The title of my essay last week was We Don’t Need Another Hero, and in this morning’s lectionary readings Jesus went around the Sea of Galilee healing people like a superhero. On the surface, it seems like I need to make a retraction. As usual, though, there’s more to the story than the words we read.
Mark is an enjoyable book to read because it’s so well written. In today’s episode, the writer tells us about Jairus, a man of some prominence, who came alone to beg Jesus to heal his daughter. But, the writer ramped up the excitement with an intercalary story about power hemorrhaging from Jesus and going out there, somewhere within the crowd of much less prominent, and noticeably nameless, people.
This story-within-the-story brings the action to a halt. Jesus stopped looking at the prominent Jairus and turned his gaze to the hoary mass of poor and voiceless followers. He was looking, searching their faces, trying to find the recipient of the power that had left his body. Jairus probably just stood there wondering why he was no longer the center of attention. And, in Jairus’ defense, his case was urgent. But, as we shall see, he needn’t have worried. The disciples tried to redirect Jesus, get him back on track, by telling him that there were too many people and he would never know who had reached out to touch him. “Give it up,” they probably said, “Let’s do a miracle for this community leader, this good Jew with whom we identify.” But, Jesus was not persuaded and he asked out loud, “Who touched me?”
Jesus was being feisty. In the past, he had healed people by touching them, but for someone to touch him, to reach out for the flow of his healing life… that was something new. And he seems not to have been in the mood to be redirected by the disciples either. He wanted some answers to this new thing.
“Who did it?” he had to know. Well, it turns out it was a woman, of all people. Unlike the man, Jairus, we don’t know her name. But, we do know that she had been bleeding for 12 years, and she was poor, and she had suffered a lot, and she was just getting worse, and, and, AND somebody had told her about Jesus. It says that. With all this, she may well have been as close to death as Jarius’ daughter. But, she did have one key thing: Hope. Or, as I like to call it: Her Most Fabulous Holy Moxie.
She came forward, no longer lurking at the edges, she faced Jesus just like Jairus did, and she did something amazing. She told the whole truth. That hardly ever happens. Humans are such creatures of deception and the curated life that our whole truths are rarely known, even to us! But, she told the whole truth. After she had spoken, Jesus said something to her too. He said that her faith had made her whole. We don’t know if it was her faith in Jesus’ ability to heal her, or her faith in him to receive the power of her truth. But, you can bet that there was more to this healing than the physical healing of her hemorrhage. See, she was now on the same footing as the man of prominence. She was facing Jesus, telling her truth in the embrace of his gaze. She was now known as an individual, like Jairus, not just part of the crowd. This is what it is to be whole. It’s to be on the same footing, to have the same status and rights… Or, did I mean rites?
Well, yes I did mean rites. Let’s get to the point: Next week the General Convention of The Episcopal Church will meet in Austin, Texas. The deputies will work, and think, and pray, and do lots and lots of talking about some pretty important things. But, an overriding issue facing convention, again, is whether or not some people will have to continue creeping up to Jesus from behind, reaching out and hoping, or whether or not they will be allowed to come front and center on the same footing as the other baptized sinners. And that’s all any of us is, a baptized sinner.
The image I hope our deputies will keep in the back of their minds is the image of those who have been reaching out with their Most Fabulous Holy Moxie and hoping for real wholeness, real inclusion. If in our common life we can somehow bring them front and center and put them on the exact same footing as everybody else, it will heal us all. Wa’allah, as my Arab friends say. Allah guarantees it!
But, this is not the end of our selection for the week. We have to follow up with Jarius. His case was urgent, remember. But, it looks as if it might not work out for him. Word came that it was too late. While Jesus was chin-wagging with the nameless woman, Jairus’ precious daughter had died. If only Jesus hadn’t gotten involved with that woman, that poor, and bleeding woman. Damn those marginalized heathens, always messing it up for the front-line deserving.
Not so fast.
It was not too late, and Jesus took a rather dim view of those who thought it was. He threw out the death-singers, not politely either, and he healed Jairus’ daughter as completely and fully as he’d healed the nameless woman. The message is that Jesus can be fully alive to the marginalized and not be diminished for those who were in the in-group to start with. Healing and blessing are not zero-sum games. There’s plenty for everybody. So, if somebody else gets a blessing, you can still have yours. It seems like I shouldn’t have to explain this, but a blessing is a blessing. Blessing more people, bringing more, and more, and more people into the friendship circle of God doesn’t diminish it for anyone else.
I don’t know who reads these essays. But, maybe you’re reading along and you’re one of those who has been reaching out and hoping. Maybe the church has abused you and you’ve spent all you’ve got to try and get some justice. Maybe you’re a person of color who has been marginalized, again and again, relegated to the crowd in the background. Or you might be some kind of queer hoping against hope. I am hoping with you, all us lezzies are. But, somehow we have to muster enough of our Most Fabulous Holy Moxie to reach out one more time and hope.
Maybe you’re a leader, somebody in the in-group. You might not even know what I am talking about when I talk about being on the edges of it all. Maybe, like Jairus, you are just standing there bewildered at the crowd of people who seem to want something, who seem to be a distraction, and who might even keep you from getting something that you want. Well, your cause is urgent too. Jesus has a message for you. Out with the death-singers and in with new life. Your heart’s desire is of concern to Jesus too.
These divisions between the insiders and the ones who hope are only healed when we all stand before Jesus, with names, with our whole truths, equal in the sight of God and with full and equal rights — and rites too! — and firm in the knowledge that we all belong there. Together.
I am Linda McMillan. I have had a week of pointless travel. I am tired and I am disappointed. No matter, though. Whatever life throws at me I always have this gift of the lectionary to wrestle with. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I get it wrong. Always I am grateful to you who wrestle, and think, and pray along with me.
Images: From the catacombs at Rome, Jesus healing the woman with a hemorrhage. Creative Commons License CC0 – Labeled for reuse w/ modification, no restrictions.
The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, oil on canvas, 1895, by George Percy Jacomb-Hood. Currently at the Guildhall Art Gallery