Heroes! This month you all have been looking at Heroes in the Bible. Today we are going to take a deep dive into this story of one who hero whose name is never mentioned.
As the boat that Jesus is on approaches the shore the crowds gather. The rock-star is back in town. Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, who did not oppose Jesus, approaches Jesus and pleads with him to come and heal his dying 12-year-old daughter. As they make their way through the dense jostling crowd towards Jairus’s home – an interruption occurs.
This is not just any interruption, it is a woman. An unnamed woman. A woman who had been bleeding, hemorrhaging, suffering for twelve years. The same amount of time as Jairus Daughter who is now dying.
In the first century it was believed that a woman’s body monthly menstrual cycle demonstrated her inability to control her body, which left her susceptible to illness. The porousness of the females leaking body made them inferior to other bodies.
This woman’s disorder most likely had significant personal and perhaps social consequences for her. Her inability to bare children made her inferior even to other females. Thus, she was probably isolated within her own social community.
Plus, she had spent all she had on seeing physicians, many physicians. Not just being seen by them, Mark tells us, but endured their treatments. Their poking, their prodding, their scorn, all to no avail. Twelve years of bleeding, cramping no doubt, living with constant pain, smells and weakness. Now she is destitute. Desperate. Just as desperate as Jairus is for his daughter.
In her desperation she boldly, yet secretly, winds her way through the crowd towards Jesus. Having internalized the scorn her society projected on her, she doesn’t even desire to speak to Jesus – for she realizes she is not worthy of being seen or noticed. Instead she thinks to herself, “if I can just touch him – even just touch his clothes, that will be enough to heal me.”
Yet it doesn’t work out that way. She is healed, however when she touches the fringe of Jesus’ cloak, something unexpected happens. New Testament scholar Candida Moss notes that while many translate the Greek as saying, “the power went out” of Jesus, more rightly it could also be translated as “the power leaked out of Jesus.” In other words, Jesus’ body becomes leaky, porous and inferior – just like this unnamed woman’s.
Over 140 years ago – in the 1860’s - 2 missionary wives – came back from serving abroad in India. While there they saw that due to India’s cultural norms male doctors could not treat women. Therefore, Indian women who were ill had no access to healthcare. They also were concerned that schooling for girls was almost non-existent.
Desperate to respond to the spiritual and physical needs of these women in India they came back to the States, the two wives of missionaries called a meeting with their friends, shared their story, organized, wrote a constitution and raised money that eventually sent Isabella Thoburn a teacher and Clara Swain, a doctor - to India to serve and care for women. And thus, the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society was born.
That is the short – very short version of how eight women began what is known today as the United Methodist Women. This all occurred at a time in our history – when women in the United States were LEGALLY classified as chattel. Chattel? That’s a word you don’t hear very often or used any more. What does that word – chattel mean? Well it means - movable property, movable personal property. Women and children were movable property. Legally. The law classified them as person without their own agency. This meant they could not act of their own free will. Life was determined for them – by men. First by their fathers, then husbands…even their own sons. It also included their brothers or uncles who could governed their lives.
In the 1800’s women had no voice in the larger society. They could not vote (yet), but they did have the United Methodist Church… and there they had Jesus…and there they had each other.
The United Methodist Church has a rich, rich history of affirming and empowering women. Not all the time and not everywhere and not even every woman…but we do have some key important female voices leading the way.
Susannah Wesley, John Wesley’s mother, in the 1700’s began leading prayer meetings in her husband’s absence and reading sermons to the flock. Her husband told her to stop. Nevertheless, she persisted.
John Wesley was chastised for allowing women to preach in his revivals. Nevertheless, he persisted.
When Methodist leader and abolitionist Harriet Tubman was warned about the risks of her work, she
When Methodist preacher Sojourner Truth was threatened by an angry mob. In the face of danger, she persisted.
When feminist evangelist Frances Willard was elected to the General Conference in 1888, she was told only men could be delegates, nevertheless she persisted.
Bringing us into the 21st century:
Hillary Rodham Clinton was told she would never be thee candidate for the highest office in our country, nevertheless she persisted.
When Methodist raised, Beyoncé Knowles Carter was criticized for using her art to expose the pain and injustice in the deep south, she nevertheless persisted.
And of course, we all know of the United Methodist Senator Elizabeth Warren who was silenced on the Senate floor from reading a historical letter of Coretta Scott King, nevertheless she persisted.
You see my brothers and sisters in Christ – United Methodist Women – some of whom are men – have a rich, rich history of persisting in the face of adversity. Now more than ever our world needs our voices…our agency…our action.
