Healing Political Bodies while Healing the Body Politic
Amos 7:7-17, Psalm 24, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 5:21-43
Sunday, July 15, 2018 — The Eighth Sunday After Pentecost
Knox-Metropolitan United Church — Regina, SK — Treaty 4 Territory
This morning’s reading from the Gospel serves us a sandwich, one story nestled inside another story.
It’s sometimes called a Markan Sandwich as this happens 12 times during this the oldest and shortest of the 4 Gospels.
The structural technique invites the reader (or listener) to intertwine the two stories and build meaning from not just the stories themselves but potentially from their interactions.
Now, I must confess that accidentally this reading has been included in our orders of service both this week and two weeks ago when Sharlene McGowan preached a very excellent sermon on this very passage, and so I hope I can offer some thoughts to compliment those, which will be available on our website.
I think that this passage offers, as do so many within the Gospel of Mark a glimpse at the care that has gone into the composition of this document — which we receive today as modern readers in written form, but that emerges from a world in which oral was the norm.
We who dwell in a world of written text, have this tendency to view the written as more advanced and nuanced than the oral, more capable of carrying across depth and subtlety, but on-going research in oral performance as used particularly in ancient cultures (recognizing that it is still used in many living cultures today) shows a different story — and the Gospel of Mark is a great example.
We begin with Jesus crossing the lake, he is coming back from the country of the Gerasenes where he has this encounter with man tormented by demons who call themselves Legion. We explored this passage several weeks ago and it really is a moment in the text wherein the mission of Jesus as understood in Mark’s Gospel (and by the community from which it emerged) is being laid out, and so this passage can be read then as a continuation of that.
In the Legion episode, Mark’s Jesus is shown unmasking the pernicious power of militarism which has devastated the land and it’s people, and today’s episode I would suggest is a revelation and lifting up of another key aspect of his mission.
A crowd immediately forms around him as he is by the lake, and from this crowd comes a leader in the Synagogue named Jairus whose has come seeking help for his daughter who is close to the point of death — Jesus agrees to come and see this little one.
It is while they are on their way, after the narrative has set this up, that a second petitioner comes to Jesus…
…there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.
She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had;
and she was no better, but rather grew worse…
She reaches through the crowd, touches Jesus cloak and is immediately made well.
This incites a bit of a controversy amongst the crowds and Jesus’ disciples (who seem quite keen here as elsewhere in completely missing the point) which ends when Jesus affirms the woman’s courage in her act…
‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
If it hasn’t already stuck out to you, I’d like to invite you to note that Jesus calls her daughter — a detail to which we’ll circle back shortly.
The narrative returns us to the first petition, the daughter of Jairus, leader of the synagogue — and at this point it is worth remembering that synagogue at this moment in history does not yet mean place of worship but a community or civic gathering space, synagogue worship has not yet replaced temple worship within the faith system of Israel — so we would do well to read Jairus as a city councillor or town elder rather than a religious leader.
People come from the house informing those en route that the girl has succumbed to her illness and that Jesus should not bother coming — he ignores this and despite the scorn of the crowd, comes to the little girl, reaches out his hand and raises her up to health once again — at which point the text reminds us that this daughter is twelve years old.
Two healings, two petitions with some notable parallels and some notable differences.
They are indeed both female bodies that are inflicted, and as Sharlene noted a few weeks ago about this text, they are therefore in this context marginalized bodies.
One being afflicted with a condition of blood, a taboo amongst this particular society and the other being a child speaks of further marginalization.
There is the number 12, for one the years of suffering, and for the other years of life.
And they are both daughters, although one is called such because of her families status, and while we are likely set here in a rural village where the social ladder does not reach as far as it does in the Cosmopolitan centres, her family is certainly at the top.
The other woman is given the name daughter at the end of her exchange with Jesus, and I want to suggest that this is not Jesus infantilizing her, but that the choice of the word daughter is more about a message to the crowd.
For this woman who has suffered bleeding for 12 years would have been afflicted along with this bodily condition with social stigma and isolation, and it is worth recalling that the text took care to let us know that in seeking wholeness she had spent all that she had.
I wonder if in naming her daughter Jesus was not reminding a community that the body before them who they had certainly treated with derision for these many years was indeed part of them — family.
The differences between the petitions are stark as well.
One comes to Jesus face to face knowing that the ministry of wholeness in which he has been engaged is available, the other, while convinced that there is here opportunity for healing, sneaks through the crowd — and I think that the small glimpse into the woman’s thinking reveals that she knows in herself her own worth, that she knows in herself the wrong-headedness of her treatment in the community, and that she sneaks up not doubting Jesus’ willingness to heal her, but knowing how the crowd will react.
The number 12 is an important one in the Gospels, 12 disciples (learners) become 12 apostles (sent ones), reflecting the 12 tribes of the people of Israel, and in so doing 12 becomes a bit of a cypher for a developing theme that runs through Mark who I would suggest is framing Jesus, not as starting a new movement, but as calling the people back to it’s first naming as a covenant community at Sinai in which law is given that binds the community together in an ethic of beloved-ness.
The background to the Gospel of Mark is a historical moment of brokenness for the community of Israel, devastating colonial violence under the banner of Rome, new taxes both to the Empire and to the local elite colluding with them. Economic and rural devastation as subsistence living becomes subverted by the need for crops and fishing yields to be exported to feed the Roman project of expansion.
New divisions form amongst the community — new fractures in each of the communities Jesus is walking into, and I would suggest that this episode here is not only a powerful symbol of personal healing but also one that is communal.
And it is absolutely vital that these individual bodies that are healed as symbol for the body politic, are female — for in this new fractured reality these are bodies that have been politicized and marginalized no longer holding the status they once did.
The sandwich effect here I believe may serve to remind the reader that the communities’ healing will not be complete until it can heal itself of the internal divisions of marginalization and isolation, of those like this woman who has been bleeding for the entire lifetime of Jairus’ daughter.
As I thought about this passage over the last little while, I’ve been thinking of things I have been listening to about the tragedy unfolding along the US/Mexico border of families and communities being torn from one another. I’ve been thinking about conversations happening as we globally continue to wrestle with a worsening refugee crisis unlike anything ever seen before.
I wonder if one of the calls of this story to us today is to wonder how we might expand our notion of who is “we”? In a recent episode of the fabulous radio program and podcast On Being: With Krista Tippet there is a discussion with Mexican American author, Luis Alberto Urrea, who says that a deep truth of our time is that “we miss each other.” We have this drive to erect barriers between ourselves and yet this makes us a little crazy.
The late Eduardo Galeano, Uruguayan journalist and author, once wrote that:
“The world, which [today] is the private property of a few, suffers from amnesia. It is not an innocent amnesia. The owners prefer not to remember that the world was born yearning to be a home for everyone.”
I wonder what stories might help us recapture that vision, for in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, and we