June 27; 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time; Year B

13th OT2 20 21All Lives Matter

Recently, we were warned by the public health authorities that the current spike of new infections has placed an unprecedented enormous toll on health facilities and personnel that may be pushing our doctors to make the most painful decision - Sophie’s Choice - deciding who gets the treatment and who doesn’t - which ultimately translates into choosing who gets to live and who has to die. So, what sort of criteria is being used? Would the decision be made on a first-come, first-served basis? Should we prioritise the severely ill over the less serious patients? Should we reserve our resources for those who have a better chance to live? None of us want to be in the shoes of the person who has to make these choices. None of us would want to play God. And every one of us would want to be the person who is given a second chance.
Our Lord seems to have been placed in a similar difficult spot, when He is forced to choose between the young twelve-year old girl who is dying and the older woman who had been suffering for twelve years. These little details are deliberately mentioned to show that these two stories are mirror images of each other. If you were given a choice to attend to the needs of only one of them, who would you choose? The younger woman who is in a more life-threatening situation and has a longer life ahead of her, or the older woman who had suffered pain, humiliation and alienation for twelve years, and it would be unbearably cruel to allow her to suffer a second longer? But being the Lord, He chooses both and He chooses life over death.

This lengthy passage forms what scholars sometimes call a ‘sandwich’: St Mark is particularly keen on putting one story inside another; as today, the story of the woman with the haemorrhage is the filling and the story of the raising of the official’s daughter, the bread. The two are juxtaposed in order to help interpret one another. What the two stories have in common, over and above being examples of the divine power at work in Jesus, is that not only some lives matter but both lives matter, in fact all lives matter in the eyes of God. One life is not more important, nor more valuable, than the other.

The story does not merely show that our Lord was concerned with all lives, young or old, a foetus in the womb or a fully grown adult, sick or healthy, Jew or Gentile, man or woman, Saint or sinner, but He had come not just to address our physical ailments and restore us to health but He was keener in giving us life in abundance, an antidote to death. What He did for the little girl was a prelude to what He was planning to do for all of us - the resurrection of the body. As the first reading reminds us, “death was not God’s doing. He takes no pleasure in the extinction of the living.” Neither does our Lord take pleasure in our suffering or death.

Indeed, death connects the interlocking stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman. Both supplicants know they face the immediacy of death. Yet, their encounter with our Lord culminates in victory over death. The woman suffering the chronic illness, an illness that would probably have led to her death, is healed. The resuscitation of Jairus’ daughter also proves that the Lord does not only have power over sickness that may lead to death, He also has the power to overcome death and wrest its victims back from the grave.

For Christians, though, it's not always easy to encourage life around us. We live in a culture that doesn't foster life but anti-life. St John Paul II, in his writings and preaching, have constantly placed a spotlight on what he calls the culture of death - it is a culture where choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense (like abortion or euthanasia) are gradually becoming socially acceptable.

On the one hand, we fear life. Children are seen as a burden. They get in the way of our careers, our ambitions. They make a mess of our bodies, our homes, and our lives. People with disabilities scare us because we don't want them to put pressure on our resources. On the other hand, we also fear death just as much as we fear life. The thought of visiting a terminally ill or an ageing person paralyses us. Mercy killing is a euphemism created by modern society to soften the reality of what it is in reality – murder. We claim that it is an act of mercy, that we are putting someone out of his misery and not wishing to prolong his suffering, but the truth is that, it is another convenient way to unload another burden. We can’t bare the inconvenience and pain of supporting another person who is in pain, and so we choose to remove them from our sight. If Pope St John Paul II was renowned for highlighting the danger of the culture of death, Pope Francis frequently speaks about a “throwaway culture” in which unwanted items and unwanted people, such as the unborn, the elderly, and the poor, are discarded as waste.

This is the reason why it is incumbent on all Catholics to promote and foster a culture of life, that all life should be considered sacred from the moment of its conception till death, that a person is to be valued as a person for who he or she is, a creature of God, and not by what he or she owns, does or can produce. To transform our culture into one which respects and defends human life, it is necessary to speak of a deeper and a greater truth: All human life is sacred. God is its author. We do not own it.

Each of us has gifts to bring to this challenge. Each of us has a responsibility to help bring about a culture of life. No one is exempt. We are asked to teach persuasively on behalf of unborn children and the elderly, and defend their rights because this is where today's struggle is most costly in human lives. Being indifferent, walking past and refusing to stop, ignoring the pleas of desperation are never options. Although we cannot save every person from the ravages of sickness or death, we can save every soul by leading them to Christ who alone can save them, body and soul. In the Nicene Creed, God the Holy Spirit is referred to as “The Lord and Giver of Life.” Only He is able to truly create the miracle of life. Only God can restore us not just to health but to the resurrected life. But we can share with Him as He works, affirming it in others and fighting for life where we see death and decay in our hearts and in our world, because “all lives matter”, and not just whenever it is convenient.