Archive for June, 2021

“Little girl, get up,” (Sermon, June 27th 2021)

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Mark 5:21-43

“He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”

Little girl, get up.

Dr. Emerson Powery of Messiah College in Pennsylvania notes a synthesis between stories that hadn’t occurred to me: a woman who bleeds continuously seeks healing, just as a father seeks resurrection for a girl who has not yet begun to bleed. He writes, “She was born in the same year when the woman began incessant bleeding.  Yet, in the same year both were healed.  One stopped bleeding, which restored her life.  The other had her life restored, so that she could continue to “bleed” and eventually produce life.”

Little girl, get up.

Jesus is moved by Jairus, who has so much love for his daughter, which speaks to his character as a loving and gentle man. As a girl child, this daughter wouldn’t have even been considered a full person legally or spiritually. Just as she is ready to step into full inclusion into the community and only a few years from marriageable age and beginning a family of her own, her life is cut short.

Separated from the community by death, she cannot advocate for herself. Her father, frightened and desperate by her illness, comes to Jesus, and yet she dies while he is seeking her salvation.

Across this country many call Canada, Indigenous parents from the 1880s to the 1990s sought salvation for their children that were taken away. The penalties for not surrendering one’s children were fines and arrests. The RCMP and the truancy officers would come, and the parents had an impossible choice: refuse and hide the children, or hand them over in the hopes that they would at least get a good education. It probably didn’t even take a generation before they realized that the latter was not the case. They petitioned the government to end the programs, petitioned for more money for crowded, falling-apart buildings where the sick were crammed together with no attempt made to curb the spread of diseases like tuberculosis, where children were constantly malnourished. They petitioned for the return of the bodies of children who had died.

All too often, they were denied.

As the schools began to lose their prominence, Indigenous children were still being caught up in the ‘60s Scoop, shuffled off to white parents away from their birth families. And now, even after the last school closed in 1996, Indigenous children make up almost half of the children represented in the foster system despite making up a single digit percentage of the overall population. The Scoop continues, right now.

Like Jairus, Indigenous parents have sought healing and restoration of their beloved children. In the case of those whose relatives have been found in these grave sites, they are denied restoration by death. Unlike Jairus, there will be no restoration for Indigenous parents. And unlike Jairus, they will continue to be subjected to this denial over and over.

Let’s come back to this, and talk a bit about the other woman in this story. Her faith in Jesus’s power is so strong that she knows even contact with his clothes will heal her. However, she also would have known that, being ritually impure, there was a strong possibility that Jesus, a rabbi, wouldn’t want to touch her and risk ritual defilement. Showing true resourcefulness, she waits for the perfect moment: within a gathered crowd, when it was unlikely for Jesus to notice her or feel her touch.

Sometimes hurting people have advocates like Jairus who fight for restoration and healing on their behalf. Jairus, a powerful leader in the synagogue, had the tools he needed to ask for help knowing he was likely to receive it. He was educated and influential. He knew what to ask for and how to ask for it.

This woman, destitute after twelve years of trying everything to fix this problem which excluded her from full participation in the community, didn’t have the tools that Jairus had. She didn’t have power or influence. We hear nothing about her family. We don’t know if she was married or had children. The Levitical laws of ritual purity would have prohibited her from sexual contact, so if she was married, she wouldn’t have been able to bear any children, which was reasonable grounds for her husband to divorce her. She had no one to advocate for her. Talking to Jesus on her own would have raised eyebrows. Touching him was out of the question.

Sometimes people have to take restoration and healing however they can get it. Sometimes that means that they don’t ask nicely. Sometimes that means they get angry. Sometimes that means speaking truths that other people don’t want to hear.

Both parties reached out to Jesus for help, and Jesus granted both of their requests.

In the case of the bleeding woman, Jesus centers her and affirms her choice. It seems confusing that after she feels the disease leave her body, Jesus says to her, “Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” She’s already healed – why does he say this? Maybe he says it so that the crowd will know that he believes she is worthy of being healed, that her choice to do something drastic was actually the right choice, and should be celebrated as an act of faith. He wants to show them that his power doesn’t need to be taken in secret out of shame or fear. It’s available for everyone. All they have to do is ask. As we’ll see several chapters later with Bartimaeus, shrieking his head off on the side of the road as Jesus passes by, they don’t even have to be polite about it.

And the little girl? Jairus followed all of the rules, and yet his request was denied, not by Jesus, but by the cruelty of death.

Of course Jesus is able to circumvent this minor inconvenience.

But what kind of good news is that for us?

I can think of a lot of ways I can use my power to help other people like Jesus helps the bleeding woman. I have money to donate to Indigenous crisis lines and healing initiatives. I have influence within the Church and the colonial system as a priest and as a white and educated person. I can listen and hold the terrible and beautiful stories of others.

All of these are necessary responses for all of us who are settlers.

But I can’t bring people back from the dead. None of us can.

So let’s try this instead.

For just a moment, let’s not imagine, as we often do, that in this story we are the ones seeking healing, or the disciples.

In this story, let’s imagine ourselves as the houseguests being put out of the bedroom.

Jesus has taken his closest disciples and the relatives of the dead, and the work of healing is for them alone.

I know the immediate desire is to involve and insert ourselves, and to ask what is needed. But as settlers, as houseguests, we are being told to step back while Indigenous peoples do their own grieving and healing.

Life will come, but it will come through the dead and the witness of the family of the dead.

Instead of making a big fuss, weeping and wailing and mourning our guilt during these discoveries, let’s decenter ourselves as settlers and form a circle around that bedroom, a place of terror and trauma and rage and truth, a sacred thin place where the door between life and death is dissolving in an almost solid wave of light as children are brought out of secret solitude and into the sun where the healing can really begin.

If we’re needed inside that bedroom, we’ll be invited.

If we’re not, all we can do is trust in God, and wait for instruction from within.

So let’s stand outside the door, pray, teach and learn from one another, give what we can from our resources, and keep the fires stoked.

Because eventually, life will burst forth, and whatever is reborn in that beautiful dawn light will need something to eat.