Does it strike you that we heard a 2,000 year old story? 2,000 years it’s been around and 2,000 years it’s been told and retold. And here we are today, sophisticated, wired, savvy, well-off Western Americans still hearing and resonating with that old story from the Middle East. WHY? What’s the attraction? The answer is basically, when you come right down to it, this story tells us who Jesus is and how he spreads the good news about the kingdom of God and how we has his disciples are to live in this world. This story reveals why Jesus captured the people who first heard him, and why he captures us today. It’s the kind of story that began it all – the itbeing Christianity.
The outline of this familiar story is simple. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, begs Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Jesus agrees to come to this important man’s house – but on the way, he is interrupted by an unimportant woman who, unlike Jairus, doesn’t even have a name. And here’s where we begin to get captivated.
Now I don’t know what Jesus thought, but this woman was an intrusion. She was pushy. He was on an important mission – couldn’t she see that? – and she was irritatingly interrupting, grabbing at the hem of his garment. She could have accidently tripped him. Can’t she see he’s preoccupied, has things to do? In a hurry? he doesn’t have time for her. But then I am reading myself into Jesus for, as usual, this unusual man does the unexpected and from his actions, from this story, I learn five things that tell me who Jesus is, what he teaches by example and how am I to be as his disciple.
First of all, this Jesus not only has time for the unimportant but a preference for them.Remember, Jesus was with the synagogue leader, a high-powered man – and yet he stops to encounter a marginalized woman. That in itself is remarkable. In that time and place in history, when women had no standing, much less a contaminated woman, much less a poor woman – she spent all her money on doctors – this was revolutionary. As the saying would go in modern times, Jesus would show a preferential option for the poor. Jairus, the important man, can wait while Jesus deals with the unimportant woman. And right away, this attitude raises the hope that he will pause for each one of us as well. Isn’t that what we are called to do as people cross our paths?
Second, Jesus has time for losers.He who has the habit of seeing people on the margins senses that here is a woman with losses. She has lost a lot of blood, a lot of life. Down and out, having given up onher doctors and maybe byher doctors, she is a loser easily relegated to life’s sidelines. But not for Jesus. Precisely because she is sidelined she catches his attention. That raises the hope that he will notice each one of us as well; that he, in fact, has. Isn’t that what we are to do as people cross our paths?
Third, Jesus has time for affirmation.So far, this women has been identified only by her bleeding and her pain. But Jesus pauses; he wants to see a face and hear a name. he takes time to see her, not as an intrusion, a nonentity, but as a human being in need. So he speaks to her not as a patient, not as a recipient of the health care delivery system, but as an equal. He calls her daughter.That is, she is more than someone in pain. And furthermore he affirms her by giving her credit. Your faith has made you well.This raises the hope that he will see each one of us not as faces in a crowd but as who each of us is, and call each one of us by name. Isn’t that what each of us can do as compassionate listeners? This can be very compelling.
Fourth, Jesus ignores the naysayers.I can hear the complaints of exasperation at his demand to know who touched him. No, Jesus, we cannot dawdle here. We have a job to do…Let’s go….How can you ask in this crowd who touched you? Let’s move on.And when he reaches Jairus’ house, more negative voices. You’re too late. She’s dead. Why bother?And when he did bother, they laughed. This raises the hope that the people who put each one of us down, who are always negative towards us, who laugh at us, are wrong and that Jesus is right to deal with each one of us and see us alive and not dead as they think. Isn’t that how each of us needs to be with others?
Fifth, the story, when it’s all said and done, reminds us of a deep truth. Too often we feel that in order to be a good Christian we have to try hard and believe this or that, whether we, in fact actually do believe it or not; that we first have to straighten out our life and get it together, and feel tis or that in our hearts, in order to be pious and worthy.
Listen again to this story. In the stories of Jairus and the hemorhaging woman , nobody does anything except cry out in the face of death and sickness. No one, as far as I can tell, believes or thinks or feels. As Episcopal Priest author Robert Capon puts it: Jesus came to raise the dead. The only qualification for the gift of the gospel is to be dead. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to be good or perfect. You don’t have to be wise. You don’t have to be wonderful. You don’t have to be anything. You just have to be dead. That’s it. And this raises the hope that we don’t have to be virtuous or worthyor even spiritually alive for Jesus to raise us up. In fact, it seems the more deadwe are, the more Jesus cares.
