The secular pieties being imposed upon us by our ascended masters are a hodgepodge of blasphemies, abominations, and lies meant to keep the common man enslaved while at the same time fooling him into thinking he is actually free. The cult of the lie — or dare I say it, the DAMN LIE — forms the black heart of these pieties. To resist such a malign cult, we must at times back away from the mundane and enervating nonsense that passes for our national discourse and look up, contemplating the eternal verities that do not change amid the very changeable things of this world. I invite my reader to do just that with me now by considering a liturgical pericope from this past Sunday’s traditional Roman Mass.
The Gospel for the twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost is Saint Matthew’s brief account of a revealing pair of miracles Our Lord performed to benefit two whose destinies were interwoven in the eternal decrees of Providence: the daughter of Jairus and the Haemorrhissa, i.e., the “woman with an issue of blood.” If, as Saint Thomas tells us, God teaches us things with words and also teaches us things with other things, what might He be teaching us by the things this Gospel presents on its surface? While completely accepting the historical veracity of the literal sense of the account, we can and should dig deeper into the spiritual senses and learn much from them for our benefit, which we now purpose to do with these events that are related by all three synoptic Gospels:
The essentials of the story are that a ruler of the Synagogue of Capharnaum, one Jairus by name, approaches Our Lord asking the Master to heal his twelve-year-old daughter, who is dying. As Jesus makes His way with Jairus and the disciples, He finds Himself in a packed crowd of people. A woman who has suffered with an issue of blood for twelve years approaches to touch the hem of Our Lord’s garment, reasoning (correctly, as it turns out) that if she were just to touch it, she would be healed. She does so and immediately senses that she has been cured of what physicians could not remedy, even though she had spent all her substance on them. Jesus, still thronged about by people, asks “Who touched me?” — a question that confuses the Apostles, who note that this query seems incongruous, as they find themselves in a very congested tangle of people. But Our Lord notes that He has felt power going out of Himself, and He wants the person who touched Him to be identified. As those around her deny one by one that they touched Jesus, the woman realizes that she must step forth, which she does trembling and fearful, to relate all that happened — all, including her embarrassing condition. Jesus commends her faith, and tells her to leave in peace. Then come messengers from Jairus’ house to inform him that his girl is dead. Jesus tells him not to fear but only to believe, and the party proceeds to the house, which is now draped in mourning. In bombastic Mideastern fashion, the wailers and the minstrels playing mournful music are making quite a din in the house, but Jesus tells them not to weep so, because the girl is only sleeping. Showing their emotional agility, the crowd in the house now laugh Jesus to scorn, knowing her to be dead indeed; nonetheless, they obey His command to leave the house, where only six people remain with the dead girl: Jesus, Peter, James, John, Jairus, and the girl’s mother. The Master takes the girl by the hand and utters, “Talitha cumi” (maid arise), and she is immediately restored to life and health, after which He commands food to be brought to her, while everyone marvels at the miracle. Jesus then commands them not to tell what they had seen, but the fame of what happened was nevertheless widely publicized.
At nine verses, Saint Matthew’s account is the shortest of the three, while Saint Mark’s twenty-two-verse treatment is the longest, leaving Saint Luke’s fifteen-verse version in between. This fact alone rather demolishes a favorite Modernist idea about Saint Mark’s Gospel being an earlier version of the Synoptics that the others built upon by adding further details. Among other details Saint Mark alone relates, it is he who gives us those tender words spoken in Aramaic by the Divine Physician, which he immediately translates for his Greek readers: talitha cumi, “young girl, arise.”
In his Spartan account, Saint Matthew begins with Jairus saying to Our Lord, “My daughter is even now dead.” One might object that this is a contradiction because the other evangelists have him telling Our Lord that his daughter is dying, not dead. But there is no contradiction, and commentators have pointed out two ways to reconcile the different accounts: The first is that when Jairus left the house, he knew his daughter to be near death, so that he reasoned within himself that she must be dead by this time. The second possibility is based upon what we know for certain occurred according to Luke and Mark, namely, that messengers arrived while these events were in progress to inform the distressed father that his daughter had indeed died in the meantime. In this second scenario, Saint Matthew could simply have omitted the first part of the conversation. Either way, there is not a hard contradiction among the accounts.
Jewish men wore a garment called the tallit, a rectangular white prayer shawl with dyed blue patterns on it, and fringed about with tassels called tzitzit. This is what the woman touched. While modern authors perhaps draw unwarranted conclusions from this, the fact that this is the “hem of his garment” mentioned by the evangelists is practically beyond dispute. Cornelius a Lapide certainly holds it to be the case. The tallit, a sort of Old-Testament sacramental, was a reminder to Jewish men of their covenant with God (cf. Num. 15:38-40).
A woman with an issue of blood would have been considered ritually impure. Her religious observance, and even her routine social interaction with other Jews would have been drastically curtailed by this impurity. She could not, in fact, touch others without rendering them impure. This may well be why she was trembling and fearful when called upon to identify herself, which supposition leads to a question: Why did Jesus call her out in the first place, thus subjecting her to such embarrassment and fear? Perhaps it was to give her confidence, and to assure her that it was perfectly fine for her to “steal” this cure, or perhaps it was to try her for the purpose of building her up, removing her fears while at the same time calling the attention of the bystanders to the miracle. Maybe it was to assure this good woman that it was He who had healed her and not merely His tzitzit, thus strengthening her faith. Whatever the exact reasons were in the Mind of Our Lord, after the humiliation consequent upon this public acknowledgment, the Haemorrhissa is commended for her faith and told to be “at peace,” whereas before she was “trembling” and “fearful.” Jesus challenged her to reveal her vulnerability — to be open, trusting, docile, and completely abandoned to His goodness. None the worse for all this, she walks away not only physically healed, but also reassured, comforted, confident, and sanctified.
