5 Pentecost—Year B
June 28, 2015
2 Samuel 1, 17-27
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5: 21-43
Do you like oysters? As a kid in Atlanta, I thought they were slimy and uneatable. I didn’t know that the Old Testament said all shell fish are to be considered unclean. What they were to me is gross. For most things we need to be taught that something is gross. Jewish purity codes said pigs are too gross to eat, but for me, one of the greatest things ever is East Carolina barbecue with a vinegar-based sauce.
Cultures create social boundaries by teaching children which people are gross and should be avoided. Generally kids are taught to stay away from those who are obviously different. The profoundly mentally challenged and the physically deformed were gross when I was growing up.
In Jesus’ day, one strong category of uncleanness are women having their menstrual period: Leviticus 15:19-27 (NRSV) reads in part:
19 When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening…. 25 If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness…. Every bed…and everything on which she sits shall be unclean… Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening.”
If you’re having trouble relating to this injunction from the purity codes of Leviticus remember back to the beginning of the AIDs epidemic when those who suffered were not only sick, but were also labeled unclean, in a way those with TB or the flu were not.
The power of such purity codes is profound, but Jesus comes into Galilee proclaiming a stronger power, called the Kingdom of God, that is among us, working through hm. This is the power of the Spirit of God that is not only freeing people from their illness, but also from their uncleanness, thus restoring them to their family—but not just their own family but also to the family of God.
In this encounter the power of the woman’s uncleanness should have polluted Jesus and caused him to move away from her. But the power of God flows through Jesus into the woman, thus freeing her from sickness and social shunning. Jesus calls her “daughter”, announcing that she is now a member of his family.
This is a story of spiritual warfare: The power of humans to divide versus the power of God in Christ to unite.
Do you ever catch yourself looking away from the homeless in Lowell or the deformed child in a wheelchair? I certainly do!
There is residing in our psyches a reflex of revulsion.
This revulsion lies so deep in our unconscious that if we’re not paying close attention we won’t even notice that we are being controlled by our internal purity codes. It just feels normal.
But if as Saint Paul says, “I no longer live but Christ lives in me”, then the power of Christ overcomes our revulsion and pushes us toward compassion and community. Instead of projecting our fear on the different, we project the love of Christ and find Christ is already in them projecting his love back onto us.
We saw Christ clearly in Charleston this past week: the shooter is possessed by a revulsion and hatred of Black people. Yet, this hatred is no match for the love of Jesus Christ who says from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. This love flowing through the victims’ families is eternal and infinite.
We also see Christ in the tireless advocacy of those who petitioned the Supreme Court to view gays and lesbians as fully human, so that they can marry whomever they love.
Jesus says to the sick woman, “Daughter your faith has saved you.”
She has faith, but in what? Faith in her power or her goodness?
No, she has faith in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
She is not saved by her love of Jesus, but Jesus’ love of her.
To believe in Christ is to believe that his faithfulness is stronger than our weak faith and his wholeness is greater than our shame at being incomplete. To believe in Christ is to trust that the healing power flowing from him is greater than any human power that would divide us into the acceptable and the unacceptable.
We remember that Francis of Assisi had a deep phobia of lepers. His first biographer, Thomas of Celano, wrote in 1245, “For Francis used to say that the sight of lepers was so bitter to him that in the days of his vanity when he saw their houses even two miles away, he would cover his nose with his hands.”
And Francis himself said, “the Lord Himself led me among [the lepers] and I showed mercy to them. And when I left them, what had seemed bitter to me was turned into sweetness of soul and body.”
This is the power of the good news of Jesus the Messiah—not an intellectual understanding of certain ideas, but an ongoing conversion of how we live toward our neighbor.
It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convert our prejudices and revulsions so that we might more fully participate in the family of God. Our job is to notice when we feel revulsion and to offer that awareness to the Spirit so She can heal us. Then, in faith, we walk toward what upsets us and watch Christ work.
Yesterday at General Convention the House of Bishops chose The Right Reverend Michael Curry as Presiding Bishop-elect. Bishop Curry is an African-American and bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina. I’ve met him on several occasions. He is one of the best preachers in our Church today.
You can watch him on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=USOMZpGheBc tell a story about a Black woman, who became an Episcopalian in the 1940s and was dating a young Black guy who was licensed to preach in the Baptist Church. One Sunday she took him to her Episcopal Church, in the segregated heart of America. At the time of Communion the woman went forward, but the man stayed in the pews because in those days Baptist didn’t receive in an Episcopal Church and vice versa. The man watched closely because he noticed that she was the only Black person in the congregation. First the priest came down the rail giving the bread, and then the priest came with the cup saying over and over down the rail: “The Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ which is shed for thee…”
The Black man watched to see what would happen because he’d never seen Black folk and White folk drink out of the same cup or even the same water fountain. And then the priest got to the Black woman and handed her the chalice and said, “The Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ which is shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life….”
“That man said that any church where black and white drink from the same cup has discovered something I want to be a part of and that the world needs to learn about.”
Bishop Curry then says, “That man and that woman were my parents.”
Jesus Christ brings a unity that can overcome even the deepest estrangements between human beings. We experience this every Sunday at the altar, so we can live it every day in the world.