July 1, 2018


Passage: Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

6th Sunday after Pentecost

Today’s gospel reading is a fascinating story. It is the story of two daughters.

The first is the daughter of Jairus. We don’t know anything about Jairus or his daughter apart from this story. All we know is that he is a leader in the synagogue, which means that in his community he is a “somebody” – somebody to be respected and deferred to.

But now his only daughter is at the point of death. Desperate with fear, he flings himself in the dirt at Jesus feet, begging him – over and over – “Hurry! Come to my house.” If the rumors about Jesus are true, then this is the only person who could possibly save her.

And, in his mercy, Jesus does follow him. He heads off with him to his home, along with a crowd of people who are pressing in on him, eager to see if this wonder-worker will heal the dying girl.

And there, amongst the crowd, is an unnamed woman: the second daughter.

She’s been hemorrhaging for twelve years. The story doesn’t tell us the exact cause of her bleeding, but two things are surely true. First, she has been in physical misery for twelve long years. And second, in her condition and in her society, this hemorrhaging makes her “unclean.” Later we’ll look into what that means, but for the time being, suffice it to say, that this woman is an outcast because – not only is she unclean – anything or anyone she touches will also become unclean.

And here she is, right in the middle of a mob of people, because she’s got a plan: she’s going to touch Jesus. It’s going to make him unclean and anyone else she touches unclean, but – at this point – she doesn’t care anymore. Just like with Jairus, Jesus is her last hope and she’s risking it all to be healed. She’s going to touch the clothes of the man who just might be the Messiah.

And that’s what she does. Everyone is pressing in on Jesus as he makes his way to Jairus’ house, and – buffeted by the crowd – she stretches out her unclean hand, touches his clothes, and the hemorrhage stops (!) and she slips back into the crowd, unnoticed.

Until Jesus stops. He knows.

Who just touched me? he asks.

His disciples are incredulous:

Who just touched you?! Well, within the last five minutes about half the village of Capernaum!

No, no, no, he says. That’s not what I mean. And his eyes start scanning the crowd.

The woman hasn’t gotten very far. She’s still close enough to see and hear what’s going on. She knows he’s looking for her. What’s she going to do? After all, she’s got what she came for. She’s been healed. She can still slip away. But something tells her otherwise. Even though she’s an outcast who, minutes before, was only willing to approach him in secret, she now steps forward – fearful and trembling – and falls at his feet. She tells him the whole truth.

The “whole truth.” How long did that take? Was it just a matter of seconds?

I touched you, Lord. I’ve been bleeding for twelve years, and no one could help me. So I touched you. And it stopped.

Or did she tell him the whole truth: twelve years’ worth of truth – of misery and isolation and fear. Did it all come tumbling out at that moment – there before Jesus and the whole crowd? I don’t know. It doesn’t say. But whatever it was, he heard it all,

Daughter, he tells her, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.

He called her “daughter.” On his way to heal Jairus’ daughter, first he stops and heals this daughter – this daughter whom society has forgotten. And in so calling her, he now becomes as Jairus. He becomes the father who wants nothing more than her well-being.

But it took too long. While he was still speaking with her some people come from Jairus’ house:

Don’t bother coming now. You’re too late. She’s already dead.

You know how it ends: he goes to the house and, with only the parents and a few disciples, he goes privately to her room and, with just a command, Little girl, get up, he raises her, and she lives.

But what do we make of the fact that – on the way to heal the leader’s daughter – he stops first to heal the outcast daughter? This is an essential question for us followers of Jesus. It fits into a larger theme throughout the scriptures of God’s unrelenting insistence that the people of God must not disregard the poor and the most vulnerable in society. This is not to say that God prefers the poor over the comfortable or secure. God loves us all.

But amongst those whom God loves (which is everyone) the poor are easily and regularly overlooked. Often they’re treated with derision. But more often, they are simply overlooked because their plight is too complex and difficult to solve:

  • How can we break cycles of poverty and the complex web of social ills that it fosters?
  • How can we provide medical care?
  • How can we respond to the flood of asylum seekers?

