Sermon for Trinity 4 Sunday 1 July 2012
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I suspect most of us can remember a time where we have been excluded from a group or a place, whether we have to think back to school days and the games children played or to a time more recent. Perhaps it was simply that we wanted to be part of, or amongst a group with whom we wanted to find favour, or status, or a group who helped us work out our own identity, but it wasn’t to be. Whatever it was, I suspect for most of us, any form of “exclusion” that we have experienced has either been temporary or has been limited to a particular area of life, and not all consuming.
I suspect if you are homosexual and old enough, you remember when the Law of the land prohibited you begin fully included in society. I suspect if you are of anything other than Caucasian, you will have experienced in the church and in society, some prejudice. And if you are woman, well, where do we begin…
If we compare our ordinary human life and those experiences with the stories we have inherited of Jesus, it seems almost unavoidable in his daily life that he can do anything other than practice that terrific capacity to heal and restore, to bring those marginalised, those excluded from society and religious practice in to the centre of his attention, in to the centre of life again.
We hear this morning, that sometimes his healing is unintentional, but more often than not, it is deliberate. God, revealed in The Lord Jesus, both unintentionally and deliberately heals, restores and asks that we participate fully in the worship of him and in the life of our society. And even when that which diminishes us isn’t at the centre of everyone else’s attention, like the woman who haemorrhages who is part of a huge crowd, Jesus sees and responds, he heals her and gives her back her status, her dignity and her role in life.
Our Gospel this morning reflects how the law and society can cause hurt at a much deeper level than most of us are used to in our daily lives. It reflects the outworking of a Religious Law, through which a woman is permanently excluded from worship and most of society because of a physical ailment. The Gospel illuminates for us, an oppressed woman who gives our Lord the momentary chance to right a wrong, but also gives us an insight into the fuller and more generous nature of God’s healing.
In the Gospel, hurt is there in all its guises; physical hurt, social rejection, disbelief, mocking and bereavement. A twelve year old girl goes from a sick bed to a death bed and a woman haemorrhages out of control for as many years as that little girl had life. And this, is played out publically amongst a tremendous crowd of rich and poor all clamouring to see Jesus, none immune from suffering.
The two healing miracles in this morning’s gospel struggle like that crowd to be heard one over another. For Mark only inserts one healing into another to make a stronger point which resonates widely in his gospel, that faith heals, that faith has made you well; that faith restores us to a fuller life in God and with one another.
Jairus, is the first to be named, and he is a wealthy leader of the Synagogue. He falls at the feet of Jesus in anticipation for the healing of his daughter, and is no different in Mark’s eyes to the poor woman who in fear and trembling falls at the feet of Jesus begging for his understanding following her healing.
Her condition, probably some form of menstrual irregularity was according to the Levitical law, enough to make her permanently and ritually impure and her health would have restricted her access to conventional society. Compelled to be restored to society and to religious practice, she does what few would dare. Touching or being touched by holy men was believed to heal or save. So this woman would have most probably known that according to the Levitical law because she was unclean, her action of touching Jesus would have made him unclean as well. But rather than Jesus’ coming being seen as him descending to the depths of humanity, it raises us up to keep company with angels. Her touch, her taking a risk without Jesus’ conscious agreement heals and saves her immediately; he is not diminished, and her desperate need and faith bring healing.
Mark testifies that something different is happening in this encounter and that the touch of the woman is distinctive, because her need is distinctive, more earnest than the rest of the crowd just jostling for a good view of this holy man so God could see, could feel her intention, her hope and her need. God sees what is true need in all of us, looking beyond the superficial.
In response to the Lord asking “who touched me” she falls before him in fear, but Jesus calms her and by addressing her as Daughter immediately he incorporates her into his family.
This story is an iconic testimony to the desire of God that all people should be restored to offer worship to him, but it also serves as a distraction. The interlude in this part of Mark’s Gospel with the woman has provided just enough time necessary for the status of the sick child to change for the worse. Changing also what required of Jesus from healing to the raising of the dead, a feat no conventional healer of holy man was expected to accomplish.
Jesus takes only the three most prominent disciples with him, as he does on other occasions. And though he is mocked and ridiculed by the crowd, he allows only a few witnesses to his actions. “Talith cum” little girl get up. You know the story.
God heals, restore and calls back into his presence men and women, especially women who are oppressed and treated as unclean and useless members of society. In the New Testament, they are to function fully as part of society, to offer worship, and to be daughters of the Son, members incorporate into the body of Christ, together with all of us.
The healing miracles are consistent in offering us an insight into the hope that God has for all of us, that we should all be restored and in full communion with himself and share in that communion with one with another. We are to imitate Christ in calling into his church those who are marginalised and oppressed and give them honour and status as children all of us of the same heavenly father. Amen
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard