13 Ordinary Time B – July 1, 2012 – Owing a Debt to Unlucky Ones
Most graduations are over and so are the speeches. The themes were often the same: Congratulations on what you have achieved. Strive to be the best you can be. Good luck in finding a job!
Every so often, a speech is more challenging, like the one author Michael Lewis gave at the Princeton University Baccalaureate. He said: “Life’s outcomes, while not entirely random, have a huge amount of luck baked into them … and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your Gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.” 
In a similar way Andrew Delbanco writes, “… at the core of the college idea is the notion that to serve others is to serve oneself … providing a sense of purpose … countering the loneliness and aimlessness by which all people, young and old, can be afflicted.” 
It seems that both writers are saying if you and I want to feel good about ourselves, if we want to avoid feeling insignificant, or worse yet, depressed, let’s do ourselves a favor … let’s go out and help someone.
This compassionate idea may be hard for us to grasp as the gap between people who are wealthy and poor continually widens. It is a puzzling challenge for college graduates who owe thousands of dollars in student loans. It is difficult to understand when societies like ours are still debating whether they have a responsibility to assure the good health of all its citizens.
Consider though how lucky some are to have a job, good health, partners, spouses, children, friends. But what about those whose lives have changed drastically because of an accident, a disease, unemployment, a broken relationship. It is not easy to say they are merely unlucky — is it? Some blame God saying it’s God’s will. Others believe it is bad luck. Still others will blame themselves. What do you think? [Paused here for congregation participation]
The book of Wisdom this morning gives us a clue to understanding the miracle stories in Mark’s gospel — stories about two women who were in the right place, at the right time, with the right people. Wisdom tells us that God does not deal in death; that all creation is meant to be imperishable. Somehow death, symbolized by the serpent, entered the world and changed everything. God had to take action to save humanity from death. In the psalm today we praised and thanked God for “rescuing us.”
Note that the author of Wisdom is speaking not about physical but moral and spiritual death.  These are two aspects of death (spiritual and moral) that, today, are gripping diverse cultures, dividing citizenships, challenging religious authorities, questioning belief systems.
God may be defined in many ways. We all have our pet names for God. One way is to try to understand God as a process — a never ending pouring out process (kenosis) 
God gave something of God in the act of creation. The same thing happened in the birth of Jesus and in the infusion of the holy Spirit. God is continually at work in acts of creativity and relationships. God’s hospitality knows no limitation, it has no boundary. Unlike God we have limitations. There is only so much we can give before there is no more.
Both gospel miracles are references to faith and trust in God. They are about the possibilities of salvation, the task that God set out to do because evil lurks everywhere. However, there is more to the stories. Jesus felt that something left him when he healed the woman. Part of Jesus was spent, poured, as he ministered to her. The reading from Paul this morning said Jesus left behind riches so that we would not be poor and that all peoples would experience the abundance of God here on earth.
In human relations something of us, part of our own abundance, is spent when we willingly give ourselves to others — our lovers, our children, strangers. This is not true when someone, deprived of equal rights and the freedom to choose, is coerced or forced into some form of subordination.
The idea of giving something of oneself became apparent to me several years ago. While designing a hospital chapel in Owensboro, Kentucky, I commissioned a sculptor to fashion a statue of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter, the young girl in today’s gospel. Sadly and without warning the young artist died suddenly before completing the sculpture. We decided to use it anyway. It now stands in the hospital garden unfinished. Parts of Jesus and Jairus’ daughter are missing from the statue. It serves as a reminder that the work Jesus started is not done.
The word church is derived from the Greek ἐκκαλέω and literally means to be called out. As members of this church, like new college graduates, you and I are summoned to do something to strengthen ourselves, to establish our identity and to strive for success. However, we are also called to give something of ourselves back to society. Princeton University graduates were challenged by Michael Lewis like you and I are challenged by the Word of God today. What can we do to help those who are experiencing what one might call “bad luck?”
1 Lewis, Michael. “Don’t Eat Fortune’s Cookie” Princeton University Baccalaureate, June 3, 2012
2 Delbanco, Andrew. College: What It Was and Should Be (Princeton University, 2012) in Roth, Michael, New York Times, July 10, 2012, page 17.
3 Fuller, Reginald H. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 319-322.
4 From the Greek κενόω — to empty out