Monday, June 25, 2018

Two Very Different Characters

This coming Sunday, we will read Mark 5:21-43, which is the quintessential Marcan "sandwich" of two different encounters melded into one. At first, a leader of the synagogue named Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him to heal his very sick daughter. On the way to Jairus' house, a woman with a menstrual hemorrhage touches Jesus' cloak and is immeidately healed of her disease. After confronting the woman, confirming her healing, and sending her away in peace, Jesus continues to Jairus' house, where he acts to bring the now-dead daughter back to life.

Two stories sandwiched together. You can't really tell the story of Jairus' daughter without interrupting it in order to tell of the nameless woman. And you can't really read the story of the woman without grounding it in the middle of the encounter with Jairus and his daughter. There are other symbolic links like the girl being twelve years old and the woman having had her hemorrhage for twelve years. Mark doesn't want us to separate these two stories, and, this morning, I find myself pondering another reason.

Despite being united in Mark's telling of the gospel, these two objects of Jesus' healing could not be more different. Jairus is a leader of the synagogue. He's the Senior Warden. He's the biggest pledge in the congregation. He's the man to whom everyone turns when there's any concern about the direction the synagogue is headed. His daughter is born into privilege. She enjoys the status of an elite family. The other woman is shunned. She may have been a person of power and status at one point, but all of that is gone. She has spent all of her money trying to find a cure for her bleeding. That bleeding would make her both ritually impure and culturally uncouth. Here in the twenty-first century, men still squirm uncomfortably when the subject of periods or tampons comes up. Imagine, then, what it was like for a first-century woman whose entire life was defined by her never-ending period. She wasn't allowed to come near anyone else. She had to sleep in a tent in the backyard. Everyone knew. She was a lowly as a leper or a tax collector, but her ostracization was the result of a perversion of her womanhood.

And Mark, blessed Mark, has the Spirit-inspired bravery to link these two women together inseparably.

How will we hear their stories this Sunday? How does the ritually impure woman's access to the same healing change the way Jairus and his family perceive Jesus? Or the woman? How is the woman's status as outcast changed not only by the healing she receives but by her story's inclusion alongside that of Jairus' daughter? How will our relationship with Jesus change if he stops and visits an outcast before coming to our house? How will that change our relationship with the outcast?

These are the questions with which I am wrestling this week. It's my last time to preach at St. John's. I ask God to make me faithful to the biblical text, to the call to preach the gospel, and to the congregation that I have served for six and a half years.

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