A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 28, 2015
Trinity Church of Morrisania, Bronx, New York
“Then he put them all outside … and went in where the child was.”
After the storm that was in last week’s lesson, Jesus and the disciples got back in the boat and crossed back to where they were before. Immediately, Jesus is back among the chaos of the crowds, and we have a story of two healings. Often these two are pulled apart and discussed individually, even by biblical scholars, but I think it’s important to look at them together.
One of the leaders of the church comes to Jesus and begs him to come heal his daughter. Jesus has compassion and goes along with this community leader—just as he is doing this, the other story interrupts. A woman, a part of this crowd—a woman who has suffered with a condition for a dozen years, which has ruined her life—she pushes through the crowd to get close to Jesus, the healer. The blood, the force of life, which has been flowing out of her, has made it so that she cannot be touched by a man. She pushes close to reach out to touch this man, the healer. He felt the force leave him and he turned to see her. “Daughter your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Jesus had compassion on this woman, who had been an outsider, who transgressed by touching him. He healed her, and commended her trust in God.
This was in the middle of crowds pressing around, all sorts of pressure and confusion. And the other story comes back. Jesus is standing there and people come from the house of the religious leader and say, “She’s dead. Let the teacher go away.” Practical, realistic, discouraged people, just giving up. Jesus looked at these fearful and discouraged people and said, “Do not fear, only believe.” They had seen a healer and now they believed that the chance for healing was lost. So they dismissed the healer. But Jesus would not accept their resignation and dismissal, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus knew far more about life than they knew about death. He got to the house, and they laughed at him. He said she was asleep, and they laughed at him, and Jesus said to them, “Please, just go outside for now.” He took the parents into the room and took the girl by the hand and said, “little girl, get up!” And she did. Jesus had compassion on the child, and on those parents of hers, those respectable leaders of the community, and he had compassion on that woman, the ruined outcast. All at the same time. He did not listen to those who were telling him “don’t bother, go away.” Jesus won’t listen to hopelessness, rather he has compassion for those who hurt, who are confused, who are fearful.
There were two healings on that day. Most people would have advised Jesus to pay attention to just one or the other, to choose, to choose the more worthy or the one with the greatest need or the one that agreed with them. Jesus would not do that, and as everybody started to advise him more, “he put them all outside.” We think we know about compassion and healing, but we don’t, not really—Jesus just tended to healing and being compassionate. Jesus just shakes his head and sends them outside—there are no limits on God’s love, in particular, not limits that we contrive.
People are often most hurt by the limits that others put on God’s love—usually, trying to defend their own claims on God or their own privilege they conclude that others should get out of the way—like that woman with the hemorrhage, she shouldn’t interrupt Jesus getting to the house to heal the important man’s little girl.
On Friday, two important things happened. In the morning, the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decision affirming marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples. Not too long after that, the President of the United States preached about grace at the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who was killed during a bible study in his church by a racist attacker. Is one more important than the other? Can God have compassion on only one group? In both cases, people have suffered long, with disapproval and dismissal by the dominant groups in our culture. It is common for people to lack understanding of the sincerity and humanity of groups that they are not part of. Marriage equality will not change attitudes or relationships over night. And President Obama said this about race:
“We don’t earn grace. We are all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway and we choose how to receive it. It is our decision how to honor it. None of us can or should expect a transformation in race relations overnight. Every time something like this happens, someone says we have to have a conversation about race. We talk a lot about race. There is no shortcut. We don’t need more talk. None of us should believe that a handful of gun safety measures will prevent every tragedy. It will not. People of goodwill will continue to debate the merits of various policies as our democracy requires. There are good people on both sides of these debates. Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete. But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.”
The violence of racism is not simply in shootings or lynchings, it is also in the constant denial of ordinary human respect, that goes unnoticed day by day among those in the dominant culture. Likewise, our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers suffer similar indignity—it caused many to hide, but not change, who they were. We are often tempted to seek comfort by denying Jesus’ compassion, but he won’t let us get away with it.
Is life possible when all we see is death? They laughed at Jesus. But he went upstairs, and took her hand and said, “Talitha cum” –“Little girl, get up!”