Death. Who wants even to think about it? And yet we must. We would like to avoid it, but we cannot. Even if we might live for a while as if it does not exist, or as if “it will never happen to me,” eventually, we must all face death. It is an inescapable fact of human life. Death is also an inescapable element of our faith. At the very center of what we believe is not only the problem of our death, but also its solution, another death, that of Jesus Christ.
Today’s readings invite us to ponder the mystery of death in light of Jesus’ power to overcome it. The Book of Wisdom reminds us that “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living… For God formed man to be imperishable…” If death was not part of God’s plan, where did it come from, and why must we suffer it? The reading identifies its roots: “By the envy of the devil, death entered the world.” The devil tempts us to sin, and sin produces the evil fruit of death. Once sin has infected the human family, we find ourselves in this dilemma: God has created us for life, “imperishable,” and yet we die. It looks to us like death is stronger than God! We know this cannot be so, for “justice is undying,” but the Wisdom reading can take us no further.
In the fullness of time, Jesus comes. He alone can take us further, beyond the impasse of death. He confronts death directly. We see this in his miraculous raising of the dead daughter of Jairus. Jesus could have cured her from a distance before she died, without even going to the house, just as he cured the young servant of the centurion (cf. Mt 8:13), but this time he wants to show that his divine power over death is at work among us. He had been staying by the shore of the sea to avoid the press of the crowd, but when he hears the humble plea of Jairus, he plunges into the midst of suffering humanity. As he walks with Jairus through the streets of Capernaum, the crowd follows, pushing up against him, grabbing him, touching him. In this way, he reveals the presence of God in our midst. Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with us.” He has made God accessible to us, “touchable.”
The young girl dies before they arrive. It looks like there is no more hope of her being cured. While the others are grieving, Jesus is at peace. He tells them, “The child is not dead but asleep.” His words show us the vast difference between our view of death and his. For us, death seems to be a hopeless tragedy and a definitive conclusion. But for Jesus, it is merely “sleep,” a state from which he can raise us to fuller life. He takes the girl’s hand and with a simple command raises her from death to life. It is easy for him to give life, for he is the Lord of life. To touch him and to be touched by him is to receive new life from him.
How do we touch him? By our decisions of faith. Faith is a gift we have received but it is also an interior decision that we must make. As Jairus begins to sink into grief at the news of his daughter’s death, Jesus gives him a word of wisdom that remains just as powerful for us today: “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Fear and faith have opposite effects on us. When we give in to fear, we draw away from God, which leads to loss of hope. When we make acts of faith, even if they are as small as a mustard seed, we draw close to God – we touch him, and he gives us new life.
Jairus’ daughter was raised to life, but in time she will die again. This miracle, great as it is, does not yet reveal Jesus’ ultimate victory over death. He has come, not simply to restore us to earthly life, but to give us a much greater gift, eternal life after death. When we know this in faith, we are freed from the fear of death that keeps us enslaved. We are not condemned to death; we have received abundant life. This is what St. Paul means in saying that we “excel in every respect.” Christ became poor, though he was rich, so that we might become rich through his poverty. Christ became so poor that he took on the crushing burden of death. He has made us so rich that we will live forever in glory.
One result of seeing death through eyes of faith is that we are set free to be generous in abundant works of charity. The freedom that comes with faith naturally makes us willing to become poor, in order to make others rich, just as Jesus has done for us. We can afford to be generous because we do not need to fear the future. Death is no longer the worst thing that can happen to us. If we die in grace, death becomes a way to union with God. “Because of Christ, Christian death has a positive meaning: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain’” (CCC 1010; Phil 1:21).
Do I ever ponder on my own death or do I avoid even to think about it? Do I make small acts of faith which enable me to touch God as he gives me new life? Do I experience God as “touchable”?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 5. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.