This Sunday, Despite the Storms, Jesus Hates Suffering and Death

After seeing that Jesus is the bringer of storms, it can seem like Jesus is okay with suffering or even embraces them because he likes them. Not true. He hates them and embraces them with us only to wrestle them to the ground.

This becomes clear in this Sunday’s Gospel, the 13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, about a father who loses his daughter and a woman suffering from a hemorrhage — interweaving two different stories that tell a single powerful lesson about how Christians should react to suffering and death.

Too often in the spiritual life, we want to give up on Jesus because we misunderstand how Jesus works. Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage teach us the proper disposition to have.

First, take the woman with the hemorrhage.

Mark uses telling detail to paint the picture of a woman who has been bleeding — and, therefore, impure as a Jew — for 12 years.

“She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had,” writes Mark, “yet she was not helped, but only grew worse.”

Her predicament is very modern. She is searching for something that will make her whole and pure and stop her life from ebbing away, but she cannot find it. So far, the only remedies offered are eating up her expenses and leaving her worse off — you can think of her trying the myriad transformations our society offers and finding them empty.

Jesus does not approach her. He doesn’t knock her off her horse, like Paul, and she doesn’t hear the Father’s voice from a cloud pointing him out. Instead, when she encounters him, he is slipping away through a crowd. She sees his back and reaches out, desperately, to touch him.

This is our reality in the spiritual life: God doesn’t necessarily stop in front of us and demand to be noticed. He is instead retreating from us, amid a crowd of competing priorities; and if we don’t deliberately insist on an encounter with him, he will slip away, out of our sight and priorities.

 The Gospel’s other story, about Jairus, is a variation on the same theme.

In this case, Jairus, a synagogue official, seeks Jesus out by the sea and falls at his feet. Jesus consents to address his problem, his daughter’s terrible illness. But notice what happens: First, a crowd follows them, distracting Jesus’ attention. Then, Jairus gets word that hope is gone: “Your daughter has died; why trouble the Teacher any longer?” Last, when he brings Jesus home, Jesus says, “Your child is not dead but asleep,” and the people, who know very well that the girl is dead, ridicule him.

Here is another predicament we face in the spiritual life: We may get Jesus’ attention, only to find that our problems seem too big for him. The person we are praying for in our family may show no signs of life, be it physical or spiritual. And our reliance on Jesus may look absurd to everyone we know.

In this case, our job is the same as the woman with the hemorrhage: to have faith in Jesus and not give up. If we keep reaching out to him in prayer and if we keep bringing our problems to him, he will show us that he is powerful. Get his attention by praying forcefully, passionately and deeply.

When this high official falls at his feet and begs for his dying daughter’s life, Jesus could cure his daughter with a word. Instead, he walks to his house, and the Gospel focuses on all the distractions until Jesus takes the girl’s parents and a select few inside.

Talitha koum,” he says — “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” And the 12-year-old does exactly that.

Jesus showed the family of the dead little girl what he thought of suffering and death.

The mother and father must have rejoiced — but not as much as God did. Sunday’s first reading is a remarkable summing up of what God thinks of death. “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living,” the book of Wisdom says. “For God formed man to be imperishable; in the image of his own nature he made him.”

God rejoices in each of his children, the way any good parent does. We can’t help but love the children made in our image. God can’t help but love us, either. He made us all to live forever, and hates it when any of us dies.

Death is unwelcome on earth. God didn’t intend it.

Also like any good parent, God knows the importance of giving his children freedom — real love requires choice — but he is sad, like us, when his children choose to drift away from him. It is through this freedom that “by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.”

When Adam and Eve believed the devil’s lie and decided to follow his advice rather than God’s commandment, they became part of his company and conformed to his image instead of God’s. They chose the way of death — physical death and spiritual death.

Jesus wept twice in the Gospels — once at the physical death of his friend Lazarus, and once at the spiritual death of Jerusalem, which had not recognized its savior. When we sin we make the same choice as Adam and Eve, with the same consequence — and the same sadness on God’s part.

Jesus didn’t embrace suffering and death because he liked it. He embraced it because he loves us.

Which brings us back to the cross. Jesus came to die not because he wanted to, but because it was the only way to defeat death. Like a parent shielding a child in a burning house, he knew that the only way to protect us from death was to die in our place.

Parents do that in much less dramatic ways all the time, making sacrifices of all kinds for their children. So did God. Jesus, “though he was rich,” writes St. Paul in today’s second reading, “for your sake he became poor, so that by poverty you might become rich.”

We are all Jairus’s daughter — and we are all the woman with a hemorrhage.

So each of us is like Jairus’s daughter, waiting for life from its only source. Or perhaps we are like the woman he meets on the way to Jairus’ house.

Maybe we have “suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.” Maybe we have been suffering and seeking healing in all the wrong places, in the ideologies and pleasures and promises that the world makes. Finally, like her, we reach out to Jesus, in desperation.

We each need to have that moment with Jesus, realizing at last that he did not make us to be wounded and hurting and desperate. He made us to live. And none of us — even the spiritually dead — is beyond his healing touch.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.