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The Struggle to Belong (5 Pent B)

5th Sunday After Pentecost (B)

Lamentations 3:22-33; 2 Cor 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

Jesus heals two people today. Apart from both being female, they are worlds apart. One is young, the 12 year old daughter of a prominent Jewish leader, whose family likely has prestige, respect, and money. Her father will use his position to advocate for her. The other is unnamed, alone, and likely impoverished. She’s had  to contend with a 12 year continuous menstrual flow. There is no one to speak for her, to advocate for her. Both come to Jesus seeking help. Both receive it, but again in bizarrely different ways.

But I’m fascinated by this unnamed woman. She is unique and intriguing. Bleeding, flowing, having a constant period for 12 years—probably her entire adult life. She’s seen every physician, every healer, every quack she could find. No one has been able to help her. She’s sought out and tried every treatment out there, and not only is she still suffering, but she’s become steadily worse. Not only that, but now she’s become destitute because she’s spent every cent she ever had on these treatments. So now not only is she still suffering more than ever, but she continues to feel alone and unclean in the sight of God and her community.

You see, for Jews in that day there were three types of uncleanness that made a person “untouchable,” that separated them from their family, their church, their whole community: leprosy, contact with the dead, and bodily discharges. Jesus deals with two of these today.

But this woman has been unclean, untouchable, and isolated for 12 years. It’s not just the flow of blood she wants fixed. It’s the cultural ramifications of that. She aches to belong, to be part of a community, to be touched by another person again, to have people she can care about and who care about her. Having a group of people that claim you, love you, and know you makes us human. Belonging isn’t a luxury, it is life.

This woman was so desperate to be restored to community that she broke several more laws. She’ not staying separate from the crowds but is in the thick of them, bumping into people, making everyone she contacts unclean. It might be considered an act of extreme selfishness, or it might be incredible desperation. If only I can touch his clothes, I will be made well. She believes that Jesus is her only hope, and she will do anything to be restored to a caring community that claims her as one of their own. She’s terrified and desperate. She, apparently, is willing to do anything to be healed, and therefore part of a community, again.

I’m not sure she’s that different from many of us. Look at the lengths we go to in order to be accepted, loved, part of some community. Gangs are often comprised of young people yearning for acceptance by a group where they feel they belong. The way we dress is a statement about who we identify with, who we want to accept us. Drug and alcohol use, sex partners, physical appearance, tattoos, hair styles have more to do with where we want to belong and who we want to identify with than with anything else.

Just like this unnamed woman with a period lasting 12 years, we yearn to belong. We ache to be part of a community that welcomes us, values us, appreciates us, cares about us.

And a mere touch of Jesus’ clothes will restore us.

Moving through the crowd, finally she gets close enough to Jesus to brush the edge of his outer robe. And immediately the flow of blood stops. She is healed. Now she thinks she can slip away unnoticed and start over with her life. Maybe she can prove to the priests she is clean and perhaps she’ll be accepted into her community again. But it doesn’t quite work out that way.

Jesus knows. He knows what she has done. And he’s searching for her. The jig is up. She’ll never get away with this. She’s made lots of people in the crowd unclean. She’s made Jesus unclean. She’s interrupted him from getting to the bedside of a powerful leader’s daughter who is at death’s door. If Jairus’ daughter dies, she’ll be blamed because she delayed Jesus.

So, trembling with fear, she falls down in front of him and confesses everything. What will Jesus do to her?

And here’s what he does. He calls her “daughter.” Not stranger, not thief, not “hey, you!” But “daughter.” Like they were related. Like they knew and loved each other. Like she belonged. It’s been 12 years since anyone has been close enough to speak to her like that. And rather than punish her or shame her or condemn her, Jesus commends her! “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” You are not only restored to your community, you are restored to God.

This unnamed woman, rejected by everyone else, is loved and valued by Jesus. All of us here today, all of us who can sometimes go to great lengths to be accepted, are loved and valued by Jesus. We belong here. You belong here. Because here we can touch Jesus’ clothes. Here he listens as we tell him our whole truth. Here he calls us “daughters and sons.” Here we are healed. Here we are valued.

So, daughters. So, sons. You are loved, right here, right now. You are welcomed, right here, right now. You are valued, right here, right now. You are healed of your isolation. You are not only restored to a community that cares about you, you are restored to God. Go in peace, your faith has made you well.

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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Sermon


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