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Archive for July, 2012

A sermon given on July 1, 2012 at the Mennonite Congregation of Boston.

 

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 

Daughter. Jesus responds. In this one word Jesus claims this unnamed woman, and gives her such an intimate identity. Now, prior to this impure interruption, Jesus had been traveling to the house of Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, at the request to heal his own daughter. Both of these woman have suffered severe sickness, even to the point of death. Disease has consumed them, and illness has marginalized them.

 

In the first interaction we meet Jesus in the midst of a large crowd. Pushing on all sides, brushing up against him, many people gather and surround him. 

Making her way through the crowd, an unnamed woman enters the narrative. She had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. Twelve years she has remained unclean. Unable to go out in public, unable to be touched by anyone, unable to participate in the Jewish community. 

(Lev. 15.25)

“‘When a woman has a discharge of blood for many days at a time other than her monthly period or has a discharge that continues beyond her period, she will be unclean as long as she has the discharge, just as in the days of her period. 26 Any bed she lies on while her discharge continues will be unclean, as is her bed during her monthly period, and anything she sits on will be unclean, as during her period.27 Anyone who touches them will be unclean; they must wash their clothes and bathe with water, and they will be unclean till evening.”

For the Jewish people blood was life. It was the life force in animals and humans. There were even strict regulations about how to act around blood. To even eat some animals, the the blood had to be drained completely before consuming, for it belonged to God. And here, this woman stands, slowing dying, as she continues to bleed. The life force being drained from her. Through loss of life she is completely unclean.

The unclean woman his virtually been cut off from her family. Her lack of a name mimics her lack of any social standing or connection. We are left not knowing her background. Whether she was a mother, a grandmother, where she came from. All we are left with is her lack of identity. 

 What is given instead is the information that has so marginalized her. We are told about her disease, we are told about how it has ravaged not only her body, but her financial stability and her social community. Three times over she is marginalized. Back home, she was probably known as the one who is perpetually impure. 

Left in her despair and hopelessness, she becomes desperate. Without acknowledging any of the purity laws this audacious woman breaks out into the public sphere in search of this Jesus. She leaves her house without a male protector or accompaniment. She searches for Jesus, her last hope for restoration. Her impure body pushes up against the others in the crowd which would have made them impure as well, if only they knew. She reaches out to touch them hem of this strange man. The woman’s unclean hand grasps at the hem of this strange man’s clothes. Audacious, isn’t it for the impure to even touch the hem of the most pure. And yet, she does.

Immediately, as soon as the woman felt changes in her body, Jesus felt changes in his. No one else was aware of what had just occurred. Not even Jesus’ disciples for as Jesus responds asking, “who touched me” the disciples are quick to dismiss him by pointing to the surrounding crowd. It’s obvious, isn’t it? 

Restoration has happenend. A sort of resurrection has occurred for this woman, where the death of her social, economic, and spiritual self has risen again, with the word “Daughter” that has been spoken to her. 

The woman’s physical healing was not the end of this resurrection. For we see that after she is healed, Jesus calls out, “Who touched me?” After having been healed of this 12 year long old humiliating and debilitating disease she is forced to face it again. She cannot just sneak out and disappear back into the crowd. 

But, the woman approached in fear and trembling. Odd to feel that anyone approaching Jesus would feel this, given our tamed, often cuddly views of the Son of God. 

Like Abraham, in Kierkegaard’s book, Fear and Trembling, the woman may have thought that despite all that had happened, despite how, as Kierkegaard describes for Abraham, “[God] wondrously made the preposterous come true,” 

God may also take away her healing, just as God was about to take away Abraham’s son Isaac. But she had faith.

In a sort of confession, the woman steps forward and tells the whole story. About her condition. About her lifestyle. About her threefold marginalization. 

Jesus responds, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. We are unsure if it is the faith of her touching his hem that makes her well, or if it is her confession that ultimately makes her well. 

 However, like most things in life, it is most likely a confusing mix of both. For one sees that yes she was healed at the touching of his garment, but this was the physical healing. The kind of healing we see here, though, comes in parts, for it is not until she becomes vulnerable before Jesus, confessing her own condition, in fact, owning her story, her history, that she experiences the societal or communal healing. If she would have just slipped away, she would have still been an outcast. She would have still carried the stigma. Though physically healed, her hidden secret and communal injury would still have oppressed her. It is both in the reaching out and coming out of the crowd that we see her whole healing. 

