A Sermon preached on Sunday, July 1 (Proper 8), at St. Augustine’s, Wiesbaden2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
In this morning’s Gospel, you heard a “Markan Sandwich.” No I don’t mean a marmite sandwich which contains a mysterious sticky black savory substance much beloved of some English, and strongly disliked by the rest of the world, but Markan, from Mark. It describes his technique of placing one story inside another. They are supposed to reinforce each other, often one story acts as a commentary on the other. For example, in a later “sandwich” (Mark 11:12-21) Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple is inserted in a story of how he curses fig tree for not bearing fruit, which then withers and dies: clearly a commentary on the fate of the Temple because its guardians have not borne the fruit God intended.
But today for example, the healing of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years is sandwiched between two halves of another healing event, the story of how Jesus brings Jairus’ 12-year old daughter back to life. The two anonymous protagonists have a couple of things in common: they share the last 12 years, both are healed by Jesus, both are female sufferers and described as daughters. One has a loving father, the other seems to be alone, but both know God’s love. And putting these two episodes together reminds us that Jesus came for everyone, for the powerful and the powerless, for the leader of the community and for the outcast woman. All are welcome, all are recipients of God’s grace.
On his way to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter, Jesus heals the woman simply by touch, her touch. Both out of desperation, 12 years is a long time to suffer and as we heard she had endured much under many physicians, and out of hope sustained by her faith in Jesus’ power she reaches out to him, convinced that “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (Mark 5:28) And she is. But her healing is not yet complete. Only when Jesus looks into her eyes and says the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,” (5:34) is she truly healed. Before she was an outcast, unclean and unwelcome, now she is a beloved child of God. When Jesus says, “Go in peace,” he us using the word “shalom,” which means much more than a lack of war. This peace is health, well-being, and wholeness. Her body has been healed and her relationships have been restored. Once again, she is part of her community. She was not physical dead, but socially. And so, in one sense she was also brought back to life.
What does Jesus mean with the words, “your faith has made you well?” Did she heal herself? No, but her faith opened a channel for Jesus’ healing power, even when he had not intended to heal her. We see the reverse effect in the next chapter of Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus visits his hometown and due to their unbelief, “he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” (Mark 6:5) His power was as strong in Nazareth as elsewhere. But they were not open, their minds and bodies were closed, they saw no need for healing.
Jairus on the other hand, the loving father, was moved by a strong faith. Faith allowed him to overcome the embarrassment of asking, begging an itinerant rabbi for help. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (5:23) Faith sustains him even after everyone tells him his daughter is dead. He has just seen a demonstration of Jesus’ power. Can it work for her too, can it bring her back from the dead? “Do not fear, only believe,” (5:36) Jesus says, reassuring him. It is rewarded. With the words ‘little girl get up’ or rise up, the same verb used for Jesus’ own rising from the dead, she is restored to life.
In the Gospels, only she and two other people are brought back to life: the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-17) and most famously Lazarus (John 11:1-44). Why only these three? Why does Jesus often leave a town or area before everyone there has been healed? While Jesus was moved by compassion to help, or in the case of the woman with hemorrhages that help is taken even when not explicitly offered, he did not come into the world to be a one-man National Health Service. His purpose was something much greater. He came to heal the breach between us and God, to heal the division between one another. In his letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (2 Cor. 8:9) In his letter to the Philippians (2:7) Paul uses a different analogy, Christ Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.” In both cases Paul is describing what we call kenosis, Jesus emptying himself of his divinity to become human, to share our humanity and to show us that we all share this humanity, and deification, his offer of transformation, of taking us up with him into God.
As I am reminded just before the beginning of General Convention, sometimes our Episcopal Church is a little prone to focusing purely on the physical healing and on matters of social justice. There is a tendency to political activism, and to passing lots of well-meaning resolutions, which will have little to no impact outside of the convention center. The motto of ERD is “Healing a hurting world.” None of this is wrong, but we won’t be able to truly and fully and completely heal the world without bringing God into it.
But it would equally be wrong to focus solely on the spiritual. This seems to be problem of the Corinthians. They take great pride in their spiritual endowments. They excel, Paul says, “in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in eagerness and love.” (2 Cor. 8:7) But not it appears in putting all these qualities into action! Therefore, Paul talks about testing the genuineness of their love. The action Paul wants them to complete is an act of generosity and financial support for their beleaguered brothers and sisters in Jerusalem. It is wonderful, Paul goes on, that you want to help: “now finish doing it!” (8:11)
Now I don’t want to overdo the sandwich metaphor. But just as a sandwich needs both the flavor of the filling and the protection and extra nourishment of the bread covering, so to faith and action must go together. Action – or works to use that term so beloved of Reformation era Protestants – without faith will not have a long-term impact and will not bring about the transformation that God offers us. Faith without works is dry and without effect. To claim to be a faithful Christian without the visible marks of our faith, without acting as our Lord acted and taught is just not plausible, just not convincing.
All Anglicans share what are called the Five Marks of Mission. They express, and I quote, “the Anglican Communion’s common commitment to, and understanding of, God’s holistic and integral mission.” They are holistic as they cover both our faith, and our call to transport and transmit that faith, as well as the different ways in which we are called to heal: people, society, and creation. Here they are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
This is – borrowing Paul’s phrase – a fair balance. Our faith makes us well, and our faith calls us to make all things well in and through Jesus’ name.