Preached at House for All Sinners and Saints
Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 July 2012
Day Texts: Lamentations 3.22-33
2 Corinthians 8.7-15
(Audio available at end of post)
-She has sat outside the synagogue alone for at least a decade, begging. The doctors had long ago ceased making empty promises about cures once they knew she could no longer afford care. She’d been on the streets of Bethsaida so long, her friends forgot about her or thought she was dead. And it was just as well. If people remembered that she was the one with the unstoppable flow of blood, they’d have driven her away long ago. Today, like every day, she sits alone and ignored as people pass. People who will never know that, just by stepping near the ground on which she sits, they too have become ritually unclean.
-But today is different. Because today, Jesus of Nazareth has come to town. She’s heard stories. He casts out demons. He stops hurricanes. He is the Son of God. She hears excited rumors that he is going to the synagogue leader Jairus’ house to heal his sick daughter. The crowds are swelling at the promise of a spectacle. And something in her whispers to her. He can make you well, too. It’s not just for the rich man’s daughter. It’s for you. Go now. Touch him.
-She surveys the chaos of the crowd. This is no Red Sea to easily part like Moses; this is a flood of humanity, crushing one another in their curiosity and desperation. This will be a challenge. But twelve years of hemorrhaging blood is no cakewalk, and at this point, she has nothing to lose. And so, with little more than a psychotic faith that is only a hair’s breadth from despair, she takes a deep breath, and plunges in.
-At first she makes headway. But the surge is too great. The waves of bodies pressing together, reeking of sweat and selfishness choke her senses. Arms push, and elbows strike, and she quickly realizes there is no way forward. “Forget getting his attention,” the voice inside her whispers. “if you only touch his robe, you’ll be healed.”
-And then she is thrown to the ground. Sandled feet step on her fingers. She is kicked again and again. Between flashes of pain, she recognizes feet. She has seen them as she sits outside the synagogue, head bowed, begging for alms and assistance. Dust fills and burns her eyes. But Jesus is ahead, whispers the voice. And Jesus is getting away.
-She cannot see Jesus. But on the ground, she sees the direction feet are pointing in, and so she chooses the only option left to her. She crawls. And crawls. And crawls, clutching ankle after ankle, pulling herself inch by hellish inch. And yet, from down here, on the ground, forgotten and unknown, she moves faster than those unwilling to stoop in the dust and dirt.
-Feet. More feet. She sees them covered in dust, their warts, their deformities, their scars. She knows their secrets and their impurities. And then, the fringe of Jairus’s fancy cloak. And then, a simple robe, dirty and weathered by the road. These are not feet she has seen before in town - and she has seen them all. These are the feet of the one who can make you well, whispers the voice. These are the feet of Jesus.
-And she lunges. And she grasps the hem of Jesus’ garment. And she feels world explode in a rush of lightning coursing through her loins. And then, like the most refreshing of rains, washing the fire from her, she feels it. Something she has not felt for twelve years. The bleeding has stopped. And she is full of Power. And this power is terrifying.
-Terrifying, not merely because she has touched the one called the Son of God. She is afraid, because the flow of blood has been replaced by the sensation of electricity still coursing through her body. Today we might say she was like a child who stuck her finger in a socket. She is unable to tear herself away. And, charged with the very power and grandeur of God, her mind is flooded with visions.
-She sees countless people from countless ages, past, present, yet to come. People like her. Desperate people, beaten down into the dust. People used to being ignored. Helpless people whose issue is not an uncontrollable fluke of biology and blood, but who feel themselves broken down by unstoppable flows of appetite, desire, anger, addiction. People who cannot stop spending money. People who cannot stop drinking. People who cannot stop looking at strange, moving images of naked folks on glowing squares on their tables.
-She sees desperate people. People crying out to God from the flames of hells of their own choosing, and hells that have been chosen for them. She sees women who are denied the right to speak, and she sees sick folk who, like her, have found no doctors to heal them. She sees mothers grieving for children stolen from them by violence in the streets of strange cities. She sees men, sitting on couches in dark basements, paralyzed by fear and self-loathing. She sees families fleeing their burning houses as fire reigns down from the mountains. She sees Jairus, weeping because, for all his power and privilege, the doctors can do no more for his daughter than they could do to help her flow of blood.
-And then she sees Jesus. Crawling. Feet around him are kicking him as voices rain down insults. She sees him, like her, bleeding uncontrollably in the dust as a whip strikes his back. On his shoulders she sees a cross. And then, she sees Jesus on this cross, screaming out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For just that moment, fingers charged with the searing force of God’s power, she sees what Jesus sees, what he carries with him, where he is headed, who he really is. And she is afraid.
-And then, suddenly, a memory. She remembers once, as a girl, when she was taken to Jerusalem and witnessed the anointing of the high priest. Ointment was poured high over his head, and the precious stuff settled down his robes and collected around his feet. Her father told her that it is the feet where the sweetness of the incense is strongest.
-And she wonders: what does it mean that the sweetness of Jesus' robes is her hand, unable to release its grip? That the incense that ordains him is not fine myrrh, but the infirmities, the brokenness, the damage of the entire world? That his power is not found in fine robes, but down here, in the dust, where clean and unclean collide?
-And just as suddenly it began, the vision ceases. And she realizes that the crowd has fallen silent. Because Jesus has spoken. He is wondering who has touched him. How did he know? But she knows he knows. He knows the little touch of intimacy she has stolen, there, in the dirt and dust amidst the feet of the city. He knows, and at his piercing, searching glance, the storm of the pressing crowd is stilled.
-Full of fear and trembling at what she has seen, she knows she cannot hide from this man. And while she is terrified, she knows there is nothing else she can do. And so she stands, and she tells him. The whole truth.
-He does not look at her with contempt or anger or even embarrassment. He gazes deep into her eyes. She sees there a faint smile, as if to say, “now you know Now you’re in on it too.” And then, he speaks aloud words she never imagined hearing “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed.”
-And suddenly, she realizes she’s almost forgotten the fact that she’s no longer bleeding. Because a deeper miracle consumes her imagination. Jesus called her Daughter. The Son of God called her Daughter.
-That is her identity now. Not bleeding woman. Not unknown beggar. Daughter. Of God. Done. End of old story. Beginning of new one.
-Because God has come near to her. God has come close enough to touch in the dust of the street. God has come near, and God has called her Daughter. It will not remove her suffering. If anything, she knows it will plunge her into the sufferings of others. Yet, somehow, being God’s daughter, it’s going to change everything. And she knows that being Daughter is the beginning, and not the end, of her healing. And of the healing of everything else too.
-And she looks down at her own, weary feet. And they begin to dance.