Sermon June 27 – Mark 5:21-43 Rev. Betsy Hogan
Here's a thing I've been thinking about. I've been thinking about how exhausting it must be for Indigenous people to watch the rest of us be "shocked" by the presence of unmarked graves on Residential School properties.
Because they told us they were there. It's in the Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools that came out six years ago. People testified to children dying and being buried at the schools -- something like $1.3 million dollars was requested for archaeological excavation to LOCATE unmarked graves at the 139 sites.
We knew they were there. It was in the report. We were TOLD those graves were there.
And now Indigenous people have to watch Canadians be "shocked". Like they were speaking into the wind. One more brick in the wall, like they didn't already know in their bones just how little their words, their stories, their experiences, ever even register for us.
It must be exhausting. To feel invisible, unheard, negligable. It must take an immense amount of strength to keep at it anyway.
The two people in need who approach Jesus on that day that Mark tells us about in the passage we heard earlier -- as he’s walking along and teaching, surrounded by his disciples and a great crowd of people -- the two people in need who approach Jesus that day couldn’t be more different.
One of them, Jairus, a leader of the synagogue – one of the pillars of the community – and the other a nameless woman who’s suffered a hemorrhage for twelve years -- a social pariah, ritually unclean, ostracized by that same community not only for her ‘uncleanness’ but also for the ‘sinfulness’ it would be assumed had caused it. A leader... and a pariah.
Both of them in great need – Jairus for his daughter and the woman for herself – both of them desperate – the daughter is near death and the woman has tried every other cure that any doctor can think of – and both of them approach Jesus that day believing absolutely that he is their last hope.
And that’s where the similarities end. Completely. Because Jairus, leader of the synagogue – it’s not that he’s not humble before Jesus, it’s not that he doesn’t fall on his feet and plead with Jesus for help, because he does. But at the same time, Jairus does all those things, he strides through the crowd and begs Jesus out loud and unapologetically, without even giving it a second thought.
Because he doesn’t have to give it a second thought. He’s a person who’s listened to, he’s accustomed to being taken seriously, he has in his bones that kind of basic self-confidence that just assumes he’s got a right to be there. That he’s not going to be ignored. That he’s not ignorable.
And of course he’s right! He’s not ignorable! And Jesus immediately makes tracks to go to the bedside of Jairus’ daughter, and the crowd follows in his wake, pressing around him from all sides. Off they’re all going, to Jairus’ house. To see, they all hope, a great healing unfold.
When suddenly Jesus stops. Because someone has touched him. Which is ridiculous, and one of the disciples points that out, because EVERYONE’S touching him… they’re crowding all around him from every direction…
But Jesus has felt something different. And he’s right. Because out of the crowd comes the voice of the woman with the hemorrhage, admitting she touched his cloak. Admitting that she just wanted to be healed.
Which is a pretty courageous thing for her to admit, at that particular moment, because she’s not supposed to touch ANYONE, much less the beloved teacher, much less in a crowd of people who are all presumably now rendered ritually unclean thanks to her.
She could really find herself in some serious trouble – but it’s clear in this moment that she just doesn’t care. She’s so desperate, she’s so beyond even worrying about what kind of trouble she could be in, she just doesn’t care. She just wanted to be healed, she might as well she touched his garment. What more does she have to lose?
And she IS healed. But… not without Jesus deftly calling to attention how different her approach to him was from Jairus’. Because “Daughter,” he says to her, lifting her up from the ground, “go in peace and be healed.”
She would never have dared, and Jesus knows she would never have dared, to approach him openly as Jairus does. Even in her desperation, even at the end of her rope, she would never have dared to walk up to Jesus and plead for what she needed. The notion that she was anything but utterly ignorable would have been completely alien to her – she would never have had the kind of inherent basic self-confidence that Jairus was probably practically born with.
But when Jesus lifts her up and calls her daughter? What he's is telling her is that she should. That she’s as much his kin, as much a child of God as Jairus is. That just as surely as Jairus deserves to be heard and responded to as a human being, eye to eye, so does she. That she’s not, in fact, ignorable. And she should never live like she thinks she is, again.
It’s a remarkable statement that Jesus makes – and it’s ironic because he’s been teaching the crowds that the kindom of God is like this, and the kindom of God is like that, statement after statement about what God’s vision of how the world should be will look like -- and this time? Without even MENTIONING the kindom of God he makes this huge statement about it.
