Insiders, Outsiders and Life’s Interruptions
Psalm 139/Mark 5:21-43
A few remarks, a poem and a song.
This episode in Mark chapter 5 is about life changes in more ways than one. Two people are healed, a woman and a young girl. Social protocol is changed: one would expect Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, a quintessential insider, to get special attention, but one is surprised that the woman who has bled month after month for 12 years also gets Jesus’ power and attention and blessing AHEAD of the very important man he was going to help. Personal change: the woman (who has no name) and the daughter (who also has no name) are both restored to normative life in the community – the community that laughed at Jesus for even trying to help them. The church changed: it should not go without mention that the lectionary selection itself has changed. In our 1979 Book of Common Prayer lectionary the story of the woman was cut out so that our Proper 8 Gospel was JUST the story of Jairus’ daughter. Once we adopted the Revised Common Lectionary (2006) her story was restored. That says as much about us as a church as it does about the Gospel of Mark. For so many years her story was not heard in our churches. And yet, I would argue, her story is the central to the whole story. That is, there is just one story of which she is a central and most important part. It is a credit to our church that we restored this story to its wholeness, for the woman’s story is one we all share and one we all need to hear. We are left to imagine why her story was not included in our Sunday lectionary until 2006.
It is no accident as Mark tells her story. The woman has been bleeding as long as the little girl has been alive: twelve years. They share a sort of kinship, even though the woman, because of her condition, would have been ostracized from society and from town as being “unclean.” That is, she in all likelihood could not live at home. She was homeless and alone.
Being unclean and homeless are things few of us understand, yet there are times when we don’t feel at home in this world any more, and we may even feel yucky and unclean about ourselves. And when we are seriously ill we are usually separated out from society – often times even in isolation. Were we to be aware of life in the world of Jesus we would be utterly astonished that this unclean and homeless woman gets Jesus’ power, attention and blessing BEFORE the daughter of the very important official, Jairus.
We may as well face it, outsiders have been commanding our attention recently: Rachel Dolezal, Dylann Roof, Caitlyn Jenner, Freddie Gray, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev , James Holmes to name just a few. It ought to break our hearts to think of how life for each of them, and all of us, may have been different if someone like Jesus had allowed them to interrupt their lives. What if someone had given them attention and blessing and healing of some sort? If only they had had a stronger sense of belonging, a stronger sense of being accepted and at home in this world. What if?
We are meant to place ourselves in these stories. What is it like to be the leader of the synagogue whose daughter is "at the point of death?" What is it like to be in the "great crowd" following Jesus? Are we among those who truly follow him? Are we among those who laugh at him for trying against all odds to help these two women? What is it like to be the little girl, home, waiting, fearful of what comes next? What is it like to be the disciples, trying to protect Jesus from the crowd? What must it have been like to be the woman, cut-off from society for 12 years? What is it like to have her kind of hope and faith? What is it like to touch the hem of Jesus' garment? Can we grasp that the important things in this life are those things that interrupt whatever it is we think we are doing or think is important?
Now the poem, then a song to help us imagine what life could be like.
The Lightening by Madeleine L'Engle
When I pushed through the crowd,
jostled, bumped, elbowed by the curious
who wanted to see what everyone else
was so excited about,
all I could think of was my pain
and that perhaps if I could touch him,
this man who worked miracles,
even those as foul as mine,
I might find relief.
I was tired from hurting,
exhausted, revolted by my body,
unfit for any man, and yet not let loose
from desire and need. I wanted to rest,
to sleep without pain or filthiness or torment.
I don’t really know why
I thought he could help me
when all the doctors
with all their knowledge
had left me still drained
and bereft of all that makes
a woman’s life worth living.
Well: I’d seen him with some children
and his laughter was quick and merry
and reminded me of when I was young and well,
though he looked tired; and he was as old as I am.
Then there was that leper,
but lepers have been cured before –
No, it wasn’t the leper,
or the man cured of palsy,
or any of the other stories of miracles,
or at any rate that was the least of it;
I had been promised miracles too often.
I saw him ahead of me in the crowd
and there was something in his glance
and in the way his hand rested briefly
on the matted head of a small boy
who was getting in everybody’s way,
and I knew that if only I could get to him,
not to bother him, you understand,
not to interrupt, or to ask him for anything,
not even his attention,
just to get to him and touch him…
I didn’t think he’d mind, and he needn’t even know.
I pushed through the crowd
and it seemed that they were deliberately
trying to keep me from him.
I stumbled and fell and someone stepped
on my hand and I cried out
and nobody heard. I crawled to my feet
and pushed on and at last I was close,
so close I could reach out
and touch with my fingers
the hem of his garment.
Have you ever been near
when lightning struck?
I was, once, when I was very small
and a summer storm came without warning
and lightning split the tree
under which I had been playing
and I was flung right across the courtyard.
That’s how it was.
Only this time I was not the child
but the tree
and the lightning filled me.
He asked, “Who touched me?”
and people dragged me away, roughly,
and the men around him were angry at me.
“Who touched me?” he asked.
I said, “I did, Lord.”
So that he might have the lightning back
which I had taken from him when I touched
his garment’s hem.
He looked at me and I knew then
that only he and I knew about the lightning.
He was tired and emptied
but he was not angry.
He looked at me
and the lightning returned to him again,
though not from me, and he smiled at me
and I knew that I was healed.
Then the crowd came between us
and he moved on, taking the lightning with him,
perhaps to strike again.
- Madeliene L’Engle
The Blessed Augustine, the African Bishop of Hippo wrote, “Our hearts are restless until we find our home in thee.” We are all looking to be healed of something. God in Jesus allows us to interrupt whatever is happening and accept our belovedness in God’s eyes. We all have a home in the heart of God’s love. If you don’t believe in miracles consider this: even the Supreme Court of the United States of America is coming around to affirm that all people have a home in the heart of God’s love and deserve the opportunity for the kind of healing witnessed in the story of two women, one young, one more mature, representing the extremes of the social spectrum. We all want to be made clean and whole. We all want to come home – home with others, at home with God, and at home with ourselves.
Be made clean
Go back to your home
You are clean
You are whole
You are loved
You are home once again
You are home
Be made whole
You are no longer alone
You are clean
You are whole
You are loved
You are home once again
You are home
-Kirk Kubicek, Sounds Divine