A Scriptural Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, July 1, 2012, the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time | Carl E. Olson
• Wis 1:13-15; 2:23-24
• Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
• 2 Cor 8:7, 9, 13-15
• Mk 5:21-43 or Mk 5:21-24, 35b-43
“If God did not create evil, why does it exist? If God did not make death, why do we die?”
These are difficult questions, the sort of questions sometimes asked by those who doubt, or even reject, the existence or goodness of God. Seeing a young child die of a rare illness, watching a loved one consumed by cancer, or reading of a stranger senselessly beaten and murdered—each of these can be a painful question mark inscribed deeply on our souls. Is there is a sensible response to such senseless pain and death?
To the question of evil, the Catechism states, “as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice” (par. 309). It further says the Christian faith, in its entirety, is an answer to this troubling question, beginning with the belief in the goodness of creation and culminating in the call to share in the blessed life, a call that is an invitation to creatures possessing and exercising free will. God is love, his creation is good, and his creatures have the freedom to love or to reject him. These are essential truths about the nature of things, and they start us on the road, however steep, to understanding.
“God did not make death,” insists the author of the Book of Wisdom in today’s first reading, nor rejoices in the death of the living. On the contrary, God created everything that exists simply so it could be. The author refers to the absence of a “destructive drug” among the “wholesome” creatures of the world. This drug is sin, which came into the world through the envy of the devil—the adversary or accuser who seeks to destroy God’s creatures and creation.
This “envy” is likely a reference to the temptation in the Garden of Eden. “Behind the disobedient choice of our first parents lurks a seductive voice,” notes the Catechism, “opposed to God, which makes them fall into death out of envy” (par. 391). Envy might seem at first a small matter, but St. Augustine called it the diabolical sin, for from it come hatred, strife, and joy at the misfortune of others (CCC 2539). It is self-absorbed and thus sets itself against the love and honor due to God and the respect due to our fellow man.
When Jesus brought the daughter of Jairus back from death, he demonstrated his supernatural power, his compassionate love, and the orientation of his perfect, selfless will. This miracle surely called to mind the astounding actions of the great prophets Elijah (1 Kgs. 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kgs. 4:27-38), both of whom brought children back to life. But whereas those men were spokesmen of God, Jesus was the Son of God who spoke of his coming death—and of his triumph over death by his glorious Resurrection (Mk. 8:31-38; 9:30-32; 10:32-34).
The Evangelist Mark recorded three statements made by Jesus in the course of healing the young girl. The first is spoken to the father, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” The second is made the grieving crowd: “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” And, finally, to the daughter, “Little girl, I say to you arise!”
These remarks, taken together, are the response of God to the mystery of death. First, we are not to fear death, but to have faith it has been conquered by the Passion, Cross, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Secondly, with the eyes of faith we are able to see there is hope beyond death, and that those who fall asleep in Christ are not dead or extinct, but are fully, really alive.
And, third, at the final judgment, God will reunite the righteous with their bodies, “For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:53; CCC 366). God did not make death, but he has given us a sensible, supernatural response to it.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the June 28, 2009, issue of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)