This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations or presbytery I serve.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Two Women.

Luke 8:40-56
            Jesus and his disciples, having largely failed in their mission to the Gentiles on the other side of the lake, return to Capernaum, in Jewish Galilee.  Jesus is so popular there that people are waiting for him to come back.  When they see the boat coming, an enthusiastic crowd gathers.
            As they climb out of the boat in what must have been a scene of mass confusion, they hear a man’s voice shouting over the general hubbub.  The man pushes through the mass of people and manages to fall down at Jesus’ feet.  The man’s name is Jairus, and everybody knows him because he is the leader of the local synagogue.  Jairus represents the bright, successful, and pious establishment.  He begs Jesus to come to his house immediately because his 12-year-old daughter is very sick, so sick that she could die at any moment.
            So Jesus says “Lead the way,” and this whole throng of people starts moving with him up the street, through the town, to where Jairus lives.  It is slow going to begin with, with the disciples trying to clear a path through the densely packed humanity. 
            In the middle of this confusing and jostling progress, Jesus suddenly stops.  He looks quizzically around and asks, “Who touched me?”  And this whole crowd that had been patting him on the back, bumping into him, maybe even accidentally shoving him as he is trying to make his way to Jairus’ house, all step back and go, “Not me.  I didn’t touch you.  Did you touch him?  Wasn’t us, Jesus.”  Rolling his eyes, Peter says to Jesus, “Uh, like, everyone is touching you, Lord, so I don’t understand….”
            Meanwhile, Jairus, who has been trying to drag Jesus faster through the crowd, must be beginning to panic as Jesus comes to a halt.  Imagine his extreme impatience at how slow this is going… and now Jesus stops.
            “No,” says Jesus, still looking intently around at the faces.  “Someone did touch me; I felt the power go out from me.”  And his eye lands on a woman who is pointedly not looking at him, and trying at the same time to control feelings of overwhelming joy and relief, and quietly push her way back into anonymity.  But she feels Jesus’ gaze, and realizes there is no escape. 
            So she throws herself down in front of Jesus, crying, “Alright, it was me!  I have been – had been – sick with, with, well, bleeding for 12 years.  I spent all my money on doctors who couldn’t cure me, and in desperation I thought that maybe if I just touch the robe of the famous healer Jesus – I know I am unclean so I wouldn’t presume to touch your body, you understand – but maybe it would be enough to touch your robe, and so I pushed to where I could just reach you, and when I did I immediately felt that I was healed.  My pain disappeared right then.  Forgive me, Lord.  And thank you so much….”

            Meanwhile, the disciples and others are wondering what the hold-up is.  Jairus, standing there, is practically beside himself and in tears with frustration at this delay.
            Jesus is not bothered about the delay.  He looks at the woman.  She’s not old.  She’s probably 24.  She had contracted this disease when she was the same age as the girl they are going to visit.  She’d had it half her life.  It has destroyed her life.  She is destitute from paying doctors.  (There was no health insurance, and anyway, the people Jesus is dealing with could not afford such a luxury even today.  And it goes without saying that there was no Medicaid or national health care.  No.  In those days, if you got sick you gave whatever little money you had to doctors and they you died.  They must have had our Congress.)
            She was also ritually “impure,” so she could not go to the Temple or the synagogue to worship and pray.  Plus, no one was allowed to touch her without becoming themselves impure; so this whole trip into the crowded town square to touch Jesus’ robe would have been pretty risky.  She was unable to bear children so she probably wasn’t married; the money she’d spent must have been her father’s, so the whole family might now be in poverty.  And unless she had some nephews the family had no future either.
            According to tradition her name is Bernice.  She has traveled from Caesarea, like 25 miles to the north, probably hearing about Jesus and waiting to see him.  It was the people in that town who knew her and kept her story alive until it got into a collection that made it into the hands of the gospel writers, decades later.
            Jesus just smiles at her, feeling her joy at her newfound wholeness, and her gratitude.  He also sees that she is afraid, I guess that he will punish her for surreptitiously taking power from him, or something.  But he reaches down and lifts her up and he simply says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace.”  “You had it within you all the time, but you had to find it out for yourself.  You had to find within yourself your trust in me and God’s power to heal you.  You have shown courage, audacity, determination, confidence, and hope... not to mention desperation.  Now you have a new life.  Go and witness to God’s healing power and be at peace.” 
            She smiles back in tears, thanks him even more profusely.  Her example of faith has stood ever since. 