Because solving systemic problems seems too difficult, we choose instead to ignore them or dismiss them as “not our problem.” This might be a viable position for a secular society that’s bound by no ethical authority or foundation. But it is not an option for followers of Jesus.

The Old and New Testaments are absolutely consistent on this point: God will not overlook the poor, the widow, the outcast, the alien, or the dying. And, if we are the people of God, then neither can we in the church.

And please hear me when I say that this is the responsibility of the church, and not just for you as individual. It’s too much weight for any one person to bear. It is as the body of Christ that we are Christ in this world, and it is our corporate responsibility to live like it. When St. John’s commits itself to loving our neighbors we can do much good. If all the churches in Gig Harbor were to function together in outreach, we could do much more (and I am part of a group of local pastors working towards this goal). If the universal church in our country could galvanize its heart in keeping with God’s clear heart for the poor and the outcast – my God – what couldn’t we accomplish?

This really isn’t optional for us if we are truly seeking to follow Jesus. But time and again we act as if it were. If the budget is tight, outreach is the easiest line item to zero out.

The vestry met last week to make plans for 2019. And I was incredibly proud of their unanimity in prioritizing that Outreach cannot be eliminated from the budget again. Coming into this fall they’ll be sharing their plans for the upcoming year, in keeping with St. John’s Five Year vision. That document begins by stating emphatically,

The call of Jesus is clear: to be truly human is to love God and to love our neighbor. As we plan for the next five years of ministry at St. John’s we earnestly desire to become authentically Christlike in all we do. [1]

The section of that document that discusses how we want to live in this world says that we will pursue restorative justice for our most vulnerable neighbors. And then it concludes, “for surely, how the church chooses to live within its walls will be vindicated (or condemned) by how the church lives outside its walls.” Later it specifies that by 2022 5% of our income will be devoted directly to Outreach.

Earlier this morning we read from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthian Church. In it he refers to a financial commitment they’d made the year before to raise money for others who were in need. His appeal is fairly straight forward.

It is a question of a fair balance, he writes, between your present abundance and their need…in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, the one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little” (2 Corinthians 8:13b-15).

As we reorient our lives – our priorities and commitments – to be more in keeping with the way of Jesus, there’s another aspect in this story of the bleeding woman that I’d like us to explore, and that is how Christ’s presence reverses the stigma of being unclean.

In Jewish law, anything or anyone that was touched by an unclean person also became unclean: a saddle, a chair, the sheets, another person. “Uncleanness” was the spiritual equivalent to germs. It was easily transferred. It’s like mixing dirty water with pure: the dirty water will always take over.

The things that rendered one unclean were usually somehow associated with sin or death. So if you were unclean, you were unfit for worship because uncleanliness was incompatible with God’s holiness. Through the course of everyday life, people were often rendered unclean. It was a way of reminding them that they were living in a broken world; and brokenness could have no association with the holiness of their God.

And then comes Jesus, and he reverses the whole thing. The hemorrhaging woman reaches out her unclean hand to touch him. It should have made him unclean. But it didn’t. In fact, the reverse happened – she became clean.

The presence of God was no longer concealed behind thick temple walls. God had become human, and was living among them – radiating purity. And when the bleeding woman reached out her hands in faith, he could feel his purity transferring to her.

This world is a muddy jar of water. But when Jesus is poured into it, the water becomes pure. The old rules no longer apply. And if we are the body of Christ, filled with the Spirit, then where we go, we are bringing the holiness of God with us.

Those whom we meet, especially those society rejects, should experience through us and our behavior, that they are outcasts no more. The sin and despair that has beaten them down in this life is removed in Christ, as it has been removed in us,

for we have been given the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Mt. 16:19).

May the gospel we live and preach be such that the world around us may know that God is come; that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and that none are overlooked any more.

[1] St. John’s Gig Harbor: Vision 2022, produced by the St. John’s Vestry, Fall 2017