There are a number of border crossings in today’s Gospel lesson. As I mentioned last week, Jesus crossed the See of Galilee twice during this part of the story according to Mark. Jesus ministered on both sides of this fresh water lake called the Galilean Sea, on the western Jewish shore and on the eastern Gentile shore. On both sides, Christ blesses without partiality to Jew and Gentile, near and far, clean and unclean.
Then, settling on the Jewish side for a while, he heals a woman who has a disease that has caused her to bleed for 12 years and he does this on the way to raise from the dead a 12 year old child.
But let’s back up to the Gentile side of the sea for a minute. Just prior to this story is the story of Jesus casting the swine into the sea. That miracle happened on the other side of the sea, where the Gentiles had such appalling (to the Jews) things a pig farms. Jesus overcame the power of the sea in last week’s lesson during the first crossing. I reminded you then that the sea was believed to be full of evil things like demons and monsters and Jesus overcomes even the fear of such things. Then he exorcises a man possessed by many demons and casts the demons into the pigs and then casts the pigs into the sea.
It seems Jesus is setting things straight. Everything in it’s place. He is separating good and evil in the same way God parted the Red Sea. But the Jews and the Gentiles are meant to come together, not stay separated. Jesus means to abolish that sort of border that separates.
But more than just borders get crossed here. On the Jewish side of the sea, social factors are challenged as well. Jesus who ministered among foreigners is here among his own people moving across religious and social barriers to offer God’s healing and restoring grace. This, says Mark, is not simply the church’s belief about Jesus, but the warrant, in fact the mandate, for the Church’s behavior toward all persons.
Not really a children’s story, but I love the old Looney Tunes cartoons with Bugs Bunny and all those characters that were voiced by the amazing Mel Blanc. Do you remember Yosemite Sam? He was one of Bugs Bunny’s archenemies. And, of course, he has his own Wikipedia page which describes him in this wordy way: “He is commonly depicted as an extremely aggressive gunslinging prospector, outlaw, pirate, or cowboy with a hair-trigger temper and an intense hatred of rabbits, Bugs particularly.”
There’s one cartoon that I remember that is an exampe of all the many encounters between these two. It’s a Western. I can’t remember the set up or how they ended up on main street of Doge City at Noon for a show down but Yosemite Same has Bugs toe to toe and two loaded six shooters pointed at the rabbit who has not weapon but his wit.
Y: “Start walking you dog-gone, long-eared, galute!
B: “Just a minute, partner, you can’t talk to me like that. Them’s fightin’ words. I dare you to step over this line.”
Y: O.K. I’m a steppin.’
Yosemite steps over the line that Bugs had drawn in the sand with his toe still pointing both pistol at Bug’s chest.
B: “I dare you to step over this one.” (and draws another line.)
Y: O.K. I’m a steppin.’
This interchange continues as the two, Bugs backing and drawing lines with his toe, Yosemite following and repeating, “I’m a steppin’” as he obediently follows the clever rabbit until, having gone through the dessert they come to a cliff and the final line is crossed leaving Yosemite yelling “dag-nab-it” as he falls into the abyss.
It’s funny. And it’s not.
Most other preachers out there today are talking about borders and the border crisis down in Texas that has captivated the world these past few weeks.
But I don’t want to talk about borders, or politics or even crossing lakes, other than to say this: Jesus proves over and over again in the Gospel that he, and he alone, is not confined by borders. Christ both abolishes borders and singlehandedly surpasses them. The love of Christ “which passes all understanding.” The love of Christ is greater than any line drawn by humans The love of Christ is greater than any line used to threaten each other. The love of Christ cannot, as St. Paul said in his letter to the Romans (Chapter 8) be overcome by “death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.”
So, I don’t want to talk about borders.
I want to talk about fear and trembling. Our fear and trembling.
Here’s the catch from this passage from this section of the Gospel according to St. Mark. Jarius approached Jesus in prostration, that is, by “throwing himself down” before Jesus. This is a universal sign of utmost submission and would be a rare gesture from this high ranking leader of the synagogue.
The anonymous ill woman did the same. She tried to sneak some of the power of love in Christ but was called out and, submissively, stepped forward and admitted her action. And she did so in “fear and trembling” as she “fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”
She had been bleeding for twelve years. Her condition rendered her ritually unclean — not just for a day or a week or a month, but indefinitely. She could not enter the Temple, the heart and soul of her religious community. She could not touch or be touched by anyone without rendering them unclean, too. By the time she approached Jesus, she had spent every penny she owned, and “endured much under many physicians” to find relief, but her bleeding had only worsened. The woman’s very body — its femaleness, its porousness — had become a source of isolation and disgrace. She was an outcast, an embarrassment, a pariah. Lonely beyond description.