I hope it’s lost on none of us that our lectionary this week features 1) a desperate father pleading for the life of his dying little girl, and 2) an outcast woman telling her shame-laced truth to the only man in a crowd who will listen. In Jairus’s story, Jesus demands that we not pronounce death where he sees life. In the bleeding woman’s story, he demands that legalism give way to compassion every single time. In each story, Jesus restores a lost child of God to community and intimacy. In each story, Jesus takes hold of what is impure(the menstruating woman, the dead body) in order to practice mercy. In each story, a previously hopeless daughter goes in peacebecause Jesus finds value where no one else will.
Are we listening? Could there be a more fitting lection for our time and place? As I write these words, I’m haunted by the hundreds of immigrant families at the U.S border who are in anguish because their “whole truths” remain unpalatable to many Americans. These asylum seekers have searing stories of violence, pain, and terror to share. But those stories are falling on deaf ears because they don’t fit into our culture’s mainstream racist narratives about “illegals,” “aliens,” and “criminals.” Immigrant children are living in cages. Nursing babies were being ripped out of their mother’s arms. Empathy, mercy, and human decency have been replaced by zero tolerance. Where God sees life — hungry, hopeful, needy, broken, sacred, inviolable life — those in political power are pronouncing death.
In response to these and other horrors, Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, reminds us that if it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it cannot be claimed to be Christian.
If it doesn’t look like love, it isn’t Christian. Period.
What looks like love? What looks like Jesus of Nazareth? The one whose heart melts at the cry of a desperate father. The one who visits the sick child and takes her limp hand in his. The one who risks defilement to touch the bloody and the broken. The one who insists on the whole truth, however falteringly told. The one who listens for as long as it takes. The one who brings life to dead places. The one who restores hope. The one who turns mourning into dancing. The one who renames the outcast, Daughter, and bids her go in peace.
On this 4thof July time, we need to ask ourselves the following questions…. how will you choose to let your faith inform your citizenship? How will you reach out for Christ asking that his healing be on us all? How will you ask God to bless America, and bless the whole world?
It is funny how our minds work. As I was pondering this gospel and Jesus and watching and listening to the immigration stories, I remembered an interview I saw once on TV. The person being interviewed was an heroic mother who had singlehandedly raised a large family. In spite of all the frustrations, disappointments, and obstacles, she had persevered, and everyone of her children had made remarkable achievements, not only in their schooling but also in their vocation. It was an inspiring story worth celebrating, for it revealed the heights and depths of human greatness. During the interview, the mother was asked her secret by the reporter who said,
I suppose you loved all your children equally, making sure that all got the same treatment.
The mothers answer was stunning and brought me back to this gospel. She replied: I loved them. I loved them all, each one of them but not equally. I loved the one the most that was down until he was up. I loved the one the most that was week until she was strong. I loved the one the most that was hurt until he was healed. I loved the one the most that was lost until she was found.
Amen to her…Amen to Michael Curry…Amen to Jesus.
Lord of heaven and earth
of all nations and peoples
all faiths and no faith
to those who are suffering,
to all who are refugees,
to those who are powerful,
to all who are powerless,
reveal yourself to ordinary people like us
during our time together
and in in our everyday lives,
that this world
might reflect your love
and your glory.
The freshness of God’s mercy and love,
the continued generosity of God’s gifts to us,
call for thanksgiving and generosity on our part.
This church stands because of the faithful generosity
of those who came before us, and its ministry grows today
because of the hopeful, expectant generosity that lives in us.
Let us gather our gifts together, then, and offer them to God
in gratitude, heartfelt commitment, and praise.
Deep in our hearts, we know that we are children of God.
Remember who you are, then,
and walk in the assurance of God’s presence
and love with you always,
calling you beyond fear into belief and joy.
And may the blessing of God Almighty…..