Pentecost, Year B
The Rev. Betsy Tesi
Propers: Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
Please be seated. And feel free to hang your heads and avert your eyes from the preacher, because today we are talking about the woman with a hemorrhage.
The woman who bled.
For 12 years.
The woman who had her monthly visitor.
Non stop. For more than a decade.
The woman who had….
Now, I can tell you, without even needing a show of hands, that every last woman in this church this morning has a story about something embarrassing thanks to female issues.
I can also tell you, without asking for a show of hands, that every last man in this church would pay good money not to have those stories told. In fact, I bet that more than a few of our gentlemen are squirming tremendously right now, hoping that I will stop talking female stuff sometime about two minutes ago. They’d probably pay me to never mention woman problems from the pulpit ever again.
And that is the crux of our story today. This story, these healings of these daughters of Jerusalem, it is not just about healing a sick woman and a dead girl. It’s about SHAME. This gospel is about shame, and because it is about shame, it stops being about women with female problems and becomes about all of us as God’s people, in relationship with a savior whose greatest desire is a restorative relationship with God’s people. God wants us to be released from our shame to be named and known once more in community.
Let’s pick apart what is actually happening in this story. Jesus is approached by Jairus, a synagogue leader. Considering what we know of the culture of the times, Jairus would have been a wealthy, well-respected male, all those things that put him at the forefront of society. Yet he falls at Jesus’ feet, not regarding his status at all, to plead for his child- and his girl child, at that. Jairus is willing to drop his social status literally into the dust for the sake of his daughter. That is our first surprise of the story.
Jesus feels a great compassion for the grieving, desperate parent in front of him. After all, what parent wouldn’t crawl in the dirt for the chance to save their child? So Jesus goes straightaway to Jairus’ home. As the excited crowd presses into him on all sides, the famously suffering woman creeps in. She is an outcast in every sense of the word: she’s ritually unclean thanks to her non-stop flow of blood, she’s poor because she spent all her money on doctors who couldn’t help her, she’s crawling in the dust because she can’t imagine facing Jesus face to face. And all she does is barely touch the hem of his cloak.
The amazing part of this story is not that she is healed. The amazing part is that Jesus stops in his tracks. Today, we’d hardly think twice about multi-tasking. Heck, I’m pretty sure I know people who would stop to get their dry cleaning on the way to the hospital. But in Jesus’ time, way before cell phones and instant messaging, society tended to concentrate on one task at a time. Stopping en route to a miraculous healing to manage another miraculous healing- in the world of story-telling, that is like throwing a tap-dance routine into the middle of a ballroom quickstep. Today, it’s non-stop action here, folks. But Jesus does stop, and here’s the miracle of that story.
He reaches down into the dust where the newly healed woman sits, and he names her “Daughter”. He says, “Daughter, go in peace. Your faith has made you well.” Remember the wealthy, powerful Jairus throwing himself into the dust at Jesus’ feet? Jesus, Messiah, mimics the moves of that other father, casting aside social status, reaching into the shameful dust to bless a cast-out woman and name her also as a daughter of Jerusalem. For Jesus, it’s not just about healing. It’s about reclaiming a person into society. It’s about casting off shame. It’s about lifting a body out of the dust and naming that creature as human.
From there, the compassionate parallels of the story flow strongly. Jairus is willing to undergo any shame if it means his beloved daughter becomes well. For a society that valued the male role so strongly, this focus on sacrificing everything for the sake of girls is radical. Jesus continues to the house of Jairus, where he raises the little girl gently from her premature death, and Jairus stands in society again, blessed to have his girl back. Jairus threw himself into the dust for healing, and he finds himself blessed and restored to society, with his daughter safe and sound.
This past week, we watched our government struggle with the constitutionality of a healthcare law. I am not going to go into the many ins and out of female problems. That sort of thing, is just too personal and too delicate to talk about in public, from the pulpit. I have met the Jairuses of our society, scrabbling in the dust, asking for help to put food on the table because they needed to pay the medical bills. Let me tell you a story. A few years ago, I knew a family where the mom was the primary breadwinner, making good money as an insurance executive. (Yes, the irony.) The mom lost her job because she exhausted all her vacation, all her family leave, and all her donated leave, to deal with a child who was having multiple pediatric strokes. We live in a society where a mother had to choose between calling an ambulance for her seizing child and going into work. She called the ambulance. She lost the job. The family benefits were held through her job. Soon, the medical bills mounted and the billing departments would not cut her any slack. A year later, she’d lost her house. Because she chose to take her child to the hospital instead of going to work. She’d been a reasonably wealthy woman before this had happened, and she was now reduced to begging in the dust of the church for her food. And that is shameful. It’s shameful for us as a society that we have that sort of treatment legally happening to people.
The gospel challenge, for us, involves challenging us to see and name more people as human and as our equals. Our gospel challenges us with these examples of men who risked everything for the least in society.
Our gospel models an alternative for us. Let’s not make the mistake of thinking the bible was made for politics. The gospel isn’t telling us the exact model of public healthcare that is proper and just. Sadly for both the Republicans and the Democrats and the various independents, the bible was written so far before their existence that it supersedes party lines. We cannot read the bible to figure out which way we should ask our state senators to vote on an issue. This is bad news for everyone who is going to wave their bible at me, because I am going to tell them to put that thing down in the corridors of our government. We cannot read the bible to tell us how to run a country. Instead, we read the bible to inform and challenge our own continually developing sense of justice. It’s a personal responsibility, to develop our sense of justice.
I’ve already stated that this reading really isn’t about healing. It’s not about the legality of available healthcare. It’s really about shame. It’s about God wanting to redeemed the shamed. We have it so ingrained in us that medical problems and money problems are a completely individual responsibility, that we tend to feel ashamed by them. We don’t talk about how little control we have over our frail rebelling bodies, or how good moral people end up in money problems. Yet, where else would we talk about redemption from shame if not here, in church, where this table stands open and these rails are ready to receive all who come seeking solace and strength, and pardon and renewal?
Redemption from shame is a work of the church. Shame and embarrassment are universal to all people, not just to those who suffer. Some of you might have never had the problem of worrying about money, or the problem of worrying if you needed to take a change of clothes to work in case your medical problems erupted, or the problem of having to decide between work and your child, but every one of us has suffered shame.
And that is why this gospel holds so much hope for us. Jesus absolutely had the power to wave a hand and anonymously heal from afar. He didn’t need to go to the bedside to heal anyone. He didn’t need to crouch down into the dust to name and know a woman as daughter. That’s why I don’t think this story is about healing, as much as it is about reclaiming a person from shame into community. Jesus, in both these stories, goes to the place where his lost daughter of Jerusalem is, reaches down through the dust of shame, and claims her publicly. Jairus, whom society would have thought would have been the preferred customer due to his power and privilege, is given equal treatment as Jesus goes to his home to reclaim and heal his daughter. As Jesus looks around for the woman now healed of her hemorrhage, he refuses to leave until he sees her and lifts her up. One commentary said that “the whole of heaven and earth stops until she is made known”.
This gives us a vision of a God whose plan for God’s people is to reclaim us, lift us out of our dust of shame, and to create relationship where before there was only separation. I don’t want us going home today either horrified or giggling because the Episcopal priest said “female problems” from the pulpit. I do hope you take away more than that from this sermon. I want us going home and seeing our people in a new light. I want us to see each other, and all those around us, and to say to each other, “I see you. I name you. You are my equal. And you are blessed before God.”