There is a tradition — one we wrote of here — that identifies this good woman with Saint Veronica of the Veil.
What must it have been like for poor Jairus to witness this episode that “distracted” the Master while on the way to cure his dying daughter? One can imagine mixed emotions based upon a newfound confidence in the Master along with a heightened urgency to present the dying girl to Jesus. The ruler’s emotional state would then have been exacerbated by the news that came after the woman’s cure and subsequent dialogue with Jesus, when messengers arrived to inform him that his little girl was dead. Undaunted by the news, Jesus tells the anguished father to fear not but only to believe.
As with the now-cured Haemorrhissa, Jairus is being tested to believe in and trust Jesus even more. These two cases are practical studies in how Our Lord deals with people. Never satisfied with where they are, He tries them and thus invites them to come higher by practicing greater virtue and relying more and more on Him, rewarding their cooperation with further graces. These lessons are invaluable for us.
When Jesus arrives at the house of Jairus, He is greeted by a very extroverted display of emotion. There were musicians there, and possibly hired mourners (“professional wailers” as they are called), who were paid for the service of priming the pump of people’s tears. Saint Matthew mentions “minstrels and the multitude making a rout,” whereas Mark calls it “a tumult, the people weeping and wailing much,” and Luke laconically says “all wept and mourned for her.” There is nothing of Anglo-Saxon reserve in Middle Eastern mourning, where bombast is the order of the day; add to that, though, the fact that this was a twelve-year-old girl. Even in our comparatively frigid North-American culture, the funeral of a child is different than that of an adult. The note of tragedy is there, making the mourning deeper.
Then Jesus says something at least materially untrue: “The girl is not dead, but sleepeth.” Is this a lie? No, of course not; He is simply notifying the mourners of the temporary nature of the girl’s condition. He said something similar about Lazarus (John 11:11), whom He was also about to “awake… out of sleep” at the time. Death and sleep often stand as metaphors for each other in Scripture and in the Church’s liturgy, but here as with Lazarus, Jesus miraculously renders death just as susceptible to interruption as routine sleep.
Having dispelled the noisy mourners and brought in His three favorites and the girl’s parents, Jesus approaches the damsel with only six people in the room — six, the imperfect number which therefore represents evil, a whole trinity of sixes being the very number of the beast. Man was made on the sixth day, but he was made for the seventh day, the eternal sabbath of Heaven, according to Saint Augustine. At the resurrection of the dead girl, the scene is now representative of perfection, because six living souls become seven. Jesus perfects our imperfections if we “fear not, but believe only.”
Those three favorites Jesus brought with him — Peter, James, and John — would witness two other things that the rest of the Twelve did not see: the Transfiguration and the Agony in the Garden. The first two were, or should have been, an adequate preparation for the third. Peter represents faith because his profession of faith at Caesarea-Phillipi was rewarded with the office of being Christ’s Vicar. Saint John, being “the beloved disciple,” evidently represents charity. Less clear is how Saint James the Great represents hope — less clear, that is, until we realize that he was the first of the Twelve to have his hope give way to vision when he died in A.D. 42, a victim of Herod Agrippa, who had him beheaded.
When the girl is raised from the dead, Jesus commands that she be brought something to eat. Why? Well, no doubt as a courtesy because He cared, but there was another good reason: to assure the onlookers that she was indeed alive and perfectly healthy, so that she could eat and retain food. After His Resurrection, on the night of the first Easter Sunday, Jesus asked for food and they gave Him fish and a honeycomb so that they could see that He had a real body and was in perfect health.
Even in a quick reading we might notice the curious fact that the woman suffered from the issue of blood for twelve years, and Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old when she died (though Luke says she was “almost twelve years old”). In his Catena Aurea, Saint Thomas quotes the medieval monastic writer, Rabanus Maurus, on the significance of this. In summary, Jairus represents Moses, and his daughter the Synagogue, while the woman with the issue of blood represents the Gentiles. Jesus is sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but on the way, He also heals the Gentiles. Twelve and a half years was considered marriageable age for a girl, though they often waited till they were thirteen or fourteen to marry. The lesson here, according to Rabanus, is that just when the Synagogue should have been fruitful in bringing about offspring, she dies from her own infidelity; but the Gentiles — who had apostatized from God and consequently became spiritually fruitless around the time the Hebrews were chosen out of the mass of humanity — even these will enter the Church of the Messias. In the Matins reading for this Sunday, Saint Jerome applies two Biblical passages to this Jew-Gentile reading of the two females in our Gospel: First, “Ethiopia [the Gentiles, represented by the Haemorrhissa] shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God” (Ps. 67:32; note the gesture of “stretching forth her hands” as if to touch Jesus’ tzitzit), and second, “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles is come in and so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:25). Near the end of time, after the complete conversion of all the Gentile nations, the Jews, who spiritually “died” prematurely, will come to life and enter the Church.
In these days of increasing ugliness and hate in the world, let us meditate upon and avail ourselves of the supreme moral beauty and efficacious love of our Divine Physician, “looking on Jesus” (Heb. 12:2), “Who his own self bore our sins in his body upon the tree: that we, being dead to sins, should live to justice: by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Pet. 2:24).