Sunday, May 11, 2014

This Week's Sermon: "A Woman Called Daughter"

Mark 5:25 to 34 

 25 A woman was there who had been bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. 27 Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes. 28 She was thinking, If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. 29 Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed. 30 At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it. 33 The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward. Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth. 34 He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.” (Common English Bible)

“I Say to You, Arise: The Gospels’ Least-Known Resurrection Story,” Week Two

The buildings that slope down Mount Herzl in Jerusalem that make up Yad Vashem are many.  There is a history museum, an art museum, a hall of remembrance, a children’s memorial, a research institute, a synagogue, a library, a publishing house, an educational center, and more, all nestled in right next to the Jerusalem forest of pine trees.  Together, these buildings are Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Jewish Holocaust during World War II, known as Yad Vashem.

In around those buildings lies the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations—the primary memorial for commemorating the “Righteous Gentiles” who, courageously and at great personal risk, aided the survival of European Jews during the Holocaust.  In the Garden stands a Wall of Honor with all of the known Righteous listed—all except for one group…the Danish resistance to Adolf Hitler.  The Danes were able to successfully evacuate nearly 93% of Denmark’s Jewish population after Hitler ordered the Danish Jews to be arrested and deported in 1943.

But rather than be listed each by name, the Danish resistance insisted that they be honored anonymously and collectively as Righteous Among the Nations.  And so to date, only a bare handful of the hundreds or (likely) thousands of names are known to us.

They remain anonymous, but the miracle with which they are associated has reverberated throughout the decades, because out of their anonymity came the renewal of life for, quite literally, thousands of souls who were marginalized simply for who they were.  And so too, then, does this woman who is called Daughter by Jesus—and healed by Him—experience her own unexpected miracle of renewal, forged in the twin crucibles of anonymity and marginalization for who she was: a stricken woman with no cure in sight.

Easter is not just a day on the calendar for the church—it is a season on the calendar.  After all, according to Luke in Acts of the Apostles, Jesus walked the earth for forty days after His resurrection.  All forty of those days were about the victory of God over death, not just the first day.  And so the church traditionally has kept those 40 (to 50) days after Easter as a season called, appropriately enough, Eastertide.  And so as part of our ongoing celebration of Easter and of the empty tomb, I typically elect to create a sermon series for those Sundays specific to the themes of resurrection and new life.  Two years ago, if you’ll recall, we went through probably the second most-famous resurrection (after that of Jesus Himself) in the Gospels—the raising of Lazarus as depicted in John 11.  One year ago, we spent a Sunday apiece on the reactions to the news of the empty tomb by the different disciples—Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas, and so on.  This year, we’re returning more to the mold of two years ago in that we are going through another resurrection story, except this one is probably the least renowned of them all: the raising of Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5.  Why that is probably has to do with a variety of reasons, but we’ll be trying to increase our knowledge, appreciation, and love of this story as we go through it verse-by-verse through the month of May (and Sunday, June 1).  We began this series last week by digging into the details Mark offers in his exposition of this scene—details that might escape us in a 21st-century American context as opposed to a 1st-century Israelite context—and now this week, Mark takes what appears to be a digression from the plot at hand to tell us the story of a woman being miraculously healed—and subsequently blessed—by Jesus.

The anonymous woman—whom Jesus styles “Daughter” at the conclusion of this story—stands in stark contrast to the wealthy and prominent Jairus, father and synagogue leader, who throws himself at Jesus’ feet in a show of humility far beyond the bounds of his rigid and stratospheric social class.  What Jairus did was, in all honesty, probably wholly unexpected.  What our anonymous woman does, though—essentially trying to sneak in and out unnoticed and undetected—is very much expected when you consider that, (a) women were essentially considered economic property in most ancient societies, with marriage being an economic transaction, not a sacrament, and that ancient Israel was no exception, and (b) she is visibly afflicted by way of her hemorrhaging.  According to custom, she is verboten, she is completely untouchable, she is utterly and wholly distasteful.

Except to Jesus.  Yes, Jesus is taken by surprise because, oddly enough, this is an involuntary healing—Jesus does not will it or command it, yet still it takes place.  And we learn why—the healing happened because of this woman’s faith.  And while Jesus has not yet actually spoken to Jairus to this point in the passage—He merely consents to go with Jairus—He is moved to bless her.

And the gravity of that juxtaposition between wealthy synagogue leader and social outcast is difficult to understate.  To borrow from New Testament scholar Douglas Hare:

A major feature of the double story, whether conscious to the Gospel writer or not, is the contrast between Jairus on the one hand and the woman and the girl on the other.  Whereas the male is named, the females are not.  The man’s social status as a synagogue ruler (“president”) is stressed, but the fact that the woman has had significant wealth is merely implicit; it must be inferred from the fact that only well-to-do persons could afford physicians, and she has paid extensively, perhaps for ten years or more.  Whereas the man comes to see Jesus directly and boldly requests help, the woman timidly approaches Him from behind, wanting only to touch His clothing.

