06/27/21 – Healed, Saved, & Returned to Life

HEALED, SAVED, AND RETURNED TO LIFE

June 27, 2021
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Sermon: Mark 5:21-43
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

“How the mighty have fallen,” we say with a delighted sneer. This phrase, repeated three times in David’s poetic lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, is often spoken today with schadenfreude, the joy of someone else’s misfortune, justice for the unjust. But in David’s poem, these are words of intense grief. He mourns Israel’s loss of a king and an heir, ending with his personal grief of losing a close friend. David portrays Death as the enemy that has defeated Saul and Jonathan and he urges all of Israel to mourn with him. In the bible, death does not only mean the cessation of our biological life. Death is also the loss of spiritual life, which includes our social and psychological well-being.

Our Old Testament texts are lamentations of individual and national sins that have invoked a sense of loss and shame. The tragic tale of King Saul’s fall from grace due to his disobedience to God and his subsequent vendetta against God’s choice of a successor, David, is the source of David’s grief. David understands this is a national tragedy as well. Saul’s desperate attempt at maintaining control resulted in ordering the slaughter of priests of the Lord and the men, women, and children in the town where the priests resided. Ultimately, Saul’s vengeance resulted in not only his own death but the death of his beloved son, Jonathan. David understood Israel needed to face these deaths and destruction and to mourn in order to move forward into a better future for the nation. Not to erase it from the history books, but to write it down so future generations would know and learn rather than allow a repeat of the past. “He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; “it is written in the Book of Jashar” … “he said: 19Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!”) The book of Jashar is a non-canonical book of the Hebrew bible which has been lost. It is mentioned twice in the canonical Hebrew Bible and has been translated into Greek and Latin as “Book of the Upright” or the “Book of the Just Man.” David recognized that for Israel to rise from this terrible chapter in its history and to become a great nation, the country must know its past, both its glorious victories as well as the failures to do what is right in the sight of God.

The psalmist echoes David’s lament. Also known as the “De Profundis,” from the first words of the psalm in Latin, in Psalm 130 we have the expression of individual and corporate grief over separation from God through sin. The psalmist’s sin has moved him away from God. He cries “out of the depths” of his shame. He is humbled by his human propensity to sin to which we all are vulnerable. He acknowledges the corporate sin of his nation: 7O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD, there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem. The psalmist understands that honest confession is necessary before God’s redemption.

In our epistle text, the spiritual well-being of the Corinthian congregation is at stake. Christian congregations had been asked to help a poor congregation in Jerusalem. For some reason, most likely some of the conflicts in the Corinthian congregation detailed previously, they had stopped contributing to the “Jerusalem fund.” In the previous verses, the author, (I’ll refer to the author as Paul, though it was most likely written by one of his associates) praised the Macedonian church, which, though impoverished themselves, gave generously. Paul puts forth the argument in spiritual terms. The amount is not as important as the spirit of generosity that motivates their giving. Paul assures the congregation that he does not ask for them to give beyond their means, declaring it is “a question of a fair balance between 14your present abundance and their need.” As with the Old Testament scripture passages today, Paul’s words speak to both the individual and the corporate body. At a time when wealth disparity in our country is the greatest it has been since the Gilded Age of the 1920’s, it behooves us to attend to the systemic political, social, and economic injustices that fuel the great wealth of a few and the poverty of many. To support his argument Paul quotes from the Exodus story of God providing manna in the wilderness during the Israelites’ escape from slavery in Egypt: “Those who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” (Ex.16:18)

In our gospel reading from Mark, Jesus heals two women from death. One experiences the spiritual death of exclusion from society and the other physical death. Jesus restores them both to life. Employing a literary technique, known as “sandwiching,” Mark gives us two stories to compare and contrast. The account of a mature woman, who suffers from a bleeding disorder, is sandwiched between two scenes involving a deathly ill 12-year-old girl just beginning womanhood. Two females needed healing. One had been bleeding for 12 years — the obvious assumption is that this was menstrual blood. Her condition prevented her from getting married and having children, which was the basis of worth for a female of that time. She was technically alive, but dead to all that made a life. The other was 12, just ready to start her life as a woman of age to marry and bear a child. Mark’s use of the number 12, the number of the founding tribes in ancient Israel, and the number of his disciples heightens our awareness of Jesus traveling back and forth across the Sea of Galilee going to Jewish territory than to Gentile territory and back again.

Neither woman is named. The mature woman is identified by her condition. This is one way we marginalize the sick and the handicapped. Typical of a patriarchal society, the young girl is identified by her father’s name. The woman who suffered from a menstrual disorder did nothing that caused her illness and consequential impoverishment. The woman had spent much of what she had paying doctors who were unable to cure her. Likewise, most Americans are just one health crisis away from poverty. A major illness is the number one cause of bankruptcy in the United States. The fear of becoming poor due to an illness or injury is rampant in this country, so we can sympathize with the woman’s plight.

The bleeding woman was alone. Jairus’ daughter had a loving, supportive family.
Jairus was the leader in a synagogue, which means he was respected. One of the ways we know he was wealthy is that his daughter was in a separate room. Most families lived in one room at that time. Jairus was not shy about asking Jesus for help – he was used to having people pay attention to him. There was a crowd surrounding Jesus, but Jairus used to privilege, broke through the crowd to go straight to the top to get a healing miracle.

It is likely the entire synagogue was praying for the girl’s healing. The older woman would have been excluded from a house of worship because she was “unclean.” Furthermore, she would have been denied any physical contact with another person. In our society, the poor are more likely to get sick and less likely to get the most appropriate medical care. But there are still some illnesses that money can’t prevent or cure. Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter did indeed need divine intervention because doctors had not been able to cure her. Time was critical, so Jesus needed to get to her quickly if he was going to save her. Yet, Jesus heals the bleeding woman first. He tells her that her faith has made her well. Mark uses the Greek word “Sozo” here. This word can be translated as either “made well,” “made whole” or “saved.” Mark is utilizing this multiple-meaning word to make a theological point to his audience.

Both the healer and the healed are affected. The woman feels inside her body that she is healed. Simultaneously, Jesus feels the healing power leaving his body. As with Paul’s message about generosity, which benefits both the donor and the recipient, so does the act of healing another, no matter what kind of healing is involved. Demonstrating God’s preference for the poor, Jesus did not put Jarius’ daughter at the front of the line for healing. Then comes the top slice of the Markan sandwich. While Jesus was still talking to the woman, men came to inform Jairus that his daughter had died. Jesus assures Jarius, and the audience, that she is not dead, but merely sleeping.

For followers of Christ who were facing opposition in their own families and communities, as well as persecution by the Roman Empire, Mark’s message was: ‘do not fear, even death is not the end.’ Just as Jesus was resurrected, each of these women had been restored to new life. Jesus broke the rules with each woman he healed. It was against Jewish law to touch a woman who was menstruating or to touch a dead person. For Jesus, the law of love superseded any human laws. Despite the differences between the social status of the two women, Jesus called each of them “daughter.” They were both children of God. Their lives mattered.

The mourners at Jairus’ house expressed shock and awe that the young daughter had been brought back to life. Using eucharistic imagery, Jesus gave proof that she was fully restored to life by commanding that she be given something to eat. At Christ’s table, our own healing and salvation are enacted. No one is left out. We are all invited to draw near and be reconciled with God. We are all hungry for God’s saving grace and we are all fed and returned, not to our old lives, but to new lives.

Thanks be to God!

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2021, All Rights Reserved
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