A Meditation on Mark 5:21-43 for Wine Before Breakfast on November 7, 2017
It’s tough to be a woman.
When Brian sent out the rota for this fall, and asked me to preach, he had suggested the theme for this sermon as “healed daughters.”
I have to admit, the title threw me for a loop for a while, because in my life, including in my community at Sanctuary, I actually seldom experience my sisters, or myself, as healed. At best, we’re healing, continually in process, continually bandaging ourselves, and each other, after another wound – from society, from our partners, from ourselves – causes us to start hemorrhaging again. I identify much more closely with the woman in this story during the 12 years before Jesus came into her life than any picture of her in that moment, being healed, being free.
But, the reason why I find the Jesus-story we share in this room so compelling is how radically different he was in the world. And how his life, and death and resurrection suggests a world that could be made differently, by you and by me. So what would that be like, to live in a world where daughters were healed?
Now the unnamed woman had been suffering from haemorrhages for 12 years. She’d spent 12 years being ritually unclean, being told by church and society that she would dirty anyone she touched. I have friends who deeply believe the same thing.
“Well, every man I’ve dated has hurt me. Some of them say they’d never hit a woman before they hit me. It must be my fault.”
“My mother hit me, my boyfriends hit me, everyone who really gets to know me ends up wanting to mess me up, so something in me is just wrong. If you knew me better, you’d know”
And so we try to fix ourselves, enduring much at the hands of physicians, therapists, self-help gurus, and yogurt advertisements. We spend all of our money, surrender all of our pride, and abandon our unique gifts and callings, all to be made worse instead of better. And that’s those of us who have the resources to keep on trying. Otherwise, we can end up caught in lives of deep despair. All the while barely daring to hope for Jesus, the redeemer, to appear.
And when he appears, she can’t even ask for his help. He’s busy, striding down the street with his followers and a very important man. She knows what it’s like to ask for help; humiliating, painful, and ultimately unfruitful. Lacking faith in the system to help her, the most she can do is reach out and touch his clothes. Even asking for a word of affirmation would be too much.
But, Jesus felt power leave him. That’s been my experience too. Every small step towards healing requires someone releasing power. Unfortunately, we can’t release power until we’re aware of the power that we already hold. Whether it be our class, our education, our race, our gender identity, ability status or sexuality, we all hold power in this world, and those in this room hold more than most.
As a cisgender, middle class, educated woman working amongst women who don’t have my particular kinds of privilege, I’ve had to come to terms with my power. The power to be less frequently victimized, the power to be the one who gets to decide whether or not I believe, the power to say “this is real” or “this doesn’t count.” My friend with an addiction isn’t believed because her memories aren’t perfect. My friend who struggles with English, and can’t easily describe traumatic experiences, doesn’t have her experiences validated like mine are. There are ways I can’t, or shouldn’t give up my power, but one clear and simple way we can all relinquish power is by centring the stories of women who society often ignores. Listening to them, believing them, and promoting their voices.
We’re more comfortable with certain victims. With stories that are concrete, clearly stated and easy to understand. When we hear stories that sound like they could be our own, we emotionally recoil and want justice. Justice for someone that seems like me makes me feel safer. And so, the more powerful we are, the more likely it is that people who are like us will be heard and seen, will be cared for in community, will be protected and given the resources to heal.
Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma police officer raped more than a dozen poor, women of colour, many of whom had outstanding warrants and pre-existing fear of the police. It was only after he assaulted Jannie Ligons, a daycare worker, that he was brought to justice. She was the sort of victim that those in power could believe without giving up too much of their own power.
In the era of both Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey experiencing consequences for their misdeeds, I’m deeply conscious of how R. Kelly and Chris Brown are still releasing hits, and how viciously black women are attacked whenever we bring this up on social media. I often wonder what would their lives be like if they women they assaulted looked a little less like me.
But Jesus is willing to give up his power in this exchange. He encouraged her to tell him her entire truth, and in hearing her truth, was able to praise her faith. He felt no need to question “whether it was really that bad.” He didn’t encourage her to understand how her doctors must have felt. He listened, he praised her, and was then able to release her to live a life of healing and peace. How many of us daughters have never had our truths held like that? What could our churches and communities be like if we held each other’s truths so completely?
And all the while, Jairus’s daughter, also nameless, is dying. Her entire life has lasted roughly the same amount of time that the woman has been bleeding. She’s the innocent, whose life has not been tarnished by years of being unclean. She’s the child of privilege, who could be our great hope that things could be better in the future.
I know that hope deeply. That hope that the generations younger than me will experience less pain and struggle than I have. That my niece, my goddaughter, my friends’ daughters will grow up in a world where they’re valued, where their innate worth is assumed, where, if they’re ever victims, they’ll be believed.
Whenever we have a set of high profile accusations, followed by media encouragement to #believewomen because #metoo, I find myself again hoping that, this time, things will be different. That I’ll be able to see before myself a future where women are believed, trusted, respected… and then Linda Redgrave is called a liar by the judge in the Ghomeshi trial because she got a yellow hatchback Volkswagen GTI confused with a yellow hatchback Volkswagen Beetle. And then we learn about the dozens of articles on Weinstein that have been withdrawn by editors and publications over the decades. And then I see the face of the police officer rolling his eyes at another 911 call from my friend whose ex has been stalking her for months.
Jairus’s daughter, also nameless, was dying. And Jesus lets her die. Because the kingdom of God is equally for the unclean woman as for the girl upon whom our future hopes rest. Because a conversation with a woman in societal exile was important. Because his future followers would often experience the feeling that our hopes are dead, and that nothing can be done. He knew we’d need to learn how to trust beyond our vision, and have faith when hope is gone.
And so, when the leader’s daughter was dead, that was the moment when Jesus said to put away fear, and pick up faith.
Jesus sent everyone away besides a few trusted friends, her mother and her father. In the era of #metoo, it often feels like the only way to get care as a woman is to accept public outing. What a relief that Jesus cared for this child in privacy, allowed her the indignity of death alone, and then quietly brought her to life. He didn’t need to be seen as her amazing rescuer; he didn’t care more when the crowds were there. He knew that while healing sometimes must happen on a crowded road, resurrection is something we gift each other in private spaces. And he welcomed her up, and made sure she had food, because we too seldom are given anything that truly nourishes.
And so I’m stuck between the world we live in, and the world Jesus created, and creates. A world where he releases his power. A world where he listens while an unclean woman shares her whole truth. A world where sharing the truth can bring healing and peace. Where, even in the darkest moments, we’re encouraged to trade fear for faith, and it actually matters. Where we’re given privacy when we need it, and a nourishing meal as well.
It’s what our sisters, our daughters, need. It’s what I need. May we be the people who create that world for all.