As shocking as Jairus’s gesture of humility likely was to the sensibilities of many an Israelite, this woman’s own actions would have been beyond the pale.  She is unaccompanied by a male figure, and deigns to lay her hands on another man, even if only out of desperation to be healed.  It is not an exaggeration to say that she was risking her life by doing this.  Jairus, quite simply, was not.

The flip side of this coin, though, is that this woman likely did not have much of a life left to lose.  As Hare’s notes indicate, she has likely plowed through all of her savings paying for physicians for years to no avail, and since she is not only a woman but an unclean woman, any sort of independent moneymaking venture (even prostitution) was likely unavailable to her.  Her medical condition had probably driven her close to bankruptcy, not unlike (sadly) the plurality of Americans who file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection every year.  Medical bills could be as onerous then as they are now.

So, in a way, what this woman is seeking is what we would think of as the bare minimum.  She’s not asking Jesus for her old life back, with her wealth and the means available to her.  At this point, she is only seeking her health back.  She simply wants to be made clean again.

But part of why we take Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, is because He has this tendency to utterly confound our expectations.  Despite His prophecies saying as such, He wasn’t expected to resurrect on the third day.  He fed five thousand men and untold numbers of women and children despite His disciples saying that it couldn’t be done.  And when confronted with this woman who basically tries to pickpocket a healing out of Him, He not only lets her be healed, but He blesses her as well.  Jairus, for all his devotion to his daughter, receives no such blessing, and He never does in this story.

Perhaps the eventual resuscitation of his daughter would prove to be blessing enough.  But even if Jairus’s daughter had remained dead, his high status in society would have remained.  In contrast, you could imagine Jesus seeing that the woman needed some sign of approval or endorsement in order to be accepted back into society.  As New Testament scholar Ralph Martin puts her probable expectations, “she expected to be cured and to slip back into the anonymity of the faceless crowd she had left.  Instead, she is singled out and given a personalized miracle all to herself.”

It humanizes her.  Jesus humanizes this anonymous, faceless, nameless woman by giving her a name, perhaps the most intimate and apropos name possible in the confines of this story: Daughter.  Jesus is off to resurrect another man’s daughter from the dead.  But before He does, He takes the time to make clear that this woman, who has experienced a resurrection not only of health but now almost certainly of soul as well, is HIS daughter.  It is not patronizing, it is not paternalistic.  It is an expression of profound love that confounded this woman’s expectations of this itinerant Savior.

And that’s the magic bullet with so much that has gone awry in the world.  Never has humanity had a time in our history when we have viewed one another completely and entirely as people, not as objects of ridicule or hate, of scorn or of prejudice.  Even as I am preaching about this daughter of Jesus Christ, other daughters of Him still experience abuse and domestic violence at an endemic rate.  Even as I am speaking of a daughter of God who has been made whole, other daughters of God are torn apart every day in the diabolical realms of human trafficking and sexual slavery.  And even as I am telling you about a daughter told by the Son of God to go in peace, other daughters of Christ are spending their days as terrorized captives of Boko Haram in the forests of central Africa, waiting for the day when we are able to do that which we have pleaded with our leaders on social media to do: to #bringbackourgirls.

Out of the depths of marginalization, violence, prejudice, and even genocide, a miracle still occurs for over 7,000 Danish Jews, a miracle planned and executed by men and women who are largely anonymous to us today.  And out of the depths of marginalization and prejudice, a miracle still occurs for one Israelite woman who is largely still anonymous to us today.

And today, out of the depths of marginalization, violence, and hate, we can still pray for and plan miracles.  We can still call out the daughters and sons of God by name and tell them, as Jesus did, to go in peace…not as a formality, or in place of any other standard Hallmark type greeting, but as a statement of intent, as a declaration of belief, that when this person goes from me, that they do so in a greater sense of peace and in a greater security of peace then when they first came to me.

That is what Jesus did for the woman He calls as His daughter.  That is what, if we are to be Christians, to be little Christs, to be Jesus followers, to do as well in His image and in His stead.

And in that way, may we too confound the expectations of a world that has perhaps come to expect less and less of us and from us as Christians.  Let us be the ones next to rise above the sea of hurt and pain that wracks humanity, and to be the ones who lift others up out of that raging tumult of ill.

May it be so.  Amen.

Rev. Eric Atcheson
Longview, Washington
May 11, 2014

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