The Jewish synagogue during Jesus’ time had a zero tolerance policy regarding women women who were menstruating. Such women were considered unclean, and anyone who touched them would also become unclean, unholy. Unclean people were not allowed to join the community in the synagogue for worship; they were considered unfit to come into God’s holy presence. Under normal circumstances, a woman could just take a ritual purification bath once a month then rejoin the community. But, if you bleed without ever stopping, there is no way to get clean.
So, while this is a story about a serious physical illness that has persisted for 12 years and left this unnamed woman bone tired, and penniless, with everyone apparently knowing her business, and leaving her in a place of shame, the deeper story is about her exclusion and isolation. The deeper story is about a religious community and system that has become unwell in an effort to preserve its own identity and well-being within the larger society. This is the great irony. In the interest of self-preservation, the synagogue leaders with their rules have excluded this poor, ailing woman at the point of her deepest need for compassion and, in so doing, they have lost the very heart of their religious identity as people called to love God and to love their neighbors as they love themselves. The synagogue has become unwell.
It was impossible for me not to see parallels between this gospel story and the stories of separated immigrant children and parents as a result of the Administration’s zero tolerance policy on immigration. These are both stories of lawful exclusions that have caused chaos and suffering. The President has signed an order stopping further separations. And a federal judge has ordered that all children be re-united with their parents within 15-30 days, depending on their age. This is all good, but the reality is that the original policy and practice have created tremendous suffering for thousands of parents and children who are in desperate need of care and compassion. The decision to forcibly take nursing babies and traumatized children away from their terrified parents has created a public outcry against such cruel and inhumane actions by a nation whose Statue of Liberty reads: “give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….” [so much to say…]
We, the privileged white majority in this country, have done it before, often in the name of Christianity. We tore Native American children away from their parents in order to civilize them; we sold African American children as slaves breaking up families. We have engaged in practices of intimidation and used power to keep black and brown people in their place. And the government’s current hard line on border crossings, it’s “America first” policy, it’s protectionism and exclusionary practices have provided a stark reminder that as a nation, we are not well. There is lots and lots that I love about these United States, and of course we must have immigration laws and policies, but the truth is, our government went too far this time. All is not well. And the Church cannot be silent.
On Wednesday night, at our monthly healing service, we remembered these immigrant parents and children—we sang and prayed, sat in silence, expressed our feelings, wrote messages to them, and lit candles outside against the darkness. Yesterday some of us from the congregation participated in a rally at which immigrant children and adults, leaders of organizations fighting for immigrant rights, and clergy from multiple faith traditions spoke, and engaged a very hot march from city hall to Washington School. These are acts of solidarity with those who are suffering. We see. We hear. We will stand with these neighbors. We are calling our government to recognize the humanity of and respond with compassion to thousands who long to breathe free and live in safety and make a better life for themselves and their children.
There was a man, named Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, an important man, a privileged person, who came openly and fell at the fell of Jesus, and begged him repeatedly to come and touch his gravely ill 12-year-old daughter so that she would be made well. So Jesus and the pressing crowd head off to Jairus’ house. In that crowd is the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, declared unclean and excluded from the synagogue. In shame and fear, she moved in secret through that crowd, practically crawling on her hands and knees, trying not to be seen, trying not to get caught crossing the religious boundary, so that she could just touch Jesus’ clothes and be healed. She does it. She is healed in her body. And she thinks she has gotten away with it. But Jesus feels the healing power go out from himself and stops to find out who touched him.
The woman is caught boundary crossing and Jesus’, who should be hurrying ahead to heal Jairus’ daughter, stops to see her and hear her and bless her. And this is moment is potentially the hugest healing moment in this whole story. Because Jairus, the important, privileged synagogue leader who makes the rules about who is in and who is out, this man who polices the religious borders, is standing there, touching elbows with Jesus while Jesus gives his full attention to this desperate women whose need and whose faith have made her brave. Jairus sees her and hears of her physical suffering, the pain of her exclusion, and the joy of her physical healing.
This is the moment. The encounter between this man with piles of power and privilege and this woman whose only power is courageous faith, is a moment of reckoning. A moment that could open Jairus’ eyes and heart and mind. Is Jairus changed by this encounter? His name means “enlightened one.” Is he enlightened? Does he recognize the connection between this woman’s suffering and the un=wellness of the religious system he administers. Will he question the policies and practices that have excluded this one whom Jesus heals, blesses, and calls “daughter?” We do not know.
But we do know that this Jewish Rabbi named Jesus walked in truth and love, making himself available to every body; declaring the arrival of God’s wide open kingdom that encompasses all peoples and nations. It is a realm without borders in which no one is a foreigner, and no one is ever illegal. A realm in which compassion, generous caring, and sharing are the core practices. A commonwealth where the last become the first; where all separations end; where the hungry are filled with good things; where enemies become friends; where diseased, bleeding bodies are healed, and the dead are raised to new life. A commonwealth where all people are gathered into one new humanity to live as one body.
Today again this Jewish Rabbi named Jesus invites us to come to this table and take into our bodies his own body, life, and Spirit. So that we might live and act fearlessly, nourished by his perfect faith, hope, and love. And now unto him who by the power of the Spirit at work in us is able to do far more abundantly than we could ever ask or imagine…