The first reading from Prophet Hosea speaks of the tender and merciful love of God who comes to forgive and heal us. The God whom we believe in is not a God who enjoys punishing us or seeing us suffer. On the contrary, it hurts Him more to see us in our misery because of our sins. That is why the Lord told Hosea to tell the people, “I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart. There she will respond to me as she did when she was young, as she did when she came out of the land of Egypt.” God loves His people and is always faithful to them even when they are unfaithful to Him.
The exile of the Israelites to Babylon must not be seen as a punishment of God but the means by which a new exodus could begin. The first exodus from Egypt, the land of slavery, to the Promised Land did not last long because of the complacency of the people, leading them to sin, idolatry, injustice, sexual immorality and greed. So God led the people into exile in Babylon so that the people could find time to rethink their way of life. Indeed, often a comfortable and affluent life leads us to take things for granted. We become demanding, unappreciative, calculative and self-centered.
It is only when we enter into the desert of failure, emptiness and desperation that we begin to realize that we are not so powerful and self-sufficient after all. Indeed, only in our loneliness and misery can we come to realize who our true God is and who is the one whom we can rely on. This is what the Lord said, “When that day comes – it is the Lord who speaks -she will call me, “My husband”, no longer will she call me, ‘My Baal.’” Indeed, it is not Baal or the gods of fertility, of money, power and status that will see us through in life. Only God who is our love will be able to sustain us, give meaning and purpose in life.
This God who is faithful in love will once again accept us back even if we were adulterous before. God forgave His people who committed adultery against Him. How many of us can forgive and accept our spouse who has been unfaithful to us in marriage? How many of us can continue with our relationship with someone who has betrayed us? Most of the time, we would not be able to forgive them. For many, that would be the end of the relationship. But this is not so for God. God is willing to forgive our past, renew His covenantal love for us the moment we repent and turn back to Him. This is what He said through the prophet, “I will betroth you to myself for ever, betroth you with integrity and justice, with tenderness and love; I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness, and you will come to know the Lord.”
This healing, forgiving and long-suffering love is expressed once again in the person of Jesus, who was a man of deep sensitivity. We read that “while Jesus was speaking, up came one of the officials, who bowed low in front of him and said, ‘My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her and her life will be saved.’ Jesus rose and, with his disciples, followed him.” He did not get angry or annoyed that the man came and interrupted Him when He was speaking. Instead, when He heard that his daughter had died, Jesus immediately stopped what He was doing and followed the official to his house. Jesus was extremely sensitive to the needs and the sufferings of people. He was not so absorbed in doing what He was doing but He was conscious of something more important that demanded His immediate attention because the father must have been distraught with the death of his daughter. Jesus did not delay in attending to the official’s bereavement.
The compassion of our Lord is also seen in the healing of the woman with haemorrhage. Even in His preoccupation with the urgency of attending to the official’s daughter, Jesus was also sensitive to the suffering of this woman. “Then from behind him came a woman, who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years, and she touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I can only touch his cloak I shall be well again.’” Jesus was sensitive to the touch of the woman. He was able to feel power coming out from Him. Even whilst attending to another problem, He did not ignore others who were equally desperate for His help.
But the gospel clearly underscores that the outreach of Jesus, whether to raise the daughter of the official or the woman with haemorrhage, were never done to show forth His power or to sensationalize, but only to help. For this reason, when He arrived at the house and there were many onlookers who came out of curiosity and some out of sympathy, Jesus turned the people out. He was not performing a spectacular stunt so that people would be cowed into believing in Him. He was only interested in restoring the daughter to the father, who He knew was suffering much from the loss.
In the same way too, when Jesus turned round and saw the woman who touched Him, He said to her, “’Courage, my daughter, your faith has restored you to health.’ And from that moment the women was well again.” Jesus singled out the woman not to expose her condition or to reprimand her for breaking the law by touching Him when she was menstruating. He and all those whom she came into contact with would have been made unclean by her. But Jesus wanted her to be freed not just from her physical illness but from this guilt and fear as well. Hence, Jesus felt the need to affirm her that her bleeding had stopped and that she had not broken the law.
What, then, does it take for us to receive His mercy? We need the faith of the Official and that of the woman suffering from haemorrhage. It was the faith of the official who believed in Jesus and saw Him as a true man of God. It was also the faith of the woman who had spent all her money on doctors who could not treat her illness. Because of their faith in Him, the Lord, on account of the official, raised his daughter back to life; and cured the woman of her bleeding.
If we want healing and forgiveness, we must come to the Lord with expectant faith like them. Without expectant faith and trust in His power to heal and His mercy to forgive us, we cannot receive His love and mercy. This is the faith and expectation of the psalmist when he prayed, “Age to age shall proclaim your works, shall declare your mighty deeds, shall speak of your splendor and glory, tell the tale of your wonderful works. They will speak of your terrible deeds, recount your greatness and might. They will recall your abundant goodness; age to age shall ring out your justice. The Lord is kind and full of compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. How good is the Lord to all, compassionate to all his creatures.”
Secondly, we need the humility of the official and the woman who turned to Jesus. The official humbled himself to approach the Lord for assistance. He was not afraid of what others might think of him associating with Jesus and worse still, believing in Him. So too the woman was humble enough to admit that she touched the fringe of the Lord’s cloak. She was ready to admit her fault and her sin. She did not defend herself nor was she too proud to admit her weakness. Indeed, when we come to the Lord, we too must come in humility for healing. No matter who we are, we all must recognize our nothingness before God. We can be rich, influential, famous and powerful, but before God, before death and illness, we are nothing. So, if we want the Lord to heal us, we must, like the Israelites in their suffering, humble ourselves to recognize who the real Lord and God is. We too must confess our sins and surrender our pride if we seek the Lord’s healing grace and mercy.
Finally, there is a warning to those without faith and those who are proud and cynical. They will be turned out, as Jesus did to those cynics in the house. “When Jesus reached the official’s house and saw the flute-players, with the crowd making a commotion he said, ‘Get out of here; the little girl is not dead, she is asleep.’ And they laughed at him.” If we want to remain proud, arrogant and skeptical of Jesus, then we will not be able to receive anything from Him. Indeed, without faith in Him, the Lord would not perform miracles, neither for His countrymen when He went back to Nazareth (cf Mt 13:58), or for Herod who wanted Him to put on a show for Him. (cf Lk 23:8f) But if we are open and receptive then we will see the miracles He will work in our lives. And we too will be like the people who spread the news “all round the countryside.”