Proper 8 (13) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

II Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

We might end up jumping around a bit this morning. As the Gospel was being read I thought how there’s another layer going on in there, if you just take the character of …. [Mobile phone rings – ‘Oh, ‘scuse me, that might be God. No?]. If you take the character of the woman who is bleeding and then you take the character of the daughter, because in the traditions and in the worldview of the time, the daughter, we can actually see, is a symbol of purity, maybe even as a symbol of the bearing of the Divine, because she would have been a virgin daughter, she was still at home. The woman bleeding would be seen as someone who was unclean, someone who was actually, not just removed from the Divine, but also physically removed from the presence of the Divine. As a woman bleeding she would not have been allowed in or near the synagogue. So underneath the Gospel there are those symbols at work as well and again, it’s good to appreciate that they’re together in the passage we hear today – that which is divine, that which is clean, that which is pure. That story is being told in amongst the story of that which is away from the divine, that which is unclean, that which is stained by sin. So doesn’t matter where you lot sit, you’re in the story somewhere. Know what I mean?

I began the reflections by looking at the Old Testament reading. We started last week with an introduction to David as the giant-killer. Today we hear a little more about David and yet somehow the narrative, the Old Testament narrative, does get overshadowed by the Gospel. It’s as if the story of David is overshadowed by the story that we hear of Jesus, Jesus from the house of David – and I wondered whether St Paul’s Anglican Church, being of the house of Jesus, whether we might continue the story and overshadow Jesus, just as today we hear Jesus overshadowing David.
The miraculous acts of healing - a woman who’s been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years and then as if that’s not enough, the bringing back to life of Jairus’ daughter. What happens when we hear these stories? Well I think what we end up with is an image of Christ that looks like this: this is what we end up with, theologically – this is Jesus Super Hero and as it says on the packet: ‘He is the ultimate super-hero. Take him on your daily adventures battling against evil forces of modern day life. Alone on a Saturday night - Jesus Super Hero will watch that video with you; fumbling for your keys in the dark - Jesus Super Hero’s holy vision will light the way for you; great for fishing trips – he’s a real catch; mini-bar running low – no worries, Jesus has plenty of spirit; Monday blues, shake them away – every day can be Good Friday with your Jesus Super Hero; keep him on your car dash to guide you on life’s highways; leaving on holidays and no one to watch over your pets – no problem, Jesus your super hero will gladly watch over your flock.’ It’s really very, very good – it’s got a little wind-up bit on the side and you can push him along and as he goes along his arms come up in prayer!

The irony I think of this super hero toy, is that it does much more closely represent our understanding of Christ, more closely and more correctly than that which is told in the gospel today. This is the Christ that the church has served us up over the last two thousand years and if you scratch the surface of your own Christology, understanding of Christ, I think it’s quite embarrassing - we aren’t that far away from a theology that is represented in the packaged toy. If we see miraculous healing – the calling back into life from the dead – as the super-human qualities of Christ, then we too create Super-Jesus. And one of the things that becomes clear as we contemplate the gospels is that was not the journey that Christ ever set out on. There is nothing in the gospels that says, ‘I want you to form a movement that will worship me’.

If we can hold Christ as a revelation of the Divine, if we can hold on to the idea of the Word Incarnate, the Divine in human form, then we begin to read the gospels at another level. For what is revealed in Christ, should be revealed in us. The scriptures speak, or at least they seek to speak about life, life in the eternal present. That’s why we can read them at any time, in any age, on any day. They’re not talking about a super-hero of history, they’re talking about life, the gift of the Creator in the present and the eternal present - the present now, the present then and the present that will be. And today’s gospel is exactly that: it’s the gospel for today. It speaks of suffering, long-term suffering, which is a present reality not just for women who bleed, but it’s a present reality for all, at least for those who are not in denial.

