Justice Reflections From Fr. Claude

Thirteenth Sunday of the Year

The first reading from the Book of Wisdom tells us that God ‘does not rejoice in the destruction of the living, for God fashioned all things that they might have being’ (Wis 1:14). God wishes abundant life for all.

In the gospel, the situation of a 12-year-old girl who has lived in affluence is contrasted to a woman who has suffered for 12 years as they represent privilege and impoverishment in society. We witness also a nameless and powerless woman courageously guiding us to claim dignity and worth and knowing that healing occurs when we listen to the pain of people.  It is when the outcast is fully restored to her dignity can the privileged be restored to full life. It is how the ‘last are first’ and the ‘least will be greatest’ (Mark 10:31, 43). The story of the woman suggests that God sees and feels people’s suffering and is beside them guiding them toward hope and love. The impact on Jesus’ body when she touches him shows that healing is very bodily and from a distance.


Oppression is never abstract but always real for broken, excluded, invisible or marginalised people in their struggle for justice.  For others, it is real when experiencing the suffering of others such as encountering the homeless, visiting people in detention, watching sickness or disease drain life from a loved one. Many have had this experience after visiting the Holy Land and experiencing the painful plight of the Palestinians. 


So many people are haemorrhaging in our world today. Do we see them? Do we know them? Powerlessness is a powerful image.  Jairus, a powerful the synagogue leader, is powerless in the face of his daughter’s sickness. A woman, who was ground down emerges as strong and persistent as she interrupts a socially powerful man who also represents her social exclusion. Despite his status, position and privilege and ability to advocate for his daughter, he is made to wait as an unnamed woman’s wounds are attended to first. In the gospel, we witness the deadly disease of social inequity which we are called to transform and heal. Prioritising the healing the woman includes the inclusion and healing of all who are ill because of marginalisation and social inequity.  Central is the pushing of a woman into insignificance and suffering by the social disease of patriarchy and male privilege. We see many of its incarnations where women are devastated by domestic violence (physical and psychological), rape and sexual abuse, seeing their children harmed and threatened as their bodies scream because they have become battlefields in so many places. She shares the struggles of women who endure domestic and sexual violence, the loss of a child, addiction issues, and struggles with infertility. When women gather in the light of faith to talk about their bodies, we could imagine this woman joining them at the table as they share an appreciation of the great mystery that they are. We are called to be Jesus’ healing presence on earth. We need to consider who is marginalised in our environment as their stories and wisdom are often suppressed.


At the heart of our liturgy, the reading of the story of the haemorrhaging woman is optional. It may be too confronting or difficult whereas focusing on a sick and dying child is easier and less confrontational. Julia Baird (in Phosphorescence) writes of the wonder of her body – a body scarred by surgeries for cancer as well as stretch marks from giving birth. She reflects a resiliency where she might say, ‘And still I rise’. Yet, we sense strength and power in the woman in the gospel even though women’s bodies are considered lesser and often the butt of jokes and derision. They do not reflect the full image of Christ’s body and person. They are not sufficient for ordination. They do not belong at the altar. Jesus call to Jairus’ daughter ‘Talitha kum’ (get up) is a call to all women effectively repeated by his presence, his encounter, with the woman.  Women carry within them the gift of bearing new life and bleeding. These are signs of life and life-bearing when often this gift of being a co-creator with God has been made shameful and impurity.


Today’s gospel challenges any behaviour that withholds dignity, compassion and generosity and challenges us to change and recognise how the smallest acts of connection and service can contribute to healing and peace. The woman at the centre of the story moves from anonymity and invisible to identity and dignity. Her liberation, healing, and restoration result from her daring to interrupt ‘the silence of injustice’. Given the social dynamics of the day her action was audacious. Such actions have a long history among marginalised populations. There are no worthy and unworthy, or winners and losers, for Jesus. The poor are not cured at the expense of the rich, or vice versa. We are all loved, we all get new chances at life. No one needs to lose. The only thing standing in the way of our ability to enter this new reign is our choice, and our ability to respond to Jesus’ challenge: ‘Do not fear, only believe’ (Mark 5:36).  To truly care about the poor means we cannot hold them at arm’s length. They are not abstractions. All seek help, peace, comfort, acceptance, and welcome. It is our actions that demonstrate who we are. In many places, the colour red is a symbol of death where people such as journalists, activists, human rights defenders, union leaders, and local organised have been threatened with, or put to, death. This is the case in Palestine as well as other places.  But the colour red is also a colour of hope and resistance as we see in the many marches in solidarity with Palestine. It is a reminder that through collective effort, people can change their condition and bring healing into their troubled circumstances. Our gospel today invites us to profess our faith and live it out courageously. We, like Jairus, are summoned to express our faith vocally, i.e., announce the good news of justice and freedom and speak out against/denounce unjust socio-political and economic structures. Like the woman, we are challenged to act courageously in the face of tyranny. As Jesus said to the little girl: ‘Talitha Kum!’ (‘Little girl, I say to you, GET UP!’), he says it to us as well. The hope on which our work is built cannot be carried off unless it includes unconditional solidarity with and action on behalf of those who suffer, those whose hope is most endangered. Hope must be accompanied by unwavering faith and radical action.


More broadly, the gospel highlights the need to be audacious, to act boldly, to interrupt the silence and established order. This story highlights the need for people, particularly those on the fringes of the accepted social order, to act boldly on their own behalf. Martin In his Letter from the Birmingham City Jail, Luther King, Jr. wrote, ‘We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.’ So, for a marginalised group of individuals, the only option is to come out of the shadows — out of the closet — and press for liberation. It means that we need to be an active presence that helps people find ways out of fear, darkness, and enslavement.  This active presence – solidarity - is about justice, not just charity. Paul speaks of generosity as an expression of solidarity – not just charity. Providing individual support for people also involves addressing the political, economic and oppressive realities that cause or contribute to their crises.


The failure to love and serve the ‘other’ (‘not like me’) leads to greater division, suffering and insecurity in our homes, neighbourhoods, and countries. We are reminded that God is a God of life who desires the wellbeing of all people – the rich and the poor; women and men; young and old. Because all is gift, we are called to respect creation and each other. Our Christian roots are found in resistance – resistance to death. May we take pride in the love of a God who is just, promises life and desires equality.


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