Proper 8 (June 26-July 2)
Texts: Mark 5:21-43;
2 Cor. 8:7-15; Lam. 3:22-33
UNTIL ALL THE DAUGHTERS ARE DAUGHTERS . . .
Use three glasses: one with apple juice, two with water. Ask the kids to pretend that the apple juice is a glass of pee. Get them to express disgust, with an “Eeew” sound and screwed up faces. Pour a few drops of “pee” into one of the glasses of water. “Would you drink the water if there was a couple drops of pee in it?” No! [Pouring water from the remaining glass of clean water:] “How about if I put some more clean water in the ‘dirty’ glass?” Still no. The point: The clean water doesn’t seem to us to make the ‘dirty’ water clean.
Use this to help the kids understand Jesus and the ‘unclean’ woman who touched him. People saw that as making Jesus ‘unclean.’ Jesus saw it as making the ‘unclean’ woman clean.(1)
Mark is a marvelous storyteller whose favorite device is to wrap one story within another. That’s what we have this morning, of course, one story wrapped within another. The healing of the unnamed woman who has been bleeding for twelve years is not only wrapped within the story of healing Jairus’ daughter, it interrupts it in the most dramatic of ways. It is an interruption that seemingly delays the action in a fatal way. Jesus’ stopping to converse with and heal the poor, destitute, terribly unclean woman has seemingly delayed him so that the daughter of the high, holy official of the synagogue dies. Just as Jesus is proclaiming to the woman, “Daughter, your faithfulness, your trust, has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” — Jairus’ friends come with the news that, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” Too late. The delay with this unclean woman has apparently meant the highest cost. One daughter has been made alive, healed, but the other daughter is dead.
But not for Jesus. Jesus tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only trust.” Jesus will be trusting the voice that spoke to him twice, once at his baptism and once on the mountain of transfiguration, the voice that proclaimed to him, “You are my beloved son, in you I am well pleased.” Jesus will trust that voice in a big way as he himself will later face the grave and need raising from the dead. He asks Jairus to trust him as he himself will speak that same voice to Jairus’ daughter.
But Mark’s wrapping these stories together also asks us to trust that life-giving voice to apply not only to Jairus’ daughter but to all the unnamed daughters, even those who may appear unclean to us — like the woman Jesus has just spoken to with those words of healing love, “Daughter, your faithfulness has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Here’s my proposal to you this morning: Jesus came not simply to bring healing to isolated individuals like the two daughters in this wrap-around story. He came to heal the system which makes the families of human communities outsiders to one another, declaring some to be unclean and untouchable. Jesus came daring to touch, and to be touched by, those untouchables. He was willing in the end to even let himself be declared an untouchable, hanged on the cross. He crossed those boundaries to offer healing not just to individuals but to the systems and communities of healing themselves. He came to help us see that there will never be any ultimate healing and peace until we cease to play the games of insiders and outsiders.
Mark gives us another clue to this larger story, namely, the number twelve.(2) One daughter has been bleeding for twelve years, the other is twelve years old. In Mark’s artful narrative, every detail is there for a reason. This number symbolizes the twelve tribes of Israel, and represents the key to the social meaning of this wrap-around story. Within the “family” of Israel, these “daughters” represent the privileged and the impoverished, respectively. Because of such inequality, the body politic of the synagogue is “on the verge of death.” As one of its authorities Jairus represents the healing system of his time. That system was sick, on the verge of dying, just like his daughter is sick. Jesus came to offer healing not only to the daughter but to the whole family of Israel, on the verge of death because it continued to play the insider-outsider games of inequality, treating some daughters not just as lesser but not even as daughters.
The healing journey of the family of Israel takes a necessary detour, then, that stops to listen to the pain of the crowd. Only when the outcast woman is restored to true “daughterhood” can the daughter of the synagogue be restored to true life. That is the faithfulness the privileged must learn from the poor. This story thus shows a characteristic of the kingdom of God that Jesus will later address: The “last will be first” and the “least will be greatest” (see 10:31, 43). That is how things must be ordered in the human family in order for us to finally be made whole, to be saved from our own diseased way of doing things.
And let’s be clear about this: Palestine in the first century was not exceptional in having a purity code that maintained stringent social boundaries and strata. Is the United States today any less characterized by “purity codes,” even though our society fails to acknowledge them as such? Aren’t there structures and belief systems which we maintain that create “insiders” and “outsiders”? Aren’t there cultural and political structures which grant some people access to health care, education, housing, and food while others go without? Cultural and political structures that allow some to suffer while others prosper? In Mark’s wrap-around story of two daughters Jesus came to show us healing of those structures which would have allowed one of those daughters to suffer and the other to prosper. The big picture this story gives us is that until all the daughters are fully and equally daughters this human family will never be whole.
Before concluding, we might even reflect for just a moment on this week’s huge story, the Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Healthcare Act. We can’t begin to get into all the intricacies of how to pay for affordable care in our society. Is this current legislation the best way?(3) This isn’t the venue to try to answer that, though as Christians I think we must find the right venues to discuss it. What I simply want to do here is raise the question of whether we can afford to not find some way to make healthcare affordable to everyone. If we continue with a system in which some sons and daughters can’t afford healthcare, will our national family ever truly be whole and healthy? That is the question that I believe our Gospel raises for us this morning.
And it the question that the entire story of Jesus raises for us this morning. On the cross, Jesus let himself be declared unclean and sick for our sakes. He let himself be dealt with as an outsider, as someone outside the family of Israel, trusting that the God who had declared him a beloved son at his baptism and on the mountain of transfiguration, that God would keep him in the family as the firstborn Son of the New Creation. He trusted that God would raise him to life as the power of forgiveness to make you and I whole and healed. We are able to trust beyond a shadow of a doubt that same voice that says to us, “You are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.” It is a healing voice that begins to heal not only us but also the world. It begins to heal the systems of politics by which we govern our human families, so that we begin to see more and more that we are one human family. The same voice that heals us, calling us beloved sons and daughters, is the same voice trying to reach even our enemies who try to harm us, our enemies who are nevertheless beloved brothers and sisters. Jesus came not only to heal us, he came to offer healing to the system, to the human family. And you and I are called to be disciples to that healing of the world. Does it get any better than that?
Paul J. Nuechterlein
Delivered at Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, July 1, 2012
1. The idea for this children’s sermon comes from Richard Beck’s book Unclean: Meditations on Purity, Hospitality, and Mortality [Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011], pages 27ff. Beck had recently presented on this book at our 2012 Theology and Peace Conference.
2. The key insights, and even some of the language, in the next three paragraphs are ‘borrowed’ from a wonderful monograph on Mark, “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship, by Ched Myers, with help from Marie Dennis, Joseph Nangle, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, and Stuart Taylor [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996], pages 66-67.
3. I will observe by way of note that the word “tax” appears to be one that we now gag on like the disgust reflex of the Children’s Sermon. “Tax” is an unclean word for us that we avoid at all costs — so much so that the Administration seemingly was willing to let its legislation go down by refusing to call the individual health care Mandate a tax. Thankfully, from the perspective of the Administration, the Chief Justice named it as a tax allowed by the Constitution, because it was not going to otherwise be allowed. Can we continue to let “tax” be such a unholy, unallowable word if we seek to pay for worthy projects that we decide to do together for the sake of the Common Good? Isn’t affordable health care for all the sons and daughters of this land one of those projects? How do we pay for it without going further into debt? These are questions essential, I think, for which Christians to discuss and seek greater consensus.