If It Doesn’t Look Like Love, It’s Not Christian (July 1, 2018)
Today’s gospel reading connects with us on many different levels. There are two stories here, one inside the other, each interpreting the other. We call it a Markan sandwich.
The middle story, the meat in the sandwich, is about a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. She reaches out to touch Jesus’ robe and she is healed. Jesus feels the power going out of him and asks who touched him. The woman, trembling in fear, tells him what she has done, and he heals her, love shining from his eyes.
The other story, the bread, is about Jairus, a prominent man, a leader of the synagogue. In the first slice of bread, we learn that his daughter is dying. As a leader of the synagogue, he may well be suspicious of this Jesus. But he’s a father first, and so he’ll do whatever he has to do to make her well again. He begs Jesus to heal her.
With the second slice of bread, we hear that the girl has died. The people tell Jairus not to bug Jesus anymore; it’s too late. Jesus begs to differ. He goes to Jairus’ home, takes the little girl by the hand and tells her to “get up”. It’s the same word the early church used for Jesus’ resurrection. The little girl is risen … and Mark adds that she was 12 years old (there’s that number again).
There are lots of sermons in these little stories … but I want to focus on one tiny detail which we might otherwise miss. I want to take you on a journey which connects this story with who we are, and who we might be in danger of becoming as a nation.
It’s a heartbreaking story. She’s bleeding for 12 years. She’s a nobody. In a patriarchal society, she’s not even named, unlike the prominent man Jairus. And, in a patriarchal society, a woman who is bleeding is called ritually unclean. She’s dirty!
That’s what happens in a society which thinks that men are more important than women. Woman are marginalized because you bleed monthly. Men are afraid of that life force, and so men have called you unclean.
And when you are unclean, you are shunned. You are cut off from community. This poor woman has been unclean not just for a day, or a week, or a month, but indefinitely. She wasn’t allowed to enter the Temple, the heart and soul of her religious community. She couldn’t touch or be touched by anyone, because then they’d be unclean, too. By the time she came to 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 had become a source of isolation and disgrace. She was an outcast, an embarrassment, a pariah. Lonely beyond description.
If that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will. It’s enough to make you quit.
But not this woman. She engages in a stunning act of civil disobedience. She defies the religious rules of the day just to reach Jesus. She’s unclean. She’s not supposed to be where other people are. But here she is in the crowd around Jesus, bumping into all those other people and making them ritually unclean, not caring about anything … but to touch this healer.
And she does.
She touches Jesus’ cloak. She knows that will be enough. “And immediately,” says Mark, “her hæmorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.”
She is healed. More importantly, the Greek word means that she is made whole. Now she can be reunited with her community. She is no longer unclean, no longer dirty, no longer someone we push out of our lives to the margins of society.
And if the story ended there, it would be enough. We would rejoice with her in her healing. We would praise God.
But it doesn’t end there. Jesus invites more. Jesus insists on more. “Who touched me?” And the woman, “knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”
She told Jesus her whole truth. Trembling, stammering, she tells Jesus everything, and he listens. Jesus knew how desperately she needed someone to listen to her, to understand her, to bless her.
And so he does. He restores her to fellowship, to dignity, to humanity. “Daughter,” he says when she falls silent at last. Daughter. “Go in peace.”
Part of what this story is about is that people’s lives matter more than rules every single time. Jesus demands that legalism of any sort give way to compassion every single time. The gospel says that if it doesn’t look like love, it’s not Christian every single time.
Which got me thinking.
As we celebrate Canada Day today, we celebrate a country which we love, about which we boast. And there is much to be proud of as a Canadian.
But we also need to look at Canada through gospel eyes. Because we are Christians before we are Canadians.
As we consider our home and native land in the light of today’s gospel reading, we remember those whom we have named as unclean, as dirty. We confess our participation in a land which encouraged ripping aboriginal children from the arms of their mothers and sending them to residential schools. We confess our participation in a system which tried to “beat the Indian out of them” and make them like little white people.
In the light of the gospel, we ask, “Who have we named as unclean or dirty?” The list of people we marginalize is long—aboriginal people; immigrants; drug addicts and alcoholics; homeless people; those who seek asylum; migrants; poor people; the LGBTQ community; that guy from the Middle East who looks shifty and maybe even dangerous.
There are haters in Canada today. Some people vandalize mosques and synagogues. Rosanne Barr goes on a rant and says she’s not racist. A woman from Cranbrook goes on a racist rant at a Denny’s and claims she’s not racist. Skinheads hate Jews and Muslims. White supremacists hate anyone who isn’t white. The far right is so motivated by fear that they don’t know how to do anything but hate.
We like to think we’re not like that, but it’s becoming part of our society. I remember as a kid avoiding some other kids because I didn’t want to “catch cooties”. We are all touched by this, and we need to work against it.
And the really scary thing these days is the rise of populist leaders who appeal to our fear, who appeal to the worst in us, who espouse zero tolerance policies for anyone who isn’t “like us” and are proud of it. It’s happening in Austria. In Italy. In the Netherlands. In Turkey. In the USA.
Could it happen here?
We are Christians before we are Canadians. So we need to say “No!” The gospel word is that God’s love embraces every single one of us every single time.
If it doesn’t look like love, it’s not Christian.
If it doesn’t reach out in compassion, it’s not Christian.
What looks like love? It looks like the one whose heart melts at the cry of a desperate father. The one who visits a dying child and takes her limp hand in his. The one who risks defilement to touch the bloody and the broken. The one who insists on the whole truth, however falteringly told. The one who listens for as long as it takes. The one who brings life to dead places. The one who restores hope. The one who turns mourning into dancing. The one who renames the outcast “Daughter,” and bids her go in peace. The one who cradles us when we are broken. The one who walks with us as we challenge any system that tries to exclude other people.
When Jesus touches the unclean woman, when Jesus touches the dead child, he challenges the very basis of any system which dares to say that someone is unclean, that someone is dirty. Jesus says “No” every time we say that someone is not worthy.
And when we listen to Jesus, when we have the courage to stand with him, then the whole world looks different. As we will sing in a moment, “Healer of our every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.”
It’s not easy. In fact, to stand up like this makes it more difficult to be a Christian. But we do not shy away from that. We want to be the generous kind of people about whom Paul talks in 2 Corinthians … to reach out in generosity to all people, welcoming them as God in Christ has welcomed us.
After all, we are “Christ Church, a progressive, vibrant community which follows Jesus compassionately and faithfully. All are welcome!”
If it doesn’t look like love, it’s not Christian.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
July 1, 2018 (6th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13)
2 Samuel 1: 1, 17–27
2 Corinthians 8: 7–15