What is faith?

Antiphon
All peoples clap your hands. Cry to God with shouts of joy! (Psalm 47:2)

Collect
O God, Who through the grace of adoption
chose us to be children of light,
grant, we pray,
that we may not be wrapped in the darkness of error
but always be seen to stand in the bright light of truth.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
Who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, for ever and ever.

Responsorial Psalm
I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me. (Psalm 30:2).

Gospel Excerpt
“While he was still speaking,
people from the synagogue official’s house arrived and said,
“Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?”
Disregarding the message that was reported,
Jesus said to the synagogue official,
Do not be afraid (μὴ φοβοῦ, me phobou); just have faith (μόνον πίστευε, monon pisteue).” (Mark 5:35-36).”

Reflection
Following the lessons of the parables, the Gospel according to Saint Mark presents 4 mighty acts of Jesus in succession: the calming of the sea (4:35-41), the cure of the man among the tombs in the land of the Gerasenes (5:1-20), and the two events proclaimed this Sunday: the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the cure of the woman afflicted with hemorrhages (5:21-43). In each of these episodes, the disciples and the crowd come to know more about Jesus while at the same time uncertain and unsure of what His actions mean. As for the Evangelist Mark, the fullness of Who Jesus is will not be revealed until the Cross; hence the command for silence at the conclusion of many of these events.

As for the Gospel proclamation for this Sunday, scripture scholars inform us that this unit, 5:21-43, is an intercalation. An intercalation is a literary unit that has 2 distinct events with 1 of those events ‘sandwiched’ in the middle of the other event. It is helpful to take note of this literary form because it assists us get to the point (or points!) of the Gospel episodes. In an intercalation, what is learned in the first event helps to interpret the second event. Similarly what is learned in the second event helps to interpret the first event. In the case of this this intercalation, both Jairus and the Afflicted Woman offer insights to the meaning of faith.

Like love and hope, faith is a Divine Gift. The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers a probing and pondering presentation of faith that is worth reviewing (paragraphs 142-197) . All too often among Christians of many denominations, faith is viewed as some type of ‘ethereal, nebulous thing’ that is engaged as a crutch when one comes face-to-face with the unexplainable. For example, when asked about some insight concerning the Most Holy Trinity or the Most Holy Eucharist, it is not uncommon (sadly) to hear people say, “I don’t know.” When queried further as to why one would hold to such an unexplainable ‘topic,’ the answer is generally “I take it on faith.” The implication here is that one only ‘needs’ faith when one cannot explain some aspect of the Christian experience. It is at the very least, a dangerous approach to Christian living. Both Jairus and the Afflicted Woman teach clearly and emphatically that faith is a way of living, a point made crystal clear when Jesus enters the house of Jairus.

“Do not be afraid, just have faith!” are the directed, blunt words addressed to the synagogue official. The Greek text is more blunt: μὴ φοβοῦ, μόνον πίστευε (me phobou, monon pisteue) – “Do not fear, trust me alone!” One can almost picture Jesus placing his hands on Jairus’ shoulders, squeezing and rocking his shoulders and looking deeply into his fear-filled eyes. Jairus nods knowing that he can do nothing but place his trust in the hands of Jesus. What happened to Jairus? Fear seized him. In the Greek world φόβος (phobos, fear) meant “to flee.” There was something about the situation that one judged a threat to survival and the appropriate response was to flee, and to do so as quickly as possible. It is interesting that in the Biblical era φόβος was not understood as a thing or a state of being but as an action. Linguists also note that φόβος addressed a range of situations that we now term anxieties. In terms of the distinction that is made in our times, fear is the response to a known threat. Anxiety is the response to an unknown threat. Either way, Jesus’ word to Jairus is essentially, “Do not flee!” “Do not run away!” How can Jairus do this? “Just have faith!” We might be tempted to respond that such is easier said than done. Yet there is a depth to Biblical faith that we often miss in contemporary culture.

Jesus’ response to Jairus, “Just have faith!” as mentioned earlier is a bit more blunt in the Greek: μόνον πίστευε (monon pisteue). πίστευε, translated as “have faith,” is a verb and here it is in the imperative mood. This could then be translated “You must have faith.” Once again, a term that we are familiar with in our culture (faith, a noun) starts as a verb in the Biblical word. In that world, πιστεύω (pisteúō) was originally understood as “trusting in another that sparked obedience in what was heard from the other,” a mouthful for sure. Biblical faith, far from being a crutch to deal with the unexplainable, is a dynamic action wherein I place the direction of my life in the hands of another person – and in this case, a Person: Jesus Christ. Yet in order to do this, ‘something’ must precede the giving of oneself over to the other. As human beings we are rightly cautious about casually and glibly ‘trusting’ another. Too much is at stake. Both Jairus and the Afflicted Woman came to knowledge of Who Jesus is, a knowledge that was more than a simple fact. They knew in the depth of their guts that Jesus was worthy of their trust. In doing so, they followed through on what He told them to do – they listened, they obeyed, they acted because they trusted the Person, Jesus.

This is the unique claim that Jesus makes in His Public Ministry and throughout the present Age of the Spirit in the Church. Jesus calls people to trust His directions for life. This trust, this Christian faith IS NOT in a body of teachings. This is not a blind, mindless naiveté or Pollyanna following of a mythical being. Christianity is trusting Jesus to lead, to guide and direct ALL aspects and dimensions of life that flows from an encounter with Him. It is in the encounter with Jesus that one comes to know – as did Jairus and the Afflicted Woman – this Person can and will do what is needed in my life now. May we have the grace of humility to obey the One we trust!