Jacob dreams of a ladder stretching between heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending.
Jacob left Beer-sheva and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place — and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one tenth to you.”
Gospel: Matthew 9:18-26
Jesus cures a woman’s haemorrhages and raises to life the daughter of a synagogue leader.
While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, “My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.” And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples.
Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.
When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, “Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this sprad throughout that district.
Saint Maria Goretti
Maria Goretti (1890-1902) is an Italian virgin-martyr, and one of the youngest canonized saints. Her father died when she was nine, and the family had to share a house with others. When Maria refused to submit to a young neighbour’s sexual advances, he stabbed her multiple times. She was was beatified in 1947, and canonized in 1950. Her major shrine is in Nettuno, south of Rome.
Family and personal problems
Family and personal problems feature in today’s readings. The envy of his twin brother forced Jacob to flee for his life; and Jesus is confronted with a family tragedy, the death of the synagogue leader’s young daughter. Repeatedly we see Biblical religion linked with the needs and crises of people and rooted in the secular arena. The ancient sanctuary of Bethel (in Hebrew, “House of God”) is associated in its origins with Jacob’s flight from his brother Esau and with the exhausted Jacob’s need for sleep. It was already a shrine, as the first part of the text indicates, yet its sacred character is reinterpreted at the end of the account, due to Jacob’s dream.
Religion rooted in normal, secular, everyday existence, but it can bring healing to disputes and even serious family problems. Jacob had stolen the blessing of the first-born from his blind father, Isaac, by the intrigue of his mother, Rebekah, who favoured Jacob over her more unruly, less tractable son. When his angry brother Esau was stalking him for revenge, Jacob had to flee to the place where Abraham never wanted his offspring to settle, (as we read last Friday). The setting for Jacob’s dream of angels and for God’s renewal of covenantal promises was hardly the tranquil sanctuary.
By letting himself be touched by a woman with a flow of blood and by taking a dead child by the hand, Jesus too had become ceremonially or religiously unclean, disallowed from entering the synagogue or temple (Lev 15:19-33; 21:1). There must have been a great sense of freedom in Jesus, an overwhelming compassion, a decisive urge to help the needy, to have responded so that the “unclean” would presume to touch him and request him to touch them. Through all these examples we detect a wholesome way to live our religion according to the norms of loving concern.
People with differing needs
The gospel today has two people approaching Jesus in their need, a synagogue official who comes to Jesus on behalf of his daughter and a woman with a haemorrhage who comes to Jesus on her own behalf. The way the people approach Jesus is quite different. The synagogue official approaches Jesus in a very public way, bowing low in front of him and speaking aloud his need and his request. The woman approaches Jesus very privately, touching the fringe of his cloak, and speaking only to herself. None of us approaches the Lord in exactly the same way. Our way of relating to the Lord always has a quality that is unique to each of us, just as we each have a unique way of relating to others people. Both the synagogue official and the woman were people of faith but they each expressed their faith very differently. Our faith brings us together as a community of faith, but in doing so it does not suppress our individuality. In the gospel Jesus responded generously to the very different approaches of the synagogue official and of the woman. He made no distinction between them but was equally responsive to their need and their cry for help. The Lord’s response to us is always shaped by and respectful of the unique way that we approach him.