Of healing and wholeness
June 28, Proper 8:
Draft text of the homily. Please do not cite without permission.
I have to admit.
The healing miracles in scripture always make me a little uneasy.
It’s not that I think that miracles don’t happen.
I know they do…
I’ve witnessed to far too many to doubt that.
No, I’m uneasy when the miracle becomes the primary or only focal point in the story…
especially if it gets linked to an individual’s faith.
“Go, your faith has made you well,” is an important concept to hang on to…but what does it really mean?
“Praise God, our prayers have been answered!” is an honest, and heartfelt cry from someone who has recovered from an illness or avoided a calamity.
What troubles me is the unspoken implication that those who didn’t recover somehow lacked faith…?
or didn’t pray hard enough…?
Miracle stories are wonderful when you’ve come through a difficulty…
and they can be devastating when you haven’t.
It’s wonderful that this woman who had suffered for so long is brave enough to reach out and touch Jesus…
to claim healing for herself…
What about the ones in the crowd who don’t reach out, or who can’t reach out?
Are they denied?
If they remain unhealed, is it their fault?
It’s wonderful that Jairus’ daughter is returned to health and vitality…
What about the sons and daughters who won’t recover…
Are they, or their loved ones, at fault for missing an opportunity?
A tight link between healing and faith can lead into some very troubling theology.
And I know I’m not the only one who’s felt caught in that painful place.
As happy as I am about Friday’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, I also know people on the other side of that issue, who I know are upset at that decision.
Does one side have more faith than the other?
There are a whole lot of very faithful mothers and fathers in the black community, and their prayers and impassioned pleas haven’t kept their relatives…their children…alive in the midst of racial gun violence and brutality.
And it can’t be from lack of praying.
So we have to be careful with these miracle stories.
And remember that the miracle is always only part of the story…
There’s always something more going on in scripture…
Something more Mark is trying to tell us…
Jesus has crossed to the other side, and immediately Jairus, one of the local leaders, is among the crowd to plead for his 12 year old daughter.
He is the one named person in this nameless throng.
The other character is this nameless woman who has suffered for 12 years and spent all she had.
Jairus and this woman form the poles at the opposite ends of the gendered-socio-economic spectrum.
One privileged and powerful, the head of a family group, the other utterly powerless and alone, with no kin.
And the question is: what will Jesus do?
Here’s a little thought experiment for you:
A stranger on the street asks you for $1, how likely are you to give it?
What if a friend asks you for $1?
What if a family member asks you for $1?
It’s often easier to be compassionate to those we know.
Evolutionary biologists tell us that a certain amount of compassion is built into our genetic code.
It allows us to cooperate and get things done.
Enables us to do things like build communities and societies.
It also means we are constantly making distinctions between those who are close to us and those who aren’t.
If something bad happens to someone you know…it’s incredibly painful.
When you hear on the news that something awful has happened to people across the country, you might feel bad, or you might shake your head and turn the page, but it will probably affect you less.
Favoring people close to us, is part of human nature…
It also means that we make subtle and not so subtle choices every day about who’s in and who’s out.
We vow to love our neighbor as our self.
We try to live by the Golden Rule, and treat others as we would want to be treated.
But, we can all get pretty selective about applying it.
It’s often easier (not always but often) to love those close to us, to treat those near us better and to get more selective about it the further outside of our circle we get.
I live that way.
I make choices every day based on whether I know someone…whether I think someone deserves something…whether they’re in my circle of family or friends, or not.
We all do.
But here’s the thing. Just as Jesus keeps urging us to the other side, as I said last week, he also keeps pushing us to expand that circle.
The last time Jesus was on this side of the lake…
he was struggling to get an fair hearing in his home town…
He was told that his family was outside and worried about him.
And do you remember what he said?
He looked around and said, “who are my mothers and brothers?”
Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”
And today, on his way to the house of the head of the synagogue,
he stops to look for this one poor, frightened, powerless woman.
This single nobody, in a sea of nobodies.
This one face in a faceless throng.
His disciples don’t even want him to bother…
“look at the crowd, don’t bother…come on the important people want to see us.”
But he stops, and “looks all around,”
waits for her to come to him…
waits for her to show herself.
And when she does, what does he say?
“Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
She is God’s daughter.
Just as much as Jarius’ little girl is God’s daughter.
Just as much as every one of us is God’s son and daughter.
Jesus opens his arms wide and embraces both sides of that spectrum. The powerful synagogue leader and his family, and the impoverished women in the crowd…who is also his family.
Healing in scripture is always about more than just miracle cures…and much more than any one person’s individual faith…healing is about wholeness.
It’s about recognizing the kinship that we all share.
It’s about striving to achieve a balance…as Paul says today…a fair balance between abundance and need.
Between the abundance of the leader, and the needs of the woman
Between our own abundance and needs of the poor, the marginal, those not at the center of our circle.
It’s about recognizing our connectedness to everyone and everything…our kinship with all of creation, and becoming more and more aware that our choices…all of our choices…about what to buy, what to give, whether to speak up or remain silent, which communities or organizations to participate in…how to allocate our resources…all affect those close to us as well as those far distant.
Following Jesus,we are called to “look all around” and recognize the “whole truth” of our deep, abiding, and eternal kinship with all.
And to begin treat those far from us with the same love and care that we treat those most dear to us.
Begin to make decisions based on what’s really best for the generations that follow us—all of our sons and daughters…
That really would be a miracle, because if we started doing that, it would mean that WE were healed.