- Published: 17 March 2015
I want us to feel the heart energy of our Scriptures today. We encounter a story in Mark 5:21-43, a story that is foundational to the Christian story and to our Christian faith and to us as a community. This story goes to the heart of the matter.
I draw your attention a dramatic curiousity in this drama .
A 12 year old girl is dying and dies. A woman has suffered terribly for 12 years. Jesus has just gathered about him 12 disciples as an individual who belongs to a nation made up of 12 tribes. The twelve matters.
The literary genius of the story couples or links the lives of two very different women into a common theme. This theme is about the kind of community God wants for our world, a community where all are valued and not just those of prominence and at the centre of life. The literary genius also presents us with God’s longing, Gods aspiration, God’s desire about the way life should be ordered. This is a story that proclaims the mutuality that God originally intended. This story is, in the words of Marcus Borg, stories that never were but always are. This “miracle” story is intended to show the oppressive social context Jesus challenged and his sacred intent on transforming this world, both personally and socially and it is fitting that we read this story on International Women’s Day.
Pause with with a moment and consider the story.
A 12 year old girl is dying. An untold agony for her parents, an agony that breaks open the heart. This is not a story that I have lived personally, but some of us here have. I have walked closely with parents whose journey has included the death of a child. It is not the way it is supposed to be.
In our story, we are introduced to the girl’s father, a prominent community leader, a member of the Jewish ruling class, a man of accomplishment and means who is used to solving life’s problems, until now. He is powerless in the face of whatever disease is taking his child. Jairus is used to giving orders and directives to fix the “problems” he faces. There is no directive that can be given here. He is rendered powerless. He is desperate.
In his desperation begins to see life differently, his beliefs, his understanding of how life is ordered has been turned on its head.
So he does the unthinkable. He seeks help, help not from other religious synagogue leaders, but from an “outside of the system” itinerant preacher already identified as a “trouble maker”. Not only does he seek help, the story tells us that he falls at the feet of Jesus, or another way of translating the words, is that he embraces Jesus. Jairus is going through a radical conversion not unlike the radical conversion Harold Kushner talks about in his book, “Why do Bad things Happen to Good People” where his understandings of God and life were transformed as he journeyed with his young dying son.
Jairus begs for help and the Holy One agrees to journey with Jairus.
But the journey gets interrupted, interrupted by a woman who is everything Jairus is not. She has no prominence, has no status, has no money, and the rules designed by people like Jairus insisted that women in “her condition”, a woman bleeding, were not allowed out in public because they “defiled” whoever they touched.
This is why the woman has no name.
Again the experience of this woman is not my story, but it is the story of many of you here. A woman, facing complex health issues, copes with a health system that couldn’t find a way to help her as she was shunted from one doctor to another. This is not a slight on individual doctors, but a recognition on how unresponsive systems can become.
For this woman this unresponsiveness was costly, it took all her money. She is rendered penniless. Reminds me of the importance of a community that cares for the sick and finds a way for all to access health systems.
Like Jairus, this woman is desperate. So she does what she is not supposed to do, she goes out into the crowds to seek out this Jesus who is awakening something in her and the community.
Awakened within her, is a power she hasn’t realized before.
But unlike Jairus who begs in the only way he knows how, from the centre, from a place of being known and acknowledged. Jairus is public, everyone knows what is happening in Jairus’s life. This woman is private, seeking help in the only way she knows, from her anonymity, from a place as one without status. No one knows her story, no one knows what is happening in her life.
But she reaches out and touches Jesus and immediately, the story tells us, she feels in herself that she is healed. There is a sacred energy happening, a mysterious and palpable rebalancing, and she can feel it in herself. As our good doctor, who sits in our choir each Sunday, Elaine Taylor, said to me this week. One definition of health that she likes is “being established in the self”. Our Healing Pathway ministry acknowledges the dynamics between physical and spiritual and how the two are called to work in harmony with one another. One can still have ailment and live in health. By attending to Spirit, pathways of renewed health can be opened up through touch.
With the woman’s touch, the Holy One, Jesus felt that sacred energy as well, could feel the difference of the woman’s touch from the elbowing of the crowd. More than that, it was not a defiling touch. To the contrary.
So the Holy One stops. Jesus has to know who touched him. While it is rather subtle in the story, the writer of the story indicates that Jesus continued to look around to see who had done it. We don’t know how long Jesus looked around. I suspect that this woman, so used to being lost in the crowds, did not self-identify instantly, but Jesus, unlike the doctors, does not give up until she does. Then, with trepidation and anxiety, this woman reveals herself, is brought out from the margins to the centre, where the woman falls at the feet of Jesus, or embraces him, and tells him the whole truth. This woman and her story become visible.
Lois Wilson, the first female moderator of the United Church of Canada, observes that this story reminds us that the healing of the ones at the centre depends on the healing of the ones at the edges, where right relations are restored. Healthy churches, healthy societies, understand that the greatest threats come from widening gaps between wealth and poverty. Canada can only heal when there is truly right relations between the first peoples of Canada and the “settlers” of Canada.
Jesus took the time to find this woman. But I want you to notice something. Even though Jesus was outside the system, Jesus was named and was able to challenge the system because he was afforded status in society, the status of being a man in exclusively male leadership of his day and culture.
In this story, when it says that Jesus felt power leaving him, there is something more happening. Not only does healing energetic power leave Jesus, but there is an intentional transfer of power from Jesus to this woman.
The Christ power is in this woman. It is in the pulsating passionate life of this determined woman to pursue wholeness and healing and salvation. Jesus says to the woman, “your faith has restored you”, he doesn’t say, “I restored you”.
You see, as Rita Nakashima Brock notes, traditional Christian doctrince may have got everything a little mixed up. Sometimes we limited the Christ light to Jesus, but the Christ light is in this woman, the Christ power happens in community as those on the margins are empowered and lifted up and made visible. The Christ is a transformed and transforming community. In the community Jesus is establishing, this woman carries the holy. She is blessed, and as she is restored to health, she resurrects because she can start living life again. While this woman's story is not necessarily our story, this woman becomes all of us—the story that never was but always is--as we relate her experience to our own.
To underline this teaching, we return to desperate Jairus, still waiting, desperate Jairus who has had his journey interrupted by this woman, a delay that results in the death of his daughter.
And in the drama of our story, Jesus invites Jairus and the readers to embrace the faith of the woman who touched his clothes. The Holy One does not abandon the journey to the bedside of the twelve year old girl, but instead breaks with customary protocols, dismisses the professional naysayers, silences the commotion and raises this daughter from the dead.
This is a daughter of God risen from the dead. Think about it.
At the beginning of the gospel story, long before Jesus is raised from the dead, Jesus raises this daughter of God from the dead. The rising of the Christ happens in more than just Jesus, it happens is the lifting up of a people.
This is the heart of the matter, this is the journeys by heart, the birth of a community intent on lifting up to life all people, and doing so in practical and concrete ways, not simply talking about it. This is why Jesus told them to get the girl something to eat, resurrecting to new life happens in concrete and practical ways.
The Christ is in community where all are lifted up. This is our wholeness, this is our healing, this is our salvation. Blest are they, the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of God. In this there is good news, gospel news, that we can celebrate.
While our story may not be the specifics of the daughter raised to life, our to our Christian story is the conviction that resurrection life happens in us. The Christ is rising in us. This is why we can sing blessed are you, holy are you.