EVERYONE DESERVES RESPECT AND JUSTICE
Mark 5:21-43; Lamentations 3:22-33
Out of all of the stories about Jesus’ encounter with women in the Bible, our gospel lesson for today is one of my favorite accounts because of the way that Jesus not only heals this woman and this young girl, but does so without regard for who is requesting his healing touch and without regard for the purity codes that would have prevented him from touching either this woman or this young girl. There are a number of details in this account that reveal to us how much Jesus is dedicated to the well-being of individuals while at the same time committed to challenging the systemic structures that would prevent the health and wholeness of all people within a beloved community. We only have to look beyond the miracle of these two healings to see the truth about the all-encompassing liberation and salvation that Jesus has to offer to all people, regardless of their economic status, gender, or privilege in this life.
By the time that we get to this fifth chapter in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus already has been under intense scrutiny by the religious authorities for the way that he has gathered such a huge following and has disregarded the most sacred laws of the Sabbath. Jesus’ popularity not only is a threat to their authority and control over the people, he also is undermining the very laws that these religious leaders use to keep their people in check. Truly these religious leaders have become Jesus’s antagonists.
Nevertheless, when one of the leaders of the local synagogue comes to Jesus for help in healing his daughter, Jesus pays no mind to the fact that this man is a leader in the very institution that is out to destroy him. Instead, Jesus immediately goes with Jairus in order to see what he can do to help his daughter get well. Jesus easily and justifiably could have declined Jairus’ request on account of the animosity that the religious leaders already have shown toward Jesus. However, Jesus chooses otherwise because he has come to reveal how the beloved community that God desires includes demonstrating love even for one’s adversaries.
However, on the way to Jairus’ house, Jesus is touched by a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years. According to the purity codes of Jesus’ day, as soon as this woman touches Jesus, he immediately becomes unclean and must avoid touching anyone else until that evening. That having been said, when Jesus finally arrives at Jairus’ house and goes to heal his daughter, Jesus takes her by the hand and tells her to get up—thus technically making her unclean as well. However, Jairus totally ignores this fact, because all that is important to him in this moment is that his daughter is alive and well.
Another detail of this story that cannot go unnoticed is the way that Jesus addresses this woman with the hemorrhage. He says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Jesus totally disregards the fact that this woman has been an outcast in her community for 12 years—making her a nobody in the eyes of her own people. Jesus sees this woman for who she is—a beloved daughter of God and a full member of the beloved community that Jesus came to establish. This woman, who had been taken advantage of by so many male physicians in her life and had been forced into poverty, was as important to Jesus as was the privileged daughter of this religious leader. As Jairus watched Jesus heal this daughter of Israel as well as his own daughter, hopefully he has learned through this ordeal that God’s beloved community is open to people of every economic status in this world.
Another important feature of this account is that Jesus did not hesitate to engage with this woman or this young girl even though women and girls were considered to be inferior to men in this Judaic culture. Women and girls were meant to stay at home and avoid going out in public. If they did go out in public, they would have to cover themselves with two head veils in order to conceal their identity. In the household, women were confined to domestic chores and were considered to be slaves to their husbands and fathers. Jesus treats this woman and this young girl with the same respect and dignity that he would any male within the realm of God that he came to reveal. Whereas most men in Jesus’ day would have reacted in anger toward any unclean woman who had touched the hem of their garment and put her in her place, Jesus responds in love and affirms this woman’s faith as the basis for her healing and her ability to be at peace, not only in this moment, but also for the rest of her life.
If you recall from last Sunday’s gospel lesson how Jesus chided his disciples for their lack of faith, you will notice that Jesus responds quite differently towards this unclean woman in terms of acknowledging her faith. She has risked everything to approach Jesus and touch the hem of his garment in the hope that she might be healed. Then, when Jesus became aware that someone had touched him and tried to determine who this someone might be, this woman overcame her fear and took another risk by telling Jesus the truth and identifying herself as being the one who had touched him. Whereas this woman might have been concerned about making Jesus unclean, Jesus gives no indication that anything of this sort took place, thereby calling into question all of the man-made rules relating to a woman’s menstruation—of which there were 79 legal paragraphs devoted to this issue of blood in the Judaic Mishnah in Jesus’ day.
This story about Jesus’ encounter with this woman and this young girl raises all kinds of questions for us today about how we men continue to put women in certain boxes and treat them as “less than” simply because they are female. The ELCA Draft Social Statement on Women and Justice identifies many ways that women are still treated as inferior and are given less than adequate attention, respect, compensation, and care by the men who still exercise so much control over what goes on in our society and in the home. The worst offenders in this regard are those who turn to the Bible and use selective passages to justify their treatment of women and girls—sometimes in very violent ways.
Take our first lesson from Lamentations for example—a lesson that is filled with all of the male language that so often is used to subjugate women to the domination by the men in their lives. I will read this passage once again as it is presented in the New Revised Standard Version, and ask you to envision this passage being read by a man to his wife as a way of justifying his domestic violence:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust, to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults. For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love, for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
Based upon this passage and others like it, women of faith have been counseled for eons to stay in abusive relationships in the hope that their husbands or boyfriends will have a change of heart and refrain from any further abuse or violence. According to this male perspective, to be truly Christian is to turn the other cheek and go the second mile with the man who strikes a blow, then says he’s sorry and asks for forgiveness, only to repeat the cycle over and over again. Besides, if Jesus could quietly accept such insults, humiliation, abuse, and violence, and then turn around and forgive his torturers and executioners, then certainly any faithful follower of Jesus could and should do the same.
Why is it that men impose this theology upon the women that they belittle in their lives and expect them to acquiesce, when we men are so quick to fight back and justify our decisions to wage war against those who might call us names, strike us on the cheek, threaten our security, or attack us? We have so much to learn from Jesus about how to relate with and treat women in our lives. That’s the real miracle in this account about Jesus healing this unclean woman and this young girl who supposedly had died. Jesus recognized this woman and this young girl as beloved daughters of God and as individuals who were to be treated with the same agape love, respect, dignity, and justice as every man expects to be treated in this world.
We men lose this respect and dignity every time that we treat a woman as inferior or “less than,” even if the thought is only in our minds. However, what we don’t lose is God’s love for us, no matter how much we sin and fall short of the glory of God as revealed in Jesus. Yes, we may be tempted to take advantage of God’s love and promise of forgiveness, and go on treating women in the same way that men have treated women for eons. However, the purpose of God’s love and forgiveness is meant to transform our lives so that we will be and do what Jesus has called us to be and do—that is, to love, honor, respect, and treat women with the same justice that we trust God has loved us. Then, and only then, will we be able to go in peace and be healed of our disease of lording ourselves over the women of this world. Jesus has revealed to us this way of justice and peace in all of his encounters with women in the Bible. Would that we would choose to follow in Jesus way! Amen.