Listen, he says without words: the Kindom of God is like this. No one is ignorable. Not the lowliest, not the rejected, not the ostracized – not even those like the woman with the hemorrhage who are shunned for their ‘sinfulness’.
If Jairus should be able to approach Jesus with the confidence that he’ll be listened to, and he should, then no less should ANYONE have that same confidence. No one is ignorable ~ that’s the vision Jesus makes manifest that day. That's what the woman healed of her hemorrhage goes away having learned that day, like a revelation. She knows it now for the first time. In her bones.
But here's the thing. Jairus already did know it. It never would have occurred to him otherwise. It's not that he's obstreperous or conceited or overtly oppressive of the people around him -- he's just always been able to assume that people will listen to him and take him seriously. Treat him like a human being. That's only ever been Jairus' experience.
It isn't something he demands or gets all uppity about -- in the story he doesn't seem to have any problem at all with Jesus pausing on the way to heal the woman with the hemorrhage -- so it's not like Jairus is demanding, it's not like behaves like he's "entitled" in some way to be treated with respect like a proper person -- it's just his reality.
That's only ever been his experience. What the woman with the hemorrhage had to learn from Jesus that day like a revelation -- that she was a person, not ignorable -- Jairus just... already knew it. It was just "normal".
And that's key, in this passage. Because I suspect that for many if not most of us here, our experience of the world is very much like Jairus'. We're used to being treated properly. We expect it. So much so that we may not give it a second thought. So much so that we may not actually realize that that's not everybody's experience.
There's no indication in this passage that upon later reflection, once his daughter was beautifully and miraculously restored by Jesus to health, that it occurred to Jairus to muse a bit about how easily and confidently he was able to approach Jesus and ask for help -- in stark contrast to how fearfully and desperately the woman with the hemorrhage had had to resort to reaching out to touch Jesus' clothes.
There's no indication that Jairus later found himself realizing that everything he assumed was just sort of "normal" about what to expect from the world around him maybe wasn't so "normal" for other people at all.
But he certainly could have. And anyone in the crowd could have – struck by the contrast in how each of them approaches Jesus, but then also by the deliberateness with which Jesus ERASES that contrast in his responses to them. Deliberately turning toward the woman with the hemhorrage, granting her the same full attention he granted Jairus – that it would never occur to Jairus that he wouldn't receive.
No one is ignorable. But Jesus knows it's not enough to keep saying that. Not when some people's LONG experience is in fact that they ARE. To the point that the simple expectation that they can walk up like Jairus can -- declare a need, and be heard like Jairus is – is a delusion.
Jesus knows it's not enough to keep saying it. No one is ignorable. Every child matters. It has to be real. It has to be shown.
It's easy to assume that Jesus' capacity to feel the woman with the hemhorrage touching the hem of his robe is somehow supernatural or divine. The disciples certainly think it's something out-of-the-ordinary, when he's being crushed on all sides by a crowd.
But what if it's just a deliberately cultivated awareness? Attentiveness, vigilance? So that someone like the woman with the hemhorrage – who's learned through experience to expect to be ignored – when she reaches out, he'll notice.
So he can deliberately NOT ignore her. Change HER experience, yes, but also forcefully communicate that message to everyone in that crowd, and to us. No one is ignorable and every child of God matters, but it has to be real and it has to be shown, and HERE – Jesus is saying without words – HERE'S what that looks like.
It starts with stopping and paying attention. Like us, Jesus has skin in this game. It's his Jewish faith and heritage that's entrenched the rules that taught this woman she was ignorable in the first place. He has skin in this game, and so do we, as Canadians and as Christians and ESPECIALLY as United Church people. He's got to do the work, just as we do.
And he does it by stopping and paying attention. To the woman's wordless exhausted cloak-touching testimony to how she's been taught by her world and his to expect to be ignored.
And you know who doesn't complain? Not once? Jairus.
It shouldn't have required those children being found, tugging at our cloaks. But it did. But the stories have been told, the testimony has been recorded, it all already exists. It's long past time for us to stop and pay attention to what's been said over and over and over. No one is ignorable and every child matters? says God. Show me.