Week of Sunday July 1 - Pentecost 5
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak,28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
As you know, I get tired. Andrew is always tired.
It used to be much worse. One of my college lecturers said to me that if I couldn’t learn to stop, I would eaten away from the insides. I would be eaten away by the thing that was driving me. He was right.
There are several things which drive me, but perhaps the key thing has been deep sense of unworthiness which sometimes cripples me. My school principle gave me a reference saying I was the best student he’d seen in his time in the school. I received a letter of commendation from the Vice Chancellor of the University. Thousands of people read my website commentaries... but I still get to the point of being unable to function, because I am not good enough.
Holding that back, carrying that burden, is exhausting. Even though I don’t think about it much of the time, it’s still there buried deep in my makeup. It’s like an invisible weight suit that I’m always wearing. It’s like background radiation, always beating on in me.
The thing about this is that I have been substantially healed. There was a moment when all that weight fell off me. I suddenly saw I was OK. I was more than OK... God loved me. I was not unworthy, but loved. God would have done everything God has ever done—the whole creation—if I had been the only person that ever was and ever would be. I’ve never been the same since. It might be why I’m still here! God loves me.
I’m telling you all this for two reasons.
The first is that healing is sometimes not the total removal of an illness. Instead, it’s the ability to see what is happening, and the ability to manage it. I have been healed, not because the problem has been removed—I think it is buried too deep in me for that—but because I can see what is happening, and can manage it, and know that the feelings of unworthiness and not being good enough, are a lie. It has made a huge difference to my life.
The second reason I’m telling you all this is because, for some reason, I have had a bit to do with women who have suffered violence. As a male, I cannot ever understand what it means to female. I ride off in the middle of the night, planning to ride all night in remote isolated country, anticipating the enjoyment. My wife, and some other women friends, look at these trips with horror; they cannot conceive how they could ever be anything but traumatic and dangerous. They have an experience of life, which I cannot know. I have a natural assumption of safety, which is denied them.
As I’ve talked with female friends, and been entrusted with their stories, I’ve begun to see something like my tiredness.... except that I think I’ve had it easy, by comparison. There’s a background radiation in our culture. A thoroughgoing prejudice, which is even written into scripture. There is a great fear and hatred of women. And a determination to keep them in their place.
If you take a good man; not some yob in a pub; but a good, decent man, who loves his wife and abhors violence, and who is committed to the kingdom of God for all people... if you take him and push him and stress him enough, then despite his abhorrence, sexist, hateful words based around hatred and fear of women, will rise unbidden in his mind. He may resist saying them, but he finds the c word and the f word, and worse, are buried deep into his makeup.
And if you push a woman, I suspect, eventually shame about blood and bleeding, and being woman, floods back.
It is buried into us. We grew up in it. We can hear it at any pub, and on any TV—just watch the right show—any night of the week.
Hear what the bible says. This is appalling, but we need to hear and understand what is at the basis of our being. This is Leviticus chapter 15:
When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. Whoever touches anything upon which she sits shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening; whether it is the bed or anything upon which she sits, when he touches it he shall be unclean until the evening. If any man lies with her, and her impurity falls on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies shall be unclean. If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. If she is cleansed of her discharge, she shall count seven days, and after that she shall be clean.
Unclean... impure... listen to the language of the gutter, and you will know that deep in us, nothing has changed...
except that Jesus confronted this.
The woman who was bleeding was unclean. She was impure. She was a not person. She should not have been in the crowd. She should never have touched him. And yet, his healing power flowed out into her, before he even knew who she was, or what was wrong. And he called this unclean, impure, hated and feared woman... Daughter.
Women are not unclean. They are daughters of God, loved just like—just the same as—the sons of God. (The people of the church who cry out for the headship of men, including those writers pretending to write as Paul, stand in the way of God, and God’s healing, of women and men.)
The woman had been bleeding for twelve years. The little girl was at the point of death; do you remember she was twelve years old; at the beginning of her womanhood, the time of beginning to bleed? There’s only one woman here, really. She is all women. And Jesus is taking that appalling scripture of hatred in Leviticus... and all the rest... and healing her, saying that scripture is wrong. Woman is not unclean, impure, dirty and dangerous. She is the daughter of God.
Who is the man who brought Jesus to the woman? His name was Jairus. Loosely translated, Jairus means God enlightens. Men, we need to be enlightened. We need to see what is deep in us, and what it does to the women we love, and to all women.
I want to come back to my tiredness. I think it is as close as I can get to understanding what women sometimes live with. I don’t see much miraculous healing, where the pain of being woman just goes. But I think I see I something like what I’ve found: women who tell me they realise they are clean, they are loved, they are daughters of God, they are good enough. And I hear stories of living life in this substantially healed state, where folk recognise the lies, and can resist them, and be free of some of the weight of them. And sometimes... still be crushed.
All I can say, is that the limited healing I have found in my life, has been worth seeking. It’s changed me enormously; freed me. And I see in sisters I know well, fantastic health, and happiness, and power. God does love us. We are good. We are clean.
And blokes... we can grasp the same healing power. We can do our utmost to treat women with respect, and equality, and not out of fear. This is what it means when Jesus tells Jairus to give the girl something to eat. We are in the position of power in our society. We are commanded to let the girl grow, feed her, don’t hold her down, no more glass ceilings... This is a command.
Sometimes, the stuff deep in us will rise up. It is a difficult repentance, this treating women as equals instead of pretending they are inferior because, ultimately, we are afraid of them. If I can risk a male comment; they don’t get any less mysterious or unfathomable sometimes, but the healing that Jesus commands us to enable, also heals us.
Women become friends and sisters, not icons to be revered, or feared. And oddly, as I have learned to be friends with women, rather than idolise and fear them, I’ve finally been able to be friends with men.
Let us love God by loving each other. Amen
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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