Sociologists tells us that if we don’t care for the well-being of those in need in our society – we as a society, all, will suffer. How? Well they say that when people are desperate they do desperate things.
The Levitical codes which we read in the Bible are not just a nice charity option or some suggestions for us to consider – just “leave a few potatoes behind for the poor,” or every seven years forgive the debt of those who have not yet been able to pay their debt back.” No, they are intended to guide and nurture us to be attune to the needs of those who live on the margins of society. Why? So that those who are living on the margins of society do not become desperate.
When we neglect to keep in mind and pay attention to the needs of those on the margins we bolster – yes even enable - their desperate behavior. Leaving them no other option but to steal and to break laws in order to survive.
The desperate unnamed woman in today’s story understood the change that immediately occurred in her body. So, did Jesus. While Jesus did not play an active role in healing this woman, the drying up of her hemorrhaging was due to the permeability of Jesus’ body. No one else – not even the disciples - recognized what had leaked out of Jesus. Yet, Jesus was unwilling to allow the leakage from his body to occur without acknowledging it. He could have. But he didn’t.
She too did not have to step forward, she could have tried to disappear into the crowd.
Nevertheless she came forward, even though she had no idea what would happen to her now that she has interrupted these two powerful men. In her fear and trembling she falls down before Jesus and tells him the whole truth.
What does the mean? She tells him the whole truth? Does she tell him the whole truth of the past twelve years of her life? The suffering? The disappointment? The humiliation? All the failed treatments, the shame and the isolation. To tell her whole truth would not have been easy. She would have been under great pressure to keep herself and her story invisible from society as the culture had expected her to.
This, I believe, is why Jesus is unwilling to let her go without acknowledging her. It is NOT that he is mad at her or that she has stolen a miracle (that is bad theology). Instead, Jesus desires to make her – and all untouchable, scorn-filled, marginalized people; seen, acknowledged and validated. Not to shame her- but to restore her to health and make her whole.
It takes great courage to do what this unnamed woman does. All of it. It takes courage to wind through the crowd, to touch Jesus’ cloak, and then to tell her truth. Her whole truth. That is why she is my Super Hero. In sharing her truth – her whole painful, shameful truth – her healing is validated, and Jesus calls her Daughter! She is noticed, affirmed and restored.
Over a year ago we heard the painful stories of abuse and sexual harassment that came out under the hashtag #MeToo. I was one of those who posted. And while some have criticized the #MeToo movement, it has created solidarity that comes from hearing the stories of your real-life friends.
Men are chiming in, in shock, wondering what they can do differently. Men and women, fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers are all learning things about their female daughters, sisters, friends, and colleagues, that they did not know before.
More than half of American women say they have been on the receiving end of “unwanted and inappropriate sexual advances.” More than 50%!!! And of those 30% report that they came from their male colleagues. When asked, they report that the top emotions they felt from these humiliating advances are anger and intimidation.
Intimidation that, up until now, has kept them from telling their truth.
Now that women are feeling supported, more and more are speaking up. And that also includes men, children and many others who have experienced the humiliation and intimidation of unwanted sexual advances. Having one’s truth heard is the ultimate validation for one’s personhood!
In today’s scripture we learn that Jesus stands in solidarity with all bodies – not just those who are male. And in doing so Jesus negates the justifications we make to place people into categories that ignore their own voices.
This story today challenges us to relate to people rather than categorize them. It asks us to be willing to acknowledge their right to their own narrative to tell their own truth.
So, I have homework for you – I always give homework – after all I am an educator at heart. The good news is I will not be here next week to collect it or check and see if you did it. Or to give you a grade. You’re welcome.
But our homework is – and yes, I am including myself in this – I always do. I confess - I mostly preach to myself. Our homework is to sit open-handed and open-hearted with someone. Even if it is just for one day. To listen with our heart and not our mind. To really listen – deeply - and not to judge or think about what to say next, but to listen really listen. Be silent and to be open – open to new ideas, new experiences, new insights and acknowledge their story.
Can we do that? Can we be interrupters in a society that wants us to categorize people as deserving and undeserving? Can we persist in the fight for justice for all, in the face of fear?
The challenge for us is to become our own Super Hero. To weave into the fabric of our communal life the stories of all of us – no matter how painful they might be or how uncomfortable they might make us feel. Why? Why are we called to this?
Because this is how we become whole. This is how we are healed. When we can integrate everyone’s story into the narrative, there will be no more suffering and pain - for all – all people - will have become restored. Amen.
By Guest Preacher Rev. Elizabeth Bowes