the gospel of mark 5:21-43.
for St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square, July 1, 2018.
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We continue our summer sermon series: Holy Scandal: Outrageous Stories of the People of God, with a section from Mark’s Gospel that illustrates the Body of Christ, through the witness and encounters of unnamed women. The bodies we meet are scandalous. They defy expectations of wellness, and give us bodies that are vulnerable, porous, and nonlinear. A living body of Christ, that is both God’s beloved, and earthly.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four canonical gospels, and from an oral tradition. The storytelling tactics the authors use gives us a visceral idea of the urgency of Jesus’ actions. There is a repetition of the word ‘immediately’, and the healing stories often overlap and interrupt, as in our reading today. Jesus is working to prepare the disciples and their communities for the crucifixion and resurrection that is coming sooner than anyone is ready for. He is begging them over and over to know and recognize the power of the Spirit that is moving through the world. This is not an easy ask by Jesus.
Today’s passage immediately follows Jesus casting out the oppressive demons of Legion, from a man who had been exiled from community due to those spirits. When Jesus returns to the parallel shore, Jairus, the local synagogue leader, meets him, and begs for help, because his daughter is sick and he has exhausted his options.
The Body of Christ is vulnerable.
Jairus’ daughter is young and actively dying. That reality can’t be changed by Jairus’ position of local and religious authority, can’t be changed by any wealth he has, or any social status. He is desperate enough to seek out assistance and healing from Jesus, who is out of favor with the temple authorities, and who is working to uproot the positions of power like Jairus holds in favor of God’s Kin-dom. It is a scandalous ask, and Jairus has no reason to believe that Jesus will help him, outside of hope that the rumors are true – rumors that Jesus brings good news and restoration to all who seek him out.
Jairus is in an extreme place of vulnerability. His daughter’s life is on the line, his position in the temple is on the line – and Jesus reacts with compassion, and goes with Jairus towards his house, to heal his daughter. She is from a good family, twelve years old, probably scared, and actively dying, and Jesus is going to her.
We then encounter the image of the hemorrhaging woman, whose story interrupts and pauses Jesus’ trip to the house. She is outside of community, impoverished from lack of health care, and has a long-suffering, stigmatized illness. She is in a vulnerable place in society, without the familial support Jairus’ daughter has.
From the text, we know that the woman has been bleeding for twelve years, and no one knows the cause. She has spent everything she has on doctors who can’t give clear answers or care, exhausting time and resources, without anything to show for it.
What is commonly translated as hemorrhages can be read as ‘an issue of blood’, or ‘constant bleeding’, and is oftentimes considered akin to the heavy bleeding that can be a symptom of polycystic ovarian syndrome. Because since there was, and is, stigma and risk around menstrual blood, it would make sense that for twelve years she has been bouncing between hiding her illness as much as possible and being in community, or being open about her illness at the cost of community. And neither of those options is sustainable.
The Body of Christ is porous.
Uncontrolled bodily fluids are mostly signs of being unwell – blood, snot, tears, cold sweats – a definition of wellness could be constructed as “the ability to hold your body in boundary”. To have walls up, to be protected, to have a shield.
There are many instances where these borders are undefined, due to illness, vulnerability, or choice. Porous bodies, like the woman’s, are aligned with notions of weakness and femininity in ancient views of disability. Since disease was thought to come from imbalances or invasion, a body that that wasn’t sealed off to external ills or enclosed was more susceptible to disease. Even now, local knowledge around wellness includes keeping wounds clean and covering sneezes and coughs. Her body is considered disabled because of her hemorrhages and gender.
But Jesus’ body is also porous, connected to disability and femininity, and that isn’t how we are used to describing him. Jesus doesn’t notice the woman until the healing is literally pulled out of him. He doesn’t initiate the healing. It’s an osmosis of energy between their two bodies. And their porosity is beautiful.
Jesus is not in control of the healing energy, in the same way the woman is not in control of her bleeding. She acts with such faith, and such desperation, transgressing social boundaries, that she is healed.
Meister Eckhart, a thirteenth-century Dominican mystic, used the image of a pot of boiling water to encapsulate God’s creative energy. God is the pot of water, Christ is the boil, and the Holy Spirit is the flame – inseparable, moving with fierce power, without a clear beginning or end. Jesus’ body both contains and cannot contain the Divine energy, an insight that perhaps speaks to why Jesus heals over and over and over in his ministry – the Divine is overflowing and being called forth by need and faith, and is much more than fleshy boundaries can hold. It is not just Christ’s purpose or interest to heal - it is a deep need.
Mark’s Gospel gives us a mystical glimpse of the Kin-dom in this moment. Healing isn’t something to be paid for; it is freely exchanged and accessible so that all can flourish. It reminds me of the work we are doing with the Chicago Coalition to Save Our Mental Health Centers, to approve a binding referendum for a community-funded, accessible mental health facility serving the Avondale, Logan Square, and Hermosa neighborhoods. Gods Kin-dom lives out the statement that health – mental, physical, and spiritual – is a human right. Healing in the Gospels isn’t constrained by earthly borders and titles – the Divine is a force of nature, a creating and healing force. I consider healing and creating to be intertwined – it is the same energy, acting in opposition to destruction and harm.
The other night at Table Talk, a small group here at St. Luke’s, we were discussing the concept of a wounded healer, and we also explored the level of vulnerability it takes to disclose illness to community. Claiming illness and our wounds is a radical act of vulnerability, and comes with risks. Hiding illness, physical and mental, is so much the norm that we are made to feel outside of community if we expose our wounds. We are made to feel othered, like a burden, as though we need to choose between staying in community or claiming our illness. Yet, as we witness in today’s Gospel, that is not true. The woman reveals herself to Jesus, and he reacts by calling her kin.
The Body of Christ is nonlinear, and made of interruptions.
The story of the hemorrhaging woman is an interlude in the larger frame narrative of Jarius’ daughter. Jesus stops to seek out the woman who has been healed. Her faith has healed her hemorrhages, and Jesus calling her ‘daughter’ (the same word that is used for Jairus’ daughter), re-integrates her into community, and into the Body of Christ.
The disciples try to dissuade this interruption, because they are in a crowd, surrounded by people – there’s no way Jesus can actually find this woman among so many people, and they have more important places to be.
This pause to find the woman is critical, because it shows us that Jesus cares as much about this unnamed, poor, chronically ill woman as he does the daughter of an important local leader. She is not below his notice, or his care. The energy transfer between their bodies is so startling, such an equalizing moment, that Jesus is compelled to seek her out, and name her as family.
And during this interruption, Jairus’ daughter dies.
Yet Jesus continues to the house, drawing away from the crowd, and resurrects the young woman.
This, again, begins to prepare the disciples and community for the world that is-to-come, where death isn’t the final word, but radical restoration is. The resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, their reintegration into community and relationship, paints a wonderful, vital picture of the Kin-dom. Where wealth and social status don’t determine your access to care. Where illness is not a barrier to community. Where God is never too late, and rejoices in our interruptions.
The news cycle this week, like so many recently, was really rough. Judicial changes, increased instances of violence, severe weather, inhumane border policies – friends, we are living in a hard time. And yet today’s gospel illustrates so clearly that God doesn’t work according to our timeline. God is never too late to bring resurrection. That is something I’ve been holding on to during the storms. The Body of Christ is a wounded body, an ill body, a scandalous body that is so entwined into God’s love and care that the healing process, the reconciliation into community, has no beginning or end.
God is never too late, and always shows up, transgressing borders with abundant, healing love.
Thanks be to God.