The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s125g09 Sunday 13 28/6/2009
'who touched my clothes?' Mark 5.30
Here we have two healing miracles interlaced, and interlaced deliberately. They both concern women who in patriarchal societies were not especially important, if not essentially unclean. It is not just Luke who reports Jesus' particular interest in women for here in Mark one might notice that the dead girl's mother was permitted to witness the raising of her daughter. And two of the great taboos are involved the taboos of death and sexuality. Each of the supplicants approaches Jesus of their own accord. It is significant that Jesus responds to the request of Jairus - he had no difficulty in reaching out to orthodoxy in their need - as he did to this un-named woman. Jesus had to journey to each miracle, Jesus went out of his way to go to the house of Jairus, and then he had to stop and find out who the woman was who had touched him. Another parallel is that in both cases, Jesus does more than is asked. He doesn't just cure the girl, but raises her to life. The woman is not just cured, her cure is published, probably rather to her chagrin.
I have noted in a past sermon (http://web.me.com/frsparky/iWeb/125g94.htm 15 years ago!) that the healing of this woman with the haemorrhages was a restoration of her sexuality and the parallels should lead us to see that sexuality is life-giving.
Of course sexuality is life-giving. It is life-giving in the sense that it is necessary for procreation, but it is also life-giving in the sense that it is life affirming. It is personally affirming. As I said last week we are all sexually transmitted! It is in intimacy that we are following Jesus by being incarnate in the world rather than apart from it. We are the most human when we are intimate with another.
Again I have noted the parallels between religious devotion and mental illness that separate individuals from other people, where delusions of sacred orthodoxy or grandeur stifle real intimacy.
Jesus reaches across these divides in these two miracles, it is the whole purpose of incarnation. And some of those who profess the most devotion to the incarnation of Jesus actually spend most of their time restricting it to themselves and a few other like-minded individuals. So the real miracle is the incarnation itself, though again denied by the religiously orthodox, those most conspicuously 'christian'.
If Jesus was out for the best publicity, Jesus would have been content to allow the woman to be healed quietly and privately as no doubt the woman herself would have preferred, and simply carried on to raise the little girl to life. But Jesus goes out of his way to notice and respond to this woman, and to say to her: 'your faith has made you well'.
It was a faith in the incarnation, that Jesus could and would reach across the ancient chasms and touch her life, albeit in her own estimation insignificant, unclean, altogether too **human** - reinforced by orthodoxy. It is the same as the mother of the dead girl being mentioned. She could not contribute as an authorised witness to her daughters' raising. She is included to demonstrate that women were important for their own sake, that they are included and loved.
Jesus had to dismiss the messengers from the house of Jairus who thought that Jesus could not cross the chasm between life and death, but cross it he did.
So physical intimacy is a great and God-given blessing for it keeps us human, it keeps us equal.
Of course sexuality can also be a great curse when there is no equality and perhaps the church has been right to insist that it be treated with caution. But if sexual intimacy can be such a life-giving activity, perhaps the church's concern might well be out of self preservation, lest others find that such blessing can come from activities other than reading the bible or receiving the blessed sacrament? One wonders how much sexual intimacy has been lost down the generations as a result of this? And can one wonder why the church is devoid of people these days, when God's greatest gift is being regulated in such a manner?
Just as there are parallels between these two miracles, we need to see that there are parallels between religious power over the very intimacies of the lives of ordinary people and some traditional subordinationist theologies towards women and others in general. The incarnation subverts such power completely and it is of course the fundamental thing that caused such animosity towards Jesus.
Those who were mourning the little girl's death laughed at Jesus when he suggested that she was merely sleeping. They scoffed at the idea of him crossing the chasm between life and death. It reminds me of the words of Jude: ''In the last time there will be scoffers, indulging their own ungodly lusts.' It is these worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, who are causing divisions.' (18,19) So even today there are those who scoff at the idea that women can be ordained, or that gay and lesbian persons can be vessels of the Holy Spirit. They scoff at the idea of the incarnation into real life. The only incarnation is into 'religious' life, where others have to measure up or be eternally excluded. No, the Spirit unites those who are different. One doesn't need the Spirit to unite those who are essentially the same.
This woman had to battle the crowds to get close enough to touch Jesus' cloak. Jesus perceived in the press of the crowds that someone 'touched' his clothes in a way quite different to the others. And I guess this might also have parallels with the church. In our enthusiasm to proclaim Jesus, perhaps all we do is get in the way of others who come for healing. The crowds were mere spectators, happy to go along with the masses to see what would happen.
It is important that we are not mere spectators, part of the crowd. We are called to follow Jesus as individuals, personally to be agents of the incarnation into the intimacies of our own lives, reaching out for his blessing and allowing others to receive the fullness of his blessing also. For this becomes the difference between death and life, between clean and unclean, between continuing debilitating illness and health and wholeness, for ourselves as much as for anyone else.
Gay Catholic theologian Michael B Kelly (and author of 'Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience and Christian Faith') recently spoke on a radio program about Lust: 'I would probably agree .. it is such a powerful energy there can be a dark side to it which can become destructive and can suck us in. I think yes, let's allow it in the list (of the Seven Deadly Sins) with that qualification, but then I would want to add, let's also find a way of talking about Lust which makes it one of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we can have those two together, I'll be happy.' http://www.abc.net.au/rn/spiritofthings/stories/2009/2587196.htm
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