We see her salvation opening up before her. Her faith has made her well. Her, individual faith and communal confession has brought her salvation. For to be made well, in greek σέσωκέν, means to be saved from. She is saved from her physical ailment, her marginalization, her burden of having to carry around this identity. Through Christ, she experiences peace, wholeness, complete healing. She is no longer known as the hemorraging woman in her community, but the one with the audacious faith to reach out to Jesus. Her healing is not just for her, but for the those in her surrounding community, for here Jesus has broken down the barrier of hostility that has separated this woman from living fully in her community. She is now the one who is called Daughter. 

The story does not end here, in a typical Markan fashion, this story is sandwhiched in between the broader story of Jairus’ daughter. Almost in a mirror fashion we see correlations and important differences that enlighten both passages. 

While Jesus was still speaking, messengers arrived from Jairus’ house. They inform him of the death of his 12 year old daughter. Instead of the sick and impure reaching out to Jesus, as in the first story, we see here Jesus reaching out to the most impure, the dead girl.

Numbers 19:11 

11 “Whoever touches a human corpse will be unclean for seven days. 12 They must purify themselves with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then they will be clean. But if they do not purify themselves on the third and seventh days, they will not be clean. 13 If they fail to purify themselves after touching a human corpse, they defile the Lord’s tabernacle. They must be cut off from Israel. Because the water of cleansing has not been sprinkled on them, they are unclean; their uncleanness remains on them.”

Though, now we recognize the health reasons for pure and impure laws, was also realize that a culture of clean and unclean had occurred and it was no longer to keep individuals healthy, but as a way to separate and demean others. Jesus breaks this by continuing his journey to the the young girl, and asks the father, to not be afraid, but to only have faith. 

Upon arriving at the house there are many mourners, family and friends wailing and weeping at the death of this young girl.  

Jesus, oddly comments that the girl is not dead, but merely sleeping. This quick comment may have been said in order to downplay what he was about to do and the impurity that he was about to walk into. 

He enters her room, taking the little girl by hand, and tells her to get up.  

And she does. Another resurrection which is only complemented by her physically having something to eat.  A whole healing.

Disease and illness consume these stories. They make both the woman and little girl unclean. Becoming impure, or an outcast, both are identified by sickness and death. For the woman we see the agonizing length of 12 years as she is forced to live with her condition. She experiences a kind of death, in her removal from society, family. For the little girl we see the briefness of 12 years as she is overcome quickly with sickness and experiences an actual death. But both are healed in the same year.  

In the story Jesus ends the category of “sickness” and “death” to define humanity. He replaces it with familial terms of daughter.  

Society, both then and now, likes to label individuals. Here the two persons are labeled as sick and unclean, which are oppressive, and Jesus heals them and restores their identity in God. 

Even today we struggle with sickness. Illnesses today that consume individual’s identity include things like AIDS/HIV, Cancer, or even Diabetes. They cause us to consider these individuals as unhealthy, not in the sense that their disease is afflicting them, but unhealthy in what we might think of such people, of their life..  

Sickness changes the way we interact with others. Individual’s become known by their illness rather than own being. We are often quick to assume things about such people as well. If they’re not healthy, they must be impure.  

In fact these people who are regarded as impure in our society, threaten our own health. We desire to quarantine them or rid ourselves of them because they expose just how frail our human bodies are. We create leper colonies. 

What I’m not doing in this message is disregarding the health profession, or the need to take care of people, or to seek cures for disease. People need to flourish and be well. 

However, I’m cautious of the culture around sickness, the stigmatization of individuals with sickness or disability. I’m also weary of the consumerism around health care, because I do not believe it is a product. 

Jesus, though, offers an end to the category of sickness and death. These two words as labels are overcome by the resurrection and replaced with peace and life.  

God brings wholesome peace that restores all aspects of life through the resurrection. Through the Holy Spirit we are taken up into a new identity as those created and called by God for a healed and restored community. 

 

As a community gathered and called here by God, we are called to participate in the healing and hope of God. So we must ask ourselves, if here we experience the freedom and liberation of the healing that is seen through Jesus Christ. A wholesome healing that brings true peace. 

Let us be like the audacious woman, reaching out in faith to the one who can restore our identity. So also let us confess, and claim our history so that it may no long own us. Let us also see from the little girl, how Jesus reaches out to the most impure to restore life. Thus we ought to as well. Let us see how Christ has ended the category of death and sickness to restore us all. 

May the creative love of God surround you, the redeeming healing life of Christ form you, and the sustaining hope of the Spirit be with you. Now and always. Amen. 

 
 
 

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