A Reflection on the Gospel for
June 28, 2015,
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
by David Somerville
Evangelist, Charles Hembree, once was asked, How can I really know God? His answer was simple. We must “live by [the new] law of Christ.
O. K. That was a good answer — for Hembree. So what kind of answer should be ours? Ponder that while taking another look at next Sunday’s gospel, Mark 5:21-43.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” He went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The scene is tense. The father of a very sick twelve year-old is desperate. He is also a prominent member of the local neighborhood. Jairus is the synagogue leader, and he asks Jesus, an unaccredited, itinerant preacher, to bring about his daughter’s recovery from a life-threatening illness. And then, while Jairus hurries this preacher to his daughter’s bedside, he is interrupted. Jesus stops for someone else who needed his healing as much as Jairus’ daughter. So Jesus stops and heals an adult woman with a hemorrhage that had been with her for the same length of time as the child’s age — twelve years.
As far as Jairus’ daughter is concerned, twelve years is significant. This was the year when the girl’s young body would begin to function as a woman’s with her first menstrual period, which to Jairus, would be a welcome harbinger telling that his daughter’s womanhood was soon to arrive; this is joyful news for any respectable Jewish father. The daughter would be fertile, eligible to marry, and have children of her own. But Jairus’ hopes for his future with a growing family was on the brink of shattering completely. So in desperation he sought the services of this man from Nazareth, a carpenter, on the waterfront, whom his fellow colleagues in synagogue leadership had already denounced.
To begin a search for a relevant meaning of what this gospel portion means for us here in the southeastern United States at the beginning of this particular summer, I start by asking an unlikely question: Who really invented the telescope? It was not Galileo. He was the first to point a telescope toward the night sky.
The development of the telescope was the product of several serendipitous events by different people several years before Galileo. One of the events involved a couple of children hanging around the shop of a seventeenth century Dutch lens grinder, a Hans Lippershey, maker of primitive eye glasses —some for people who were near-sighted and others for the far-sighted. The grinder, had a collection of lenses – concave ones for the nearsighted who could see well enough over a distance, and convex lenses for people with the opposite problem. The kids were playing with some of the lenses on Lippershey’s workbench. One of them picked up two of the lenses, one of each type, and looked through them both at the same time. The child was fascinated by how a speck on the horizon jumped forward. It was a weathervane on a distant spire, in the shape of a rooster! The kids showed this to the grinder. He was intrigued and amused. He then put the lenses into a tube. There is no evidence that Lippershay, when he had done this, had any idea how useful this improvised toy would become. Those discoveries would come later.
The Gospel about Jairus’ daughter and the bleeding woman, is like one lens of a pair being held up to the eye first, and a second lens being held up immediately thereafter. These are not glass lenses for the literal eyes in our faces, but the inner eye of the heart. The first lens is drawn from the canon of scripture; but the second is something else. it is a situation drawn from our contemporary world. That lens could be of anything, but the best materials are like sharp stones that stub our toes along the path of life, troubling our hearts, making us both to bleed, and then to cry in aguish, Why this? It was such a nice walk! Needless to say the media is full of these stony events in our path through life. They are upsetting; they make us look for someone to blame for their presence as they are a cause for experiences of sorrow and anxiety that seem to be meaningless, with no potential to add goodness to the world.
I believe that Christians in ministry and those especially who are called to teach and preach have a mandate to do something like what the kids in the lens grinder’s shop did — Pick up these sharp pieces, let the lens grinder polish them off and then hold them up with scripture to make a distant truth jump forward — but in this case not something on a spire near the horizon, but something further out — in the mind of God, out of the closer-to-self view of the unaided eye. But through the two lenses held up, God enables us to see a glimpse of how God hopes we will respond to an act of sinful evil. If successful, Christian ministry will enable the eyes of the heart and spirit to see things far beyond the limits of their carnal nature.
The bloody martyrdom of nine African American souls in Charleston, South Carolina about twelve days ago was the cause of hemorrhaging in the hearts of compassionate people all over the world. It will continue for years after these first few days. So what specifically do the two lenses make us see? That minority groups of any type are still too often forced to shed their life-blood, the gift of God.
The miracle of God is that there is a possibility that in the bleeding process, the martyrs’ blood will fertilize the growth of a new consciousness not only on the grounds of Mother Emmanuel Church in Charleston, but far beyond. The more our consciousness is elevated by the hemorrhaging that is pouring now, the more compassionate we also will become as improved bearers of God’s image. I believe that as the days roll on from the seventeenth of June, we will find an answer to the simple question asked of Evangelist Charles Hembree, who put the answer as well as anybody I know. We must “live by [the new] law of Christ, [the law of love, and then]” empowered by the blood of martyrs “turn a giant floodlight of hope into our valleys of trouble”.
The survivors at Mother Emmanuel will continue to abide by the law of Christ, and as they do so, their floodlight of hope will become an essential ingredient in a new American recipe. It is a recipe that we have seen used many times before. We, the Body of Christ already know that good is the leaven of martyr’s blood. Without it there could be no continuing of the history of our salvation for future generations. We, who are in Christ, will continue to bleed in compassion. That is because we are alive and conscious. Sometimes that hurts. But thanks be to God!
Note to the reader: I use an excellent source without which, I could not do this series with some accurate sources of information:
- SermonWriter – Resources for Lectionary Preaching http://www.sermonwriter.com/