Sunday, June 28, 2015

An Unamed Woman, A Powerful Man and a Little Girl

Christ and the Woman with a Hemorrhage” by Unknown Artist (c. 300-350 A.D.) Catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter, Rome

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’ 

 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43
Today  in our Gospel lesson we have two miracle stories woven together as we learn  of two very different people who whose lives intersect as they are both touched by Jesus’ healing power.

On the one hand we have Jairus, who is described as a ruler of the synagogue.  He is an upstanding citizen and church elder.  He is a man of standing, well respected by his community.  He was probably a wealthy man.  Certainly a man of power.

On the other hand we have woman who is not even given a name.  She is described only as a woman suffering from a flow of blood.  She is not even considered part of the community because the condition she suffered rendered her unclean.  Untouchable.  According to Leviticus, anything that she touched would be considered unclean and if anyone even touched anything she touched, much less her, they too would be unclean.

Let’s look at her story first.  This woman was untouchable every day of her life for the past twelve years.  Try to imagine how she must have felt about herself, not only weak and unhealthy for so long but considered unclean.   For twelve years she was forced to keep herself at a distance from the rest of the community.   Unclean.  Unseen.  Untouched.

That day out of a desperate hope, this woman dared to venture out into the crowd.  She faced a terrible choice.  Should she risk public disgrace, drawing attention to herself and her shameful condition to seek healing from Jesus? Or should she just stand back, let Jesus pass by and continue her isolated life as usual.

Jesus was a well known as a teacher, rabbi, healer and holy man.  A lot of rabbis and Pharisees, who took great pains to keep ritually clean would be very angry if she got anywhere near them.  Something told this woman that Jesus was different, that Jesus cared more about people than the laws of purity.  In spite of all her years of desperate loneliness, on some level this woman knew that she was valued by God, that God wanted her to be made whole and that the power to make her whole was to be found in this man Jesus.  So she reached out and touched him.

Immediately something changed and Jesus knew it.  “Who touched me?” He asks?  The disciples, clueless as usually, thought this was a very odd question, considering that in that crowd; no doubt dozens of people had probably touched Jesus.  Bu the woman knew what he meant and despite her fear of angering him, admitted what had happened.  And instead of judgment, she received healing and praise for her faith from Jesus.

Now in the meantime, what about poor Jairus?   Remember he had come to Jesus for help first.  Consider what must have been going on through his mind during all this.  Jairus for all his power and wealth was powerless to help his precious little girl who was deathly ill at home.   Although he had more power and wealth and standing than the woman, he too was just as desperate and in need of Jesus help as the woman.

Jairus had servants and was used to being waited upon.  But now, during these anxious moments, when he was nearly mad with worry about his sick little girl at home, he is forced to wait while this unknown, unimportant woman takes up precious time with Jesus.

Jairus's Daughter JESUS MAFA

And then comes the dreaded word from home.  “Don’t bother, it’s too late.  She’s gone” And we don’t hear another word from Jairus.  He never rebuked the woman, though he could have blamed her for delaying Jesus.  He didn’t listen to those who told him not to bother Jesus anymore.  

He too held on to a desperate hope and faith as he allowed Jesus to go to see his dead daughter.  Did he really believe that Jesus could raise the dead?  Or was he so full of shock and grief that he was in denial about his daughter’s death?  Just what is the line between hope and denial?

We don’t’ know.  We only know that Jesus told his little girl to get up and the little girl did just that.  And a little girl, an important man and an unnamed woman all experienced the power of God in their lives.

Now I don’t know who you may identify with more in this story, the respected church leader, the unclean woman, or the passive little girl.  Perhaps there are times in our lives when we find ourselves in all of those positions.  What is important is that Jesus honored both the faith of the powerful man and the powerless woman.

But note that faith involved something different for Jairus and for the woman.  For Jairus, to ask for help was to admit his own helplessness.  He had to give up his power to yield to God’s power.  And he had to humbly wait while Jesus healed someone the world considered less important.  For Jairus, faith required letting go of control.

The woman, on the other hand, had to be bold and take hold of Jesus’ garment.  For her faith was not giving up power and control, she had none to begin with!  For the woman, faith was reaching out and taking hold of God’s power.

And perhaps the most powerless person in this whole drama was the little sick girl.  She lay ill, dependent upon others to take action for her.  She could not seek Jesus help on her own.  For her, faith was simply to hear the words “Get up little girl” and to obey them.  And she experienced a gift of God’s power that was stronger than death.

Our nation is still reeling in the after math of a terrible, hate and racist inspired massacre.  It has forced us to confront the uncomfortable truth that we have not solved the problem of racism and bigotry and hate in our country.  We’ve become more polite about it than we were before the civil rights movement.  

But in a way all that has done is driven it underground so that those of us who are white don’t have to face it.  But it never went away and our brothers and sisters of color have not had the luxury that we have had of ignoring it.

And so a conversation has begun.  A conversation that sometimes might make white people uncomfortable.   I believe that most of us here are good hearted people and are not racist, certainly not hateful.  But that’s not always enough.  We have to pay attention.  We have to speak up when we see something is not right.  Most of the time we need to just listen to our brothers and sisters of other backgrounds.  Listen to them even when it is uncomfortable.  

Because I think sometimes we are in such a hurry to make sure that we are the good guys, that we aren’t racist, we don’t listen when others say, “you know it doesn’t matter that you are a nice person.  You still have advantages in a SYSTEM that is stacked against us.”  Nothing can change.  No healing can take place until we are willing to step back and listen.

In many ways we are all here today, more like Jairus than the woman with no name.  Now you may see people more powerful than you and so think you are not a person with power and influence, but compared to most of the people In the world, we are more like Jairus.

Jairus was a good guy.  Just because he was a powerful influential man didn’t mean he wasn’t a good guy.  But the kingdom of God that Jesus brought into this world turns things upside down.  There is healing and redemption and salvation for everyone.  But the powerful, the people who are not used to waiting, who are not used to stepping aside, have to step aside and make room for those on the margins who have been made to wait too long for healing, for dignity, for equality. Scripture says they get to go to the front of line.  There’s enough for everyone, but those who have had to wait get to go first.  Those of us used to being in the front of the line can go to the back.

So if I get anything out of this story that pertains to today it’s that, let’s just step aside for our brothers and sisters of color and hear their story.  Let’s not argue right away or try to convince anyone that we are not racist.  Let’s not insist they say what they need to say what they need to say nice enough so that our feelings don’t get hurt.  Let’s not make it about us.  Let’s just Liston.  Listen and trust God that he will send his healing to all.

There are powerful people and there are powerless people in the world.  And then there is God’s power.  Paul defines the Gospel – the Good News as the power of god that is available to all people through faith.  A power that defeats sin that causes others to use their power over others.  A power that heals and gives life.  A power than turns hate and bitterness into compassion and forgiveness.

Sometimes faith requires admitting your helplessness.  Other times it requires realizing that you are not helpless.    Faith is opening your mind and heart to the gifts that God has given you and empowered you to use for his sake and the sake of the world God loves.

The power that was available to Jairus and the woman and the little girl is available to us today in Christ.  Do we have the humility to admit we cannot do it without God?  Do we have the courage to take hold of that power and be “little Christs” to the world?  Do we have the faith and courage to hear and obey Christ command, “Little child, get up!”  ?