Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Our gospel is a story within a story. It is a tale of an unnamed women and a prestigious man named Jairus. Or perhaps, it is a tale of Jesus and the disciples. Or perhaps, it is a tale of the bleeding woman and the dead girl. Or in another way of thinking, it is a tale about Jesus and the Beloved Community including all of us. Any way you look at it, today’s gospel weaves our stories together.
It’s like a movie. Our gospel begins again in a boat as Jesus and the disciples step out onto the shore. They have just returned from the foreign side of the sea, and that whole scene with the Gerasene demoniac and that herd of swine which plunged possessed into the sea, when they are immediately swarmed by a large crowd.
Among them is an important man named Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, a well-respected lay person, a father, and patriarch of the community. He steps into the middle of the crowd, throws himself before Jesus, and begs him to heal his daughter. I imagine the disciples smiling at each other at their good fortune—here finally!—was an opportunity to gain favor and prestige for themselves and for Jesus.
But somewhere, unnoticed by either the crowd or the disciples, is a woman slowly approaching Jesus from behind. We don’t know her name. She is homeless, childless, and alone. She had been bleeding for 12 years. She is considered unclean before God. She has suffered under the care of many doctors. She used up all her money searching for a cure. Yet, she only grew worse.
These characters are a study in contrasts. One is privileged. One is outcast. One lingers in the background. The other approached directly. Jairus spoke to Jesus. The woman speaks only to herself. Jairus’ request is met with enthusiasm and a sense of urgency. The woman’s touch is a hindrance and appalling. She’s in the way. The whole procession grinds to a halt. She prevents Jesus from getting to Jairus’ daughter before it’s too late. The disciple’s frustration is palpable. Honestly Jesus, can’t you be a little more focused on your own success? Why are you asking who touched you in the middle of a crowd?
From the crowd we see an example of what it means to be shallow with regard to faith. They flocked to the shore and pressed in to see Jesus only to get near a celebrity. They are mostly oblivious to what is really going on. From the father we learn there is no shame, nothing to be embarrassed about in making a public spectacle of our love or our pain. His suffering made him open to praying before Jesus. I wonder, the next day, were members of his congregation as understanding? From the disciples we see an uncomfortable reflection of our own desire to be a more successful church even if it comes at expense of being less loving to the unprivileged poor.
But perhaps this story is about the woman and the girl. The woman suffered for 12 years. The girl was 12 years old. They are both untouchables. Those with leprosy, those with any kind of bodily discharges, and the dead were regarded unclean and were required to be quarantined from society. Once Jairus’ little girl died, both she and the unnamed woman became lumped into to the same tribe of the damned and the sub-human. But Jesus touched them both and healed them. Jesus touches the untouchable. Jesus not only says I love but he shows it too. While the disciples and everyone in the crowd were counting noses, sizing up the pecking order, doing a cost-benefit analysis, and sorting people into categories of more and less worthiness, Jesus is focused on human need.
From the unnamed woman we uncover a core Christian principle: If it doesn’t look like love, it isn’t Christian. Period. From the little girl we learn it’s never too late for grace. You may think your time is over. You may think the time is not right. You may think of yourself as unworthy or as being untouchable by grace. Jesus lays his hands upon you. He says, ‘Get up’.
“You who believe, and you who sometimes believe, and [you who] sometimes don’t believe much of anything, and you who would give almost anything to believe if only you could…. ‘Get up,’ he says, all of you–all of you!” Jesus gives life not only to the dead, but to those of us who are “only partly alive…who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and the miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves” (Frederick Buechner). Perhaps that is the power at the heart of this story [within a story] and all of our stories: “the power of new life, new hope, new being.” It comes to us now in Christ Jesus. Whether we take notice or not, miracles happen around us every day, and “every single breath we take,” “is a free surprise from God.” (Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor). (As found in Sacred Seeds, by Kate Huey)
Yes. We’re going to need a bag to carry all the goodies this gospel provides for us this week. We’re going to need them all. As we prepare to celebrate another Independence Day, it strikes me that perhaps we have seldom had the patience or the stomach to listen to whole story of our nation’s history. This land we celebrate, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all; this land of opportunity, of immigrants, of diversity, of genocide, of slavery, and ongoing systematic violence against people of color; this year after so much suffering and crisis when we are re-examining our priorities, our relationships, and our work, I pray that we are more open to receiving God’s grace so that all our stories may be woven together.
See, God has made a crazy quilt people out of us called the Beloved Community. Each of our stories is being joined together with every other. Jesus stopped, reached out and connected with people who others waved off as a waste of time. God makes a beautiful crazy-quilt community of throwaway people. We find belonging, new life, and a new way as we join hands with Jesus. We become part of each other and all the saints, including the unnamed woman, the little girl, her father, Jairus, and the disciples in our gospel today. Put out your hands, Jesus says. This is my body given for you. Take the cup, this is my blood shed for you. Take my hand, Jesus says. Get up, rise and live. Let us go and make new the lives of all those others who have yet to know how much they are loved.