the laity is to teach the faith to my wife, children, and those I meet on a daily basis. Actions speak louder than words. I no longer debate non-Catholics or people vehemently attacking the Church. I witness to the truth in my daily life. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. He already has won! We need only to obey and truth in His Providence.