Year B, Proper 8, Track 2, 1 July 2018
Trinity on the Green
I LOVE today’s Gospel passage. I am so glad this passage is here for us today. It is utterly timely. The stories of Jesus raising a little girl from the dead, and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman come at a time when the health and safety of children in this country – especially children at our borders – may be on our minds and hearts. These stories come at a time when the reproductive health of women may be on our minds and hearts.
I love these two stories, because they make us deal with the pain, mess, grit, and sorrow of life – with the hope that healing and restoration are possible. Jesus assures us in these troubled times: “Do not fear, only believe.”
I remember first hearing the story of the raising of Jairus’ daughter, as a little girl myself. Growing up in a patriarchal church, that seemed to value men and boys over women and girls, this story gave me hope that we little girls did matter. That Jesus truly loved the little children, so much so that he would bring this little girl back to life.
And I remember first hearing the story of the woman suffering with hemorrhages when I was a teenager. I too was suffering the same. I, like the woman, and so many other women, had endured much under many physicians, but was no better. I, like many women, had been told of an uncertain future: hemorrhage, pain, infertility, other unsightly and taboo signs and symptoms.
I, like this woman in the Gospel, and like so many other women, felt isolated, alone, strange, and scared. In a time JUST before WebMD and online health forums, hearing this Gospel assured me that at least I wasn’t alone. And that if this woman had the initiative to seek healing, that I could, too. I hope that this Gospel may have the same effect for others present today who may be suffering and feeling isolated: please know that you are NOT alone.
This unnamed woman would have had a hard life. Think about it: one couldn’t buy sanitary products at CVS in first century Judea. There weren’t laundry machines, either. But far worse than that, she would have been considered ritually unclean. She would have been a social outcast. She would have had to live in isolation, separated from her family, friends, and village. When people saw her coming, they would have veered the other way, because if she dared to even brush by them lightly, they too would have become unclean! She likely had not had physical contact with anyone in all those years. Think about that – what would it be like to not hug someone for 12 years!? That makes her all the more courageous to push through the crowd. That makes her all the more courageous to reach out and touch Jesus. And Jesus’ reaction shows love and compassion: she falls at his feet in fear and trembling, but he does not call her “unclean.” He calls her “daughter” – a daughter every bit as precious as Jairus’ daughter. Jesus praises her faith and her initiative – her faith has made her well. And not only is she physically well, she is restored to her community – to her friends, and to her family. She is no longer unclean. She is no longer an outcast.
Meanwhile, this healing of the woman has interrupted one of the leaders of the synagogue’s plea to Jesus to come and lay hands on his little daughter who is at the point of death, so much so that Jairus is told that his daughter is now dead. One can only imagine his desperation, and hope that Jesus could have gotten there in time, but now – the worst news a parent can hear. She has already died – his messengers tell him that he should go home to grieve, and not trouble the teacher any longer. Jesus overhears, and urges Jairus, as he did the woman, “do not fear, only believe.”
When Jesus arrives at the house of the leader, there is chaos and commotion: people are “weeping and wailing,” as rightly they should. Jesus admonishes them: “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” If I had been there, I probably would have laughed at him, too. Rightfully so, Jesus kicks the mourners out, and he allows only the girl’s mother, father, and his three disciples to go with him to the little girl’s room. It is important to note here that the little girl would now, like the hemorrhaging woman, be ritually unclean, as she was dead. But Jesus touches her anyway – he takes the child’s hand, and in his native Aramaic, commands her, “Talitha cum… little girl, get up!” And immediately, she rises and walks. She is twelve years old, having lived as long as the hemorrhaging woman has suffered. Everyone is amazed. Jesus orders them to tell no one, but word will surely spread.
Jesus shows all those present that death is not the final answer, and that the healing power of God is stronger than death. Jesus even shows further compassion for the little girl by telling them to give her something to eat – to further care for her.
In both of these stories, an act of touch restores both women to new life. Both the woman and the little girl were derived of all power, but Jesus showed them compassion, and deemed them worthy of his attention
These two miracle stories may also bother us: no doubt, there have been times in all our lives when we have sought healing for ourselves or a loved one, and not seemingly received it. When we have prayed for miracle cures – especially for babies and children – and they have not come. We all know that not all prayers are answered as we pray them. As a priest, I wish all the time that I could heal people – as in cure them. That I could somehow harness Jesus’ healing power, walk out onto the Green, and have people just touch my stole and have their health and livelihood restored to fullness. Yeah, as if. I can’t do that.
We cannot offer instant cures: but we can offer healing. There is a difference. What I can try to do – what all of us as a church can do – is seek to offer healing to people by restoring them to community. By offering them an alternative to isolation – by offering them an alternative to feeling like outcasts. By inviting them to the feast we offer here each Sunday – by inviting them to know that they are so loved by God, and that God is with them in their struggles. By praying for our needs and the needs of others, we engage in a deeper relationship with God, and one with each other: one that can ultimately change us. Here, we are not defined by our ailments, or our problems: we are all God’s beloved children.
Our work as the church is to accompany each other through the ups and downs of life – to see Jesus in each of us and everyone. Jesus reminds us today to not fear, but believe, and to follow his example: to show compassion for children – all children, especially those who have been separated from their parents. To show compassion for all who are outcasted and isolated – those we might think of as “unclean.” And to maybe, just maybe – raise up what was thought to be dead.