The Good News for Women’s Issues, July 1, 2012 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, California
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2012
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Vallejo, California
Genesis 8:6-19 Psalm 30 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5: 21-43
The Good News for Women’s Issues
I thank Pastor Barbara Foltin for inviting me to bring you God’s Word for this morning. To echo some of St. Paul’s words in the second lesson, Heaven is filled by the abundance of human insight opposite the great poverty of our own and through the Word of God, Jesus helps us strike a balance. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that means “awe,” because perfect love casts out fear. The awe we feel before the Most High overcomes us, because God is the source of our lives, our healing, our thoughts, our human compassion, our love, and the source of our wisdom. Through God’s Word may we receive a divine balance, so that the abundance of God’s wisdom offsets our ignorance, our lack of self-knowledge and our knowledge of the human condition, especially that of women. Even today in many fields of medicine, research experiments are oriented around the sicknesses and diseases of men rather than those of women. I’ve read that mostly about heart disease.
The statement by Jesus to the hemorrhaging woman that stood out for me this time was: “Your faith has made you well.” Faith here means that Jesus, our Lord, surrounded himself with a whole environment of trust, hope, love, and compassion. And his faith activated a love that broke every barrier down. Taboos founded on ignorance could no longer stand. People usually err on the side of security and safety, rather than erring on the side of taking the risk to reach out to another person languishing in the despair caused by a disease.
A halo of helpful hope swirled around Jesus and an openness that made a sinner know they could somehow trust him not to reject, but to heal and forgive them. “Your faith has made you well!” Yes, trust is what makes us well; trust in the goodness of God and how good God created a man and a woman to be. Remember how God looked down on Adam and Eve and said: “Behold, they are good. They are very good.” And God made the woman last, meaning that she was even better. Have you ever heard of the book by Ashley Montegue called, The Natural Superiority of Women?
But what happened because of the Fall? Here a woman is shunned and ashamed of her own self. She has been hemorrhaging for 12 years, and she had spent all of her substance on doctors while her condition did not get better, but only worse. The word, “substance” here refers to all her money and possessions. We hope that the Affordable Health Care Act will help us, but today an illness can also cost you a fortune, if they run all kinds of tests and the doctors remain at a loss as to how to treat you. Yesterday the quote of the day in the New York Times had a woman saying, “Right now, it’s scary to get sick; if you don’t die of the sickness, you die when you get the bill.” (NYT, June 6, 2012, A2)
Because of that halo of healing help that swirled all around Jesus, a great crowd always gathered and pressed in all around him. They were helplessly attracted by his love and compassion. A commentary says that Jesus’ disciples had to act like his body guards, but they couldn’t stop this woman, whom the society considered dirty and unclean, from breaking the taboo and touching Jesus, who she knew had healing power. She knew that Jesus would open the way for the compassionate healing of even her most hush-hush and most feminine of problems.
That’s why the crowd pressed in on Jesus like that, to feel the wonderful spirit of renewal streaming out of him, making them helplessly drawn to his attraction. Just think of the way young girls screamed when they were close to the Beatles singing about love. Jesus was a star who did not sing about it but actually campaigned through the country with love, showing people the way of life. People knew that touching him was enough to reset their lives and get them back on course toward their promised fulfillment.
The woman in our story had been having a blood-flow for 12 years. She was shunned and considered unclean, but she broke the taboo and struggled all the way through that crowd saying, “If I only touch his clothes, I’ll be healed.” And despite the disciples trying to keep the people away from Jesus like body guards, she still managed to get in there and touch him. In no way was she passive and resigned.
Jesus had felt something – a power going out of his body. In spite of his disciples and in spite of Jairus there, the dignitary asking Jesus to make an emergency call on his 12 year old daughter, who was dying, Jesus did not desist. “Somebody touched me.”
The woman who had wanted to touch him in stealth and stay invisible, came to him trembling and knelt down before him and told him how her blood-flow had been healed after she touched him – and Jesus blessed her and said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace; be healed of your disease.”
Now we hardly speak of women’s periods today. They are not mentioned in polite company, let alone in a sermon in church. But something that had gone wrong with a woman’s period was probably what Jesus was openly discussing and dealing with. Her 12 year blood-flow may have been a tumor or something else, of course, because we do not have a precise diagnosis. But while the society shunned her and called her unclean, with the Holy Spirit, Jesus healed her dreadful disease.
Even in our society today, we don’t like to talk about our bodily functions, many of which we use for swear words and curses. And speaking of curses, I remember how in the old days women would refer to their periods as their curse. The wonderful healing halo around Christ, the positive environment of trust and human compassion around Jesus brings healing even in a place that society wants to hush up and act as if it does not even happen. Meanwhile it takes place 12 months out of every year of a woman’s reproductive life and this woman, whose period continued for 12 years wanted to be as invisible as this regular occurrence in a woman’s life. Mostly, this can still be the case in our society today.