And so this state of being might have remained if the woman hadn’t — in a desperate and stunning act of civil disobedience — defied the religious rules of her day to pursue an encounter with Jesus. She knew she had no business polluting the crowds with her presence. She knew she was forbidden to touch any man, least of all Jesus. She knew that even her fingertips on his cloak would defile him. She decided to touch him, anyway.
If the story ended there — with a stolen touch, an unremarked healing, and an invisible but still potent transformation of the woman’s life — we would consider it miracle enough. But no. Jesus invited more. He insisted on more. He insisted that the woman, terrified though she was, come forward and tell her story. Her “whole truth.” He knew that she had spent twelve long years having other people impose their narratives on her. Their interpretations, their assumptions, their prejudices. She’d been reduced to caricature. Shamed into silence by bad religion. Even if she trembled, stammered, and took all day to tell her story, Jesus knew how desperately she needed someone to listen, to understand, and to bless her “whole truth” in the presence of the larger community. This is what Jesus did. He restored her to fellowship, to dignity, to humanity. “Daughter,” he said when she fell silent at last. “Daughter, go in peace.”
But first she fell at his feet in fear and trembling. This sort of submission to God is what’s missing in our world.
Now, I’m preaching to the choir because if you are hearing this sermon, you are sitting in a pew on a Sunday morning trying to stay and willing to submit. But I’ve been very concerned lately about all those folks who have left the church or say they still belong but never attend.
How can we be the church if we don’t meet and pray together regularly?
It seems to me that our culture has become obsessed with arrogance. Just look around and listen to the news or see a movie or read a book or chat with strangers in a store and you will find a certain trend toward arrogance. Everyone is an expert. Everyone seems to feel as though they are right and anyone who opposes them is wrong. Everyone seems quick to defend their opinions as well. There are many lines being drawn in the sand all around us.
This destitute, desperate and ill woman who worked her way stealthily through the crowd and reached out to touch Jesus and then was hailed by Jesus as an example of the kind of faith we are to have. Unassuming, reverent but certain of only one thing, the power of God in Christ to heal us. If we’re caught up in following the arrogances of the world we are apt to miss such opportunities.
There is another thing these two encounters with Jesus share. They are both daughters.
The little girl was Jarius’ daughter but represents the offspring of the Jews, the next generation. The unnamed ill woman whom he called daughter was an outcast because of the law. The law said that she was unclean because of her hemorrhaging and so she was abandoned, destitute and alone. One a princess, the other an untouchable. Both daughters. Again, Jesus is abolishing unjust borders.
Now, we’ve been working our way through this Gospel of Mark since Pentecost and if you remember, a couple of weeks ago we studied an earlier passage in which Jesus was in his home town and a crowd gathered and his family came to take him away because they believed the rumor that he was crazy and they told him his “mother and brothers and sisters were outside” and Jesus said, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” and answered his own question, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
So, calling this stranger, this woman who snuck up on him for healing, calling her “daughter” is in this same vein for she has the kind of faith he is trying to teach others to have. But she didn’t exemplify this faith, the right kind of faith, by drawing lines in the sand or demanding to be heard or claiming she was right about anything. She “fell before him in fear and trembling.”
We all want to follow Jesus, right? Well, how then can we become daughters and sons of God?
Of all the characters I might think of as an anecdote to this point, I keep coming back to Ebenezer Scrooge. One reason, I think, is that I like to tell Christmas stories during the summer. Just to get a fresh perspective.
I think Scrooge was a Christmas story mostly because of the feast of the Incarnation. I think Dickens was playing with the gift giving part of Christmas too. Scrooge was given a great gift in being forced to his knees in fear and trembling by the ghosts who visited him that Christmas Eve and in so doing, he got a fresh perspective on his own life.
Looking up from a lowered position often does that for you.
Scrooge became aware from that place of fear and trembling that isolation and obsession with money had caused him great loss and pain. But it took some kneeling to realize this.
These stories are healing stories. Some of us were laughing yesterday about the many ways our bodies have started to fail us. Many of us physically can’t kneel any more, or touch the floor or do jumping jacks. Even the youngest among us grow weak after working or exercising. I’m not suggesting that we take this lesson to mean we should all pray for perfect bodies. While physical miracles of healing still happen everyday, getting envious of this woman who was healed of a 12 year illness is missing the point.
The point is to have the sort of faith she had, bold, yes, but also submissive. The power is from the Lord. Ours is not to know how or why. We only can know that this power is a power of love that is given freely for us if we only accept it.
But first we need to bow before him.
So, we can gain the whole world if we learn to humble ourselves before our God. If we learn to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, then we too can be healed in the ways we need healing, and we can begin to see more clearly and to act more graciously.
And we can begin to live again.