Monday, June 28, 2021

Salvation on Aisle 8A


June 27, 2021 – The 5th Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 8B

© 2021 Evan D. Garner

Audio of this sermon can be heard here. Video of the entire service can be seen here, with the sermon beginning around 19:15..

Though as a child I was forbidden from watching Bevis and Butthead, the show that made its creator, Mike Judge, famous, as a teen and young adult, I found his second great satirical work, King of the Hill, irresistible. Set in the fictional town of Arlen, Texas, King of the Hill uses exaggerated portrayals of southern America to poke fun at many of the institutions that had shaped my childhood. Judge’s knowledge of sports-obsessed, religion-obsessed, meat-obsessed, masculinity-obsessed culture enabled him to offer insights so subtle that the audience couldn’t always tell whether he was building those institutions up or cutting them down.

One of those episodes, which for the most part still holds up, is entitled “Aisle 8A.” In the episode, the main character, Hank Hill, and his wife Peggy are babysitting their neighbors’ daughter, Connie, while her parents are out of town in Hawaii on a business trip. One morning, after Peggy rushes out the door to her substitute teaching job, Hank learns that Connie has gotten her first period. He panics, of course, at one point asking the equally panicked girl, “Do you know how to tie a tourniquet?”

As the episode unfolds, we see how the show challenges all the stereotypes around menstruation. Faced with what he has termed a crisis, Hank musters all the “manly” courage he can and takes Connie to the Mega Lo Mart to get the necessary supplies. When it comes to teaching her how to use those supplies, however, he gives up. Unable to call his wife on the phone while she is teaching, he instead calls the police, who whisk Peggy away from the school and bring her home. After Hank euphemistically explains what was going on to his spouse, who had assumed that someone must have died, Peggy says, “Oh Lord! Oh, poor Connie!” to which Hank replies, “Poor Connie? Poor me! I had to learn about ‘Megalobsorbancy!’ Shocked, Peggy says, “You went down Aisle 8A? We have been married for twenty years, and I can’t get you past Aisle 5,” to which Hank retorts, “I wasn’t joy riding, Peggy. It was a medical emergency.” Mike Judge wants us to recognize that, when it comes to menstruation, twenty-first-century America isn’t all that different from first-century Palestine.

In Mark chapter 5, Jesus encounters two desperate people—a father who would give anything for his daughter to be healed and a woman who would give anything for her own healing. Both are humbled by their condition. Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, a powerful man by any measure, throws himself down at Jesus’ feet, begging him repeatedly to come and save his twelve-year-old daughter from death. The woman, whose menstrual bleeding has continued for twelve long years and who has exhausted all of her resources in search of a cure, slips unnoticed through the crowd in order to get close enough to touch Jesus’ cloak, trusting that even contact with his clothes will heal her of her ostracizing condition.

Both are desperate. Both are humbled. Both have no other hope other than Jesus. Yet that is where their similarities end. Jairus is the cultural embodiment of power. As the leader of the synagogue, he was rich enough to be its patron, holy enough to be its figurehead, and connected enough to be its advocate. How strange it must have been for the crowd to see this symbol of authority and control—the man who could have gotten anything he wanted, whose favor in God’s eyes should have granted him the miracle he sought—fall helplessly at Jesus’ feet and beg for his charity. The woman, on the other hand, is not even worthy enough to have a name—at least not one worth remembering. Isolated from her family, banned from the synagogue, shunned by the community as a woman scorned by God, she had spent all that she had in search of a cure that would allow her to rejoin society—to find once more her place in the family of God. She could not afford to make herself known to Jesus because she could not risk him refusing her request.

It is no accident that the nameless woman interrupts Jesus on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter. As the local religious authority, he is the one responsible for making sure that unclean women like her are not permitted in the synagogue—that they dare not get in the way of God’s presence among God’s people. It is no accident that her interruption delays Jesus long enough that Jairus’ daughter dies. Imagine what he felt when he saw Jesus stop in the middle of the crowd. Imagine his anxiety as he wondered whether this, his last hope, would make it to his house in time. Imagine the grief and rage he felt when he learned that his daughter had died and recognized who it was that had gotten in the way of his daughter’s healing. 

But why should his need for a miracle be more important, more valuable than hers? This was that nameless woman’s only chance for healing, too. Mark begins this story as if there is only enough time for one of them to be healed—as if Jesus will only be able to help one of them. And by sandwiching together these two desperate needs, Mark forces us to wonder why anyone would presume that the woman’s opportunity for healing wasn’t as important as Jairus’—why a religious outcast wouldn’t have as much of a claim on God’s saving love as the leader of the synagogue, why anyone would ever believe that a woman’s ritual impurity could get in the way of God’s salvation.

In the end, of course, it wasn’t too late. “The child is not dead but sleeping,” Jesus said to the mourners who had gathered and who laughed at his ridiculous assertion. Putting everyone but the child’s parents and his closest disciples out of the house, Jesus took the dead girl by the hand and spoke tenderly to her in Aramaic and brought her back to life. Nothing—not even millennia of religious tradition—could stand in the way of God’s healing love.

In the end, Jesus shows us that both Jairus and the nameless woman have an equal claim on God’s salvation. At twelve years old, Jairus’ daughter was on the cusp of womanhood, and, after suffering for twelve long years, the woman’s womanhood itself was broken. Jesus touched and healed them both. Both are called daughter. Both are restored. 

In Jesus Christ, God’s salvation comes to all people regardless of what the world would say about who deserves it. In fact, that salvation comes in ways that reject and defeat and destroy any attempt by others to restrict it—especially attempts by those who presume to speak on behalf of God. In Jesus Christ, we see that all people have a claim on God’s saving love. He has the power not only to heal all who are wounded, suffering, and broken but also to heal the brokenness that separates us from each other. You cannot know the saving power of God’s love and deny that love to anyone else. You cannot receive the healing touch of our savior and decide that someone else does not deserve that touch. God’s love has no limits. Who are we to stand in God’s way?

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