This is a healing story inside a healing story, because Jairus’ daughter – notice how the men are named and the women are not – this 12 year old girl was no longer considered a child. The Gospel of Mark tells secrets with numbers. It is hard to miss that the number 12 comes up for both the woman and the daughter. In those days becoming 12 years old meant she had come of age to be married. And what is left unsaid is that she was suddenly becoming a woman physically, undergoing that marvelous transformation of a woman’s body, which also brings on the first period. I wonder if someone had sat down and explained to the poor girl what was happening to her. Her father, the leader of a synagogue, so holy and righteous, did he and her mother explain what was happening to her? Did they help her cherish the wonderful thing it would be to become a woman, a lover, and a mother?
That positive attitude was not the case in those days, of course. She may well have rather died a child than grow up to live the curse of being a woman and believe you me in many a repressive, woman-hating society, a curse is what it is. Why not rather die than live out a curse for the rest of your life? How many times do you still see parents feeling that the birth of a girl is a disappointment and that of a boy a success? “It’s a man’s world, my sisters used to say.”
But Jesus became a curse up on that cross to change us all, women and men, into blessings. Like a snake, like a serpent lifted up on a pole, Jesus was lifted up on the cross, and in that way, he even changed the notorious Roman instrument of torture and execution into the symbol of the greatest love the world has ever known. If Jesus could do that to the cross, he can also do that for you!
So he reached down and grasped the hand of Jairus’ little daughter and lovingly said, “Talitha cum.” “Little girl, get up!” And she got up in the presence of Christ, in his wonderful environment of trust, hope, love, and compassion. She got up and entered her womanhood, filled with all the promises of God’s blessings.
All of those bodily changes and functions are natural and we dare not place a shunning attitude and negative environment around them. Girls who suddenly experience their physical transformation into womanhood need to understand how precious, how welcome and how beautiful that is and how our society should surround it with respect. It is rough, however, when men, other girls – who can be harsh and judgmental, and society as a whole, suddenly look at you and try to reduce you to a sex object, rather than celebrate the fact that you are a woman and respect you as a person, as a child of God. Our sexuality needs to remain completely in a relationship of love and respect.
We can keep the whole sexual part of our lives in a negative and dark place, which disrespectful and sexist men try shut women into. The women who become locked in that place can become trapped in prostitution, sex trafficking, and men trying to control them for their sexual gratification. Thank God, Jesus also changed some men into blessings.
But probably not many in those days: Believe it or not, Hebrew men prayed, “Thank you God that I was not born a woman!” What a curse men are who make women’s lives into one. Who wants to live a life like that? The Good News is that Jesus changed us all into marvelous blessings, a woman as a blessing for a man and a man as a blessing for a woman, and to top off the blessings that women and men become, God gave us the blessing of children for fathers and mothers to raise.
The Holy Spirit that created the marvelous trust around Jesus is more powerful than all the sexual negativity that is still so rampant in our society today. The Holy Spirit lifted this invisible woman out of a dark place, up into her real self in her wonderful, healthy womanhood and this little child, who had to die to her girlhood, her childhood, could arise and enter the blessing of being a woman of God, full of promise. Why, she could become the president of the United States, even though her becoming a pastor and becoming a proclaimer of the Good News of Jesus Christ is something greater, because we continue the wonderful love story Jesus told with his very life. We don’t have to be pastors of course to do that.
And the love story goes on in the Christian tradition, because many of these healing stories in the New Testament are like medical documents and doctors today continue what Jesus pointed to way back then. To get into the issues women face in Africa is a little too heavy. It would be easy to fill this sermon with horror stories. But doctors from our tradition are in there saving the lives of women just like Jesus did. What women have to go through is a crying shame and the Gospel needs to reach such misogynist societies. Men need to be filled with respect for women. We need the faith that makes us whole women and men together. It is the strong and robust environment of trust and compassion that can make us well. All these women issues should not be put into a dark, shunned, and silent place, as a cover for their unspeakable abuse.
Remember, however, just because women become blessings doesn’t mean that men have to be curses. Men are not evil. Some troubled people feel that the only way they can be good is if the other is bad. I admit that often men still really harass women, who overtake them. But many men are also mature and celebrate mature and successful women; someone like Nora Ephron, who was a journalist, an essayist, script writer, a movie director, and successful in every career and still was in love with a wonderful husband, who celebrated her success.
The Gospel is that Jesus became a curse for us so that we all could become blessings one to another. Blessings are given just before we die. In Genesis you will read how the patriarch’s bless their children before they die. Jesus was ready to die for us and blessed us with Holy Communion just before dying for us on the cross. Blessing is getting out of the way and giving another person the space to grow and unfold. Love is a blessing, and no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That also means thinking through subjects that are taboo, which fill us with fear and take us to the edge. Some subjects do frighten us to death. But because of the environment of trust, that marvelous healing halo around Jesus, we will not die, but be raised up to live and discover how all God’s promises are true. Amen.