Be a Man
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.
(You can listen to this article here.)
There was a fruit picker who hated women. He was terrified of them; his conversation continually fell back into abuse about menstruation and genitals. He was a real life stereotype, an exaggerated illustration which had somehow come to life from a feminist comic book.
He was disgusting.
I realised, eventually, that I still remembered him because he is in me. I am horrified and ashamed to find how much I have absorbed the worst misogyny of my culture. And how much I have perpetrated it; it still surfaces from within me.
It’s worse because I really like women. I’ve always preferred the company of women over the blokey culture of Australian men. I’ve been blessed with strong, inspiring female friends.
As a young minister I preached on this text for the first time; well meaning, but gauche. I was pleased that the oldest widow in the congregation, was dispatched by some of the other women, to thank me for what I had said. Yet today, I wonder if I have any right to preach on the text at all. I’m part of the problem Jesus is confronting. In that first sermon, I think I was like a privileged white preacher telling black people they were oppressed!
I hope that in this story, I can be like Jairus. Jairus means, loosely, God enlightens. I hope he treated his wife and daughter, and all the women around him, much differently after his meeting with Jesus. I hope he was enlightened.
When this story begins, Jesus has come back from a stunning show of God’s power. On his return over the lake, the primeval powers that had challenged him on the journey out, stayed still, their lesson learned. Then we see a final act of power before he begins to send out the disciples as the mission of the kingdom of God spreads beyond his person. (Chapter 6)
The two miracles today are tough miracles. The girl was dead. The woman could not be healed. There is no wriggle room in these healings. There’s no saying the demon possessed man temporarily responded to a little kindness, or that Peter’s mother was getting better anyway. (1:24,31) This is raw power; raw power directed to the healing of a woman.
The power is the least part of the story. (There is only one story here; it’s all part of the one healing.) The message is not so much the power of healing, but what, and who, is healed.
The hatred and fear of women is codified into the scripture of Jesus’ people. I’d like to think we had learned a thing or two by the time of my childhood. We’d stopped churching women; that deadly, sinful rehearsal of the notion that the life giving process of birthing a new life was unclean. We only said that when a young girl got married she had to leave work. Well, actually, Eudunda Farmers made them leave at 21; they should have been married by then.
We softened the churching of women, of course. If you read the Wikipedia article it talks about blessing and thanksgiving. But the practice comes straight out of Leviticus 12. A woman is a lesser being, dirty, dangerous.
A woman having her period, in Jesus’ time, was unclean. She had to stay away from everyone, so they would not be contaminated. How little has changed: people worry about what will happen if the female minister is menstruating when she celebrates communion. What will happen to God? cried the title of one book.
The woman in the story had been unclean, outcast, and isolated, for 12 years. The number is chosen carefully and deliberately. The little daughter is 12, on the edge of womanhood, beginning to bleed, and at the point of death. She loses her life because she is a woman.
We do this today. We wonder how men who have dearly loved their little daughter, and treated and indulged her, can then kill her in the name of honour, when as a young woman she does not fit into the straitjacket of their will. But we do it too! Even me. Little girls we indulge. Of women we have expectations. And not far below the surface we fear and hate them. Take a gentle man who despises the language of the pub, get him tired, give him too much work, and bring him home to a distressed and demanding wife. Even if we remain civil and kind, the habits and hatreds of millennia well up, and threaten to vomit out of us.
So, here is a man named God Enlightens, who is a leader of the synagogue, begging Jesus to save the life of his little daughter. He is the men of the church, who for all their chauvinism, beg Jesus to save their daughters. Like me, infected with misogyny, he looks upon the little daughter he loves, and is filled with fear.
The bleeding woman is not the interruption to Jesus’ mercy dash that she first seems. In the mysterious economy of God, Jesus presents her to the waiting leader of the synagogue, as his daughter. This is the healing that your daughter needs. She is not wo-man, a lesser being, an incubator who may not even have a soul, and who is a contaminant of church. She is my daughter, who is made whole and well by her faith in me.
After she is healed, Jesus still tells her to be healed of her disease. There is an ongoing process here, which has not yet been completed, even today. My wife and my friends have taught me an endometriosis of the soul still remains, just as I am still infected, and still need enlightening.
It is not because of sloppy exegesis that I am morphing synagogue into church in this writing, or the concerns of Mark into the feminist concerns of today. Mark is not telling his audience how Christian Jesus enlightened a leader of the Jews; he is telling us that we need to be enlightened. He is telling this astonishing story to the church, his church, and now to us.
He is talking to us when he says, “Give her something to eat.” Let your little daughter grow to be a person, not a lesser being. Feed her. Let her grow.
Despite being a high achieving child, I grew up with a deep sense of inferiority. I was not good enough. It was reinforced by bullying at school, and being ostracised. It sometimes still stops me, and paralyses me. It is an exhausting background radiation; I am literally always tired.
Despite this, I remember a moment when I clearly saw all this. I understood what was dragging me down. And it was given to me to know it is not true. I am not inferior. God loves me. It was a moment of utter liberation, and no matter how much I have fallen back under the spell of inferiority and insecurity, I have never been the same.
This exhaustion is the exhaustion of a privileged man. I am male, and I am privileged among males. I do not believe I can ever understand what power might flow out of Jesus into the life of a woman, lifting her up. Especially a woman who is poor, or abused.
I only know that the healing and freedom I have received must not be denied her.
See Also: Healing a Deep Hatred
Andrew Prior 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!
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!