wake to your power
This particular gospel passage (Mk 5:21-43) contains a near perfect literary device––a story within a story. There is the story of the woman with the hemorrhage but, on each side of it, it is sandwiched in by the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter. The lectionary actually gives us the option this Sunday of only reading the story of the woman with the hemorrhage, but this seemed like too perfect of a narrative to pass up. And I think it is significant whenever women show up in the gospels––and here we have two!
Looking at the middle first, the story of the unnamed woman with the hemorrhage… The thing that sticks out glaringly in this scene is the fact that this woman is ritually unclean! According to Jewish custom, her sickness made her impure, and therefore she is prohibited from entering the temple, banned from participating in any of the religious feasts. She was the same as a leper––through no fault of her own, through nothing she had done wrong, just by virtue of being alive with this particular reaction in her body. That’s like keeping sick people out of the hospital. But not only was she impure, anyone she touched would be considered impure too––the whole teeming mass of people in the crowd that she was elbowing her way through with such determination. And specifically Jesus––who she touched on purpose! She made Jesus ritually impure! He doesn’t seem too squeamish about that, which is no surprise given what we know about him. Ah, but this is not the old temple; this is the new temple, as John tells us––the body of Jesus is the new temple, and this temple, Jesus’ body, is specifically meant to be touched, even, maybe especially, by those who were outcasts.
The physicality of all this is very important. On the negative side the almost obsession with ritual purity, of not coming into contact with anything supposedly impure, of the strictest religious people of the time. It reminds one of the caste system in India too, and the dalits-the so-called untouchables. But on the positive side, the ancients believed that, just as impurity could spread from one body to another, so too healing flowed right out of the body of the healer to the sick person. This carries over right into the Christian tradition in the laying on of hands––the belief that there is real power transmitted and at work, the power of the Spirit. Even the fact that mere contact with the fringe of Jesus’ garment causes the power to flow, and the fact that Jesus feels even that, is significant here. (Recall that little detail that only Mark adds to the story about Jesus’ transfiguration, that not only his body, but even his garments turned whiter than any fuller could dye them, as if any matter that comes into contact with Spirit can somehow share in the transformative power of the Spirit.) Not to mention the fact that it is part of God’s saving action in Jesus, not just to prepare souls to die and go to heaven but to heal bodies. This is the new creation. Note that the Church pairs this story with the reading from Wisdom,[i] hinting that physical death was not even part of God’s original plan: For God created us for incorruption.
Then there is the story of the little girl on both sides of it. (Incidentally, I cannot be a coincidence that the woman has been sick for twelve years and this little girl too is twelve years old.) She is the new person, the new creation, but maybe even more importantly the symbol of the inner child that we all are, the first innocence that we never lose, just cover over, that we need to recover, uncover. As Jesus tells his listeners in so many different ways ‘whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven…’ And it is to such as these little ones that the mysteries of the reign of God are revealed, not to the wise and intelligent. And even more importantly ‘whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’[ii] So this child is even an icon of God, an icon of godliness, of our own divinity––maybe we could say she is the image of the image of God that is the core of our being. Again from the Wisdom reading: God made us in the image of his own eternity. And this little girl––and all this, the divine indwelling, our original innocence––she is not dead: she is merely asleep. And Jesus awakens her, he awakens that––the child, the innocence, the new person, the image of God.
Two interesting Greek words are used about Jesus in this narrative. In the part about the woman with the hemorrhage Mark tells us that immediately Jesus was aware that power had gone out of him. In Greek, Jesus was epignous that dynamis had gone out of him. Because Jesus was aware of the power within him and so was aware when that power was tapped and flowed out of him. What is that power? It is what the Book of Wisdom calls the generative forces of the world, which it says are wholesome. And Jesus was filled with it. Just touch him and the power leaks out. And because he was aware of his power, the power that lay within him, he was also able to awaken the power in the woman––‘Your faith has made you well’
I always like the word ‘realize’ because it means two things: to become aware and to make real. And maybe it means both of those things at the same time: to become aware of something is to make it real. Jesus was aware of his power, so the power in him was real––his power was realized because he realized it! And so he was able both to stimulate the faith of, the power in, the ailing woman and awaken the image of God, the new person symbolized by the little girl.
Two takeaways for us today… First of all, is there something in you that you think is unclean? Well, the good news is that is made clean by contact with Jesus, particularly today not just the hem of his garment but his very Body and Blood in the Eucharist, not to mention the Real Presence of Christ in the healing and liberating Word that has been proclaimed. Is there some part of you that someone else has said is unclean, perhaps someone in your religion? Well, that too is done away with––by the touch, by the welcoming embrace of that other Real Presence of Christ, the Real Presence of Christ in this gathered assembly where “all are welcome in this place.” No one here is ritually impure. God forbid anyone should ever walk away from here feeling as if they have been turned away because they are impure or unclean according to our standards. Better a millstone be placed around our neck and we be tossed in the sea. Is there some part of you that really is unclean? I seriously doubt it. Since the Word became flesh, since God became human, that means no part of our human being could be considered impure, nothing about our body, our blood or any other bodily fluid, nor any part of our physical beings no matter how squeamish we are about them. No, all this too is holy and the wholesome generative forces of the world are coursing through our veins. Remember that scene, also in the Gospel of Mark, when Jesus says, ‘Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from the outside cannot defile…’ And Mark adds parenthetically thus he declared all foods clean.’[iii] So maybe we could add parenthetically to this story, even more importantly, “And thus Jesus declared all people clean.”
And the second takeaway for us today… Do you feel dead? Well, you’re probably not dead––maybe only spiritually dead. But spiritual death may be even worse––to be spiritually dead when the corpse of your body is still walking around. Do you feel dead? Well, you’re not. You’re just asleep! You have forgotten, or you never knew, or you never realized, or no one ever told you, who you really are, the image of God, a vessel of Divine Love. We heard a beautiful reading from Saint Basil the Great this morning that said, “When we use our God-given powers as we should, we lead a life made beautiful by virtue.” And he goes on to explain what that power is: “an innate power and ability to love.” You have forgotten, or you never knew, or you never realized, or no one ever told you about that power that is in you, your faith, the spring of life giving water that is meant to flow from out of your heart.
And Jesus says to each one of us, Talitha kum! Get up! Wake up! Rise up! You need to, I need to, we need to, as a community, as a church, wake to our power, and awaken each other to that power! We need to become epignous of our dynamis, realize, be conscious of our power. What is that power? The generative forces of the world. That’s what flows within us––the generative forces of the world that God planted there. And behind it is the Holy Spirit urging us to evolve and create. It is not our power to lord over anyone, or not our power to call attention to ourselves or boast of. As Paul tells us in the Letter to the Corinthians, We hold this treasure in earthen vessels to remind us that this power does not come from us but comes from God.[iv] Nor even less do we cling to it. We empty ourselves and sit waiting, sure that when we do we will find that the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the spirit living in us––that wants to bring us to life, body and soul by the power of the Spirit, and then make us healing vessels for others too, in the name of Jesus.
cyprian / 1 july 18
[i] Wis 1:13-15, 2:23-24.
[ii] Mt 18:4, Mk 9:37, Mt 11:25.
[iii] Mk 7:18.
[iv] 2 Cor 4:7.