            But Jesus isn’t even done speaking to her before someone comes with a message for the anxious Jairus.  “Your daughter is dead, do not trouble the teacher any longer.”  And Jairus instantly spirals into the stages of grief, beginning with denial, and a strong component of anger because, like, why have we been standing here for 10 minutes?  You could have talked to that woman later; there was no reason to stop; we could have made it!
            Jesus says, “Jairus, relax.  Do not fear.  Trust me, I know what I’m doing.  Your daughter will be saved.”
            Jairus realizes that Jesus is either completely crazy, or something else is going on here.  No one would make the kind of claim that Jesus just makes without being able to back it up.  If they couldn’t, it would be the height of irresponsible cruelty and hubris.  How can Jesus, at a distance of a block, know the medical condition of his daughter?  Then again, there is a rumor going around that Jesus has even raised a young man from the dead…. 
            They finally get to Jairus’ house, which is in an uproar of grief, complete with mourners already “weeping and wailing.”  Jesus points and Peter, James, and John, indicating that they are to accompany him into the house, and he motions for Jairus and his wife as well.  As the six of them make their way into the house, Jesus says to the mourners, “Do not weep.  She is not dead, but sleeping.”
            At this the mourners laugh, not because Jesus said anything particularly funny, but because when we hear something incongruous and delusional and wildly misinformed we can laugh with bitterness.  These people may have seen the body themselves; they know what it looks like when someone is dead.  “Hah!  What do you know about it, you haven’t even seen her yet.  We have.”
            They go into the room where the girl is.  She sure looks dead.  Jesus sits down by the bed as everyone else stands around.  He looks up, smiling.  “Sleeping,” he says.  Then he takes the girl’s hand, and he calls out, “Child, get up!” just like he is calling for her to get out of bed on any ordinary morning.

            Luke tells us “her spirit returned,” which could also mean she suddenly gasps for breath.  She opens her eyes and starts to sit up, to her parents’ utter, open-mouthed astonishment and delight. 
            “See?”  Jesus says kindly.  “Just sleeping.  Give her something to eat and she’ll be fine.”  Then, after the tearful hug, he says to them, before they leave the room, “Just don’t tell anyone about this, okay?  She was sleeping.  Let’s leave it at that.”  They look at each other, and nod.
            The story gets out anyway, though.  Stories like this always get out.
            What we learn from these two stories is that Jesus’ compassion always overrules everything.  Any concern for ideas like ritual purity, social mores, rules and regulations, politics, conventional morality, theological doctrine, or even socially acceptable manners, goes out the window as far as Jesus is concerned.  His only agenda, which he fixes on with laser-like focus, is bringing healing, wholeness, and freedom to people in need.  Nothing else appears to matter for him. 
            He is not disturbed that a woman approaches him in secret and, in effect, “steals” healing power from him.  He stops because he has something to say to the person.  He wants her to know that it was her faith, her trust in him, that is, something inside of her, something that she always potentially possessed, something gestating in her and waiting to be born, is what heals her.           
            She may think she has to steal it from him by stealth; but he is only interested in giving his power away anyway.  She is conditioned to approach this as if Jesus only has a limited amount of healing power.  But what Jesus is giving away is free and boundless.  You just have to be in need and have in your heart this trust in the God Jesus has come to reveal to us.
            With the girl it is not even her trust in him, it is her father’s.  Who knows how many hours he spent on the lakeshore scanning the horizon, waiting for the return of the only One he could imagine having the power to heal his daughter.  If that mission to Gerasa had been successful, who knows how long Jesus would have stayed over there?  It might have been weeks or months.  And with her condition deteriorating hourly, who has this kind of hope?
            But were it not for this “failure” the girl would have died and stayed dead, and the woman might never have had the chance to sneak up on Jesus and get herself healed.  Our failures are always set-ups for God’s successes.

            Both of the individuals saved from death or disease here, of course, are women.  They have in common the number 12, which is the age of the girl, and possibly the age of the woman when she got sick.  Girls of this age are on the cusp of womanhood.  Women represent the new life of the future, and by healing these two women Jesus is saying that the future is in God’s hands and it is secure, if we trust in God.
            But it is a different future that Jesus opens in these women.  He rescues our future from the grip of powers and principalities that continually foreclose on it.  He takes the marred liability of women’s existence under oppressive powers, and turns it over.  For Jesus, women are not mere baby factories producing the next generation of soldiers, workers, tax payers, consumers, and mortgage holders, all to create and protect the wealth of the wealthy and the power of the powerful.  He sets women free.  Free from a disordered and self-consuming version of womanhood, and free from death, free from the demands of the empire.
            Women and feminine images have pervaded the last chapter or so of Luke’s book.  Even that story of the demoniac over in Gerasa, a man possessed by a veritable imperial “Legion” of demons, reflects on this theme.  The Romans in their art habitually portrayed conquered nations as subjected and dominated women.  In their policies they treated conquered peoples, male and female, like slave-women in ways I will not describe.
            What Jesus is doing, and what Luke is writing about, is astoundingly subversive.  “The stone the builders rejected has become the corner-stone.”  That verse from Psalm 118 pervades the thinking of the early church.  Jesus is that stone.  The people who follow him are that stone.  Women in particular, not empowered in regular society, become fertile good soil of the Jesus-movement.  As do slaves, and workers, and the poor, and aliens, and the ubiquitous “tax-collectors and prostitutes.”  The core of this movement is rejected, victimized, disenfranchised, weak, and marginal people.
            Jesus Christ comes to show us that this is where God’s future comes from.  This is the “good soil,” shaped by death, grief, suffering, failure, and loss.  This is where the Word takes root and thrives and explodes with growth, bearing a hundred-fold.  This is the womb where God knits the people together, the community of disciples, always bearing the good news of God’s love into the world.

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