And the gospel also speaks of healing and making whole, an equal reality for all. And what the process hinges on is really so clearly highlighted in the text today: it hinges on touch, and the importance of that is underlined in the narrative twice. First of all Jesus asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ and then his disciples ask, ‘How can you say, “who touched me”? And we’ve got that image: there’s a crowd pressing around, he is touched. Now why is there a focus on that? Now, because we’ve got this super-hero image of Jesus, you’ve got this sense of his power is - he can feel his power coming and going. But we know that touch, all of us know that touch. Just think about each and every encounter: every time you bump into someone or see someone, that’s where we know that touch - it’s that which we know we feel and it’s the key to our on-going engagement with that encounter. That touch informs our being and it’s different, it’s constantly changing. If we tune into it though, we know it’s there. You know those encounters we have - someone comes and asks for what you know you can’t give - you can feel it, regardless of the words. Some ask for more than we either have to give or want to give; some come and give; some neither ask nor give – you know those really ‘beige’ encounters? Canadians are good at them apparently. Some will ask and yet they don’t really want to receive – you can feel it; some will take what is not theirs to take. There’s a whole language that we have of encounter that is at a feeling level, regardless of what’s spoken. What we get in the gospel message today is Jesus revealing that the essence of encounter is touch.

The other thing that’s revealed and that is the process of wholeness. The process of wholeness is the coming to Christ in faith with a desire to touch that which will make us whole. Imagine doing that. Imagine giving vent to your desire to be made whole!

The narrative in the gospel is all about voluntary wholeness. And the interesting thing - stunningly interesting when you picture the putting together of the gospels - that narrative has been set inside another one. When we read the gospel this morning we started off on one story, then we stopped, then we had the story of the woman suffering from haemorrhages, and then we came back to the story of Jairus’ daughter, a story of life and death in which the gospel writer plays this narrative of touch making whole. In verse 21, which is where we began: ‘When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side’. It’s not a throw away line: creation, the word of the Creator moving over the waters of chaos. We know that line, that line we heard in Genesis: that’s the line of the creation of life – this is where Jesus is - he’s crossing that same water. Verse 22: ‘One of the leaders of the synagogue’ – not just one of the faithful, but a leader of the faithful, the one in which we would have expectations that there might even be some faith there. ‘The leader of the synagogue begged for healing and for life.’ And I wondered and do wonder how many religious leaders are even close to uttering that same prayer in the modern world.

Once more in this narrative, as with the narrative of the suffering woman, the point is not in the miracle but it’s in the revelation of process. This is where it becomes relevant for today, as relevant as when it was written. If we focus on the miracle, you can actually lose the whole story: ‘Oh, back then, Jesus called this girl who happened to be Jairus’ daughter, back to life.’ That’s the focus on the miracle. Why would Jesus want to reveal something historical? He’s speaking of life in every moment, he’s revealing life in every moment. The purpose of that story is, ‘Do not fear, only believe’. Do not fear, only believe. It’s interesting that John Howard adopted exactly the same script – ‘Take my fridge magnet and vote for me. Do not fear, only believe’. It’s a hollow echo of Christ’s revelation and it’s one of a million and one examples in the modern world. ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ The modern world - maybe it’s our culture, whatever it is, it’s the worldview that we create - has deserted totally this gospel and where it hasn’t deserted it, it’s distorted it so that we no longer recognise it. So there’s another little bit in that narrative that becomes important. It’s almost as if as the narrative is written there’s a knowing that this will not be heard. In verse 37: ‘he allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James and John’. Welcome back to the idea of the leaven in the lump. If you know what Jesus reveals when he says ‘Do not fear, only believe’, then follow, because if you know what’s meant then you know your calling. Follow.

If we come back to the first reading - 2 Samuel - three times in that reading - talk about underline, double underline, triple underline - three times we hear, ‘How the mighty have fallen’. Two thousand plus years after Christ in that era that is known as AD, we’re still waiting to understand, we’re still trying to find out what’s been revealed. How the mighty have fallen. Christ didn’t die for us, that’s written on the back of the packet, I’m sure, that’s part of the super-hero-making. What he’s done is he has given to us a revelation of life. What we find in the narrative of David, and like David, we would weep over Saul (verse 24). Verse 17, ‘we will intone a lamentation’. What is it that we will weep over? ‘How the mighty have fallen.’ Imagine if the worldview as we know it, if the political systems, the social structures, the financial frameworks, if all of those fall - no, we can’t imagine that, we’ve got far too much invested in it.

And that’s what it’s all about, the weeping over Saul, the lamentation. You see we don’t really, really, really want to follow. We want to hold on to what we’ve got and that’s where fear is. Fear will hold us there, it does hold us there, all of us, are held in that fear. What if I do actually let go of the paradigm that is my culture, my environment, my life - what if I let that go?

If you know what Jesus reveals when he says, ‘Do not fear, only believe’, then follow, for that is our calling.

The Lord be with you.

Peter Humphris

Proper 8B/Ordinary 13B/Pentecost 4 July 2, 2006 Textweek