[Texts: Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Psalm 30; II Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43]
In the Gospel of Mark, events tend to happen “immediately”– that’s his favorite word– one right after the other, with lots of action and not much elaboration. And sometimes, he does what scholars like to call a “Markan sandwich”: he starts telling a story, then gets sidetracked and tells a whole other story, and then goes back to the original story and finishes it up. I do that too, sometimes, usually when I’ve forgotten to take my ADHD pills. I’ve often wondered if St. Mark might have had a touch of ADHD, too.
So, today, we have one of those Markan sandwiches. Mark begins to tell us a story about a man named Jarius. He tells us that this is an important man: he’s the leader of a synagogue. Anyway, this guy, Jarius, comes up to Jesus, and falls down at his feet, begging Jesus to come heal his daughter, who’s near death. (Luke’s version of the story agrees with Mark’s in that the little girl was almost dead, and in Matthew’s version, she has actually already died by the time her dad makes it to Jesus.) He asks Jesus to come and lay hands on her and heal her, so that she’ll get better.
Then, Mark starts telling a second story. This one is about a woman who’s had a bleeding issue for twelve years– twelve years! Not only is that super gross, and probably also super uncomfortable– can you imagine how anemic she must have been?– it also makes her ritually unclean under Jewish law, and unable to participate in the worship and daily life of her community. It cuts her off from her people. She’s been to every doctor and tried every cure in the book, all to no avail. She touches Jesus’s coat, and as soon as she does, she stops bleeding immediately. Jesus feels this happen and he turns around and asks who touched him. The disciples think it’s a pretty stupid question– “Dude, you’re walking through this giant crowd; of course somebody touched you. Everybody’s bumping into everybody.” But Jesus knows it wasn’t just a bump or a careless elbow– it says he felt some of his healing power go out of him, which I imagine is somewhat like sensing a disturbance in the Force– and he continues to try to figure out what happened. The woman who’s just been healed tells him what happened, and he calls her “daughter”, and tells her to go in peace, because her faith has healed her.
Meanwhile, back on the farm, Mark gets back to his original story. People are telling Jarius that he’s wasting his time and Jesus’s, because his daughter has died. But Jesus tells him not to worry about it. “Just believe,” he says. He went into Jarius’s house with three of his disciples– Peter and the two Zebedee brothers (James and John). By the time they got there, people had already gathered to mourn this little girl’s death. You know how, after somebody dies, once word gets out, people come to the house to see what they can do to help the family? That’s pretty much what was going on. Not only has she already passed away, but there’s been enough time for folks to start showing up with casseroles and scalloped potatoes. In other words, this kid’s been dead at least a few hours, and the scene at the house has gotten pretty noisy.
Jesus enters, and calmly asks why everybody’s got their britches in a twist– “She’s not dead, y’all. She’s fine. She’s just asleep.” Obviously, everyone knows she’s dead, and they laugh at Jesus for saying that. He kicks them all out of the house, other than the immediate family and his disciples, and goes over to the little girl. He holds her hand and calls her “little lamb”, and tells her to get up. She gets up immediately and started walking around. She was fine.
You know, sometimes I’m grateful for St. Mark and his borderline-ADHD tendencies. This week, we got two healing stories for the price of one. I think we needed that. If there was ever a time when we needed to hear about healing, it’s now.
In the wake of the Charleston shooting– that awful act of racial terrorism that was committed against a historic African-American church in my home state two weeks ago– my heart has been heavy. My soul aches for the victims and their families, and my ears ache from the rhetoric that has arisen in the wake of the tragedy. It seems that the conversation has been dominated by shameless racist apologetics on one side of the political spectrum, and on the other, liberal moralizing and white guilt without a lot of white action.
More recently, much of the conversation has come to be centered around the Confederate flag. Should it remain flying at the State House in South Carolina? Should it come down? What does the flag really mean? Is it about heritage or hate? Pride or prejudice?
The fact that this has become about the Confederate flag, and not the lives of nine black martyrs that were lost, really bothers me, to be honest.
Now, let me be clear– I want that tacky flag gone as much as the next person. I think it’s ridiculous to display on public property the flag of a country that declared war on the United States. The flag was a symbol of treason during the Civil War, a symbol of racist violence and divisive hatred during the Civil Rights Movement, and in modern times, it has come to be a symbol of everything trashy, ignorant, embarrassing, and backwards about the South.
But that’s the thing: it’s a symbol. We’ve taken our energy and focus off of racism, off of the systemic devaluing of black lives in this country, and put it onto a symbol. If we can get everyone all up in arms about a piece of fabric, then we can stop talking about the real issue. And the real issue is uncomfortable. The flag is an easy fix– especially now that Governor Haley has agreed that it needs to come down– and we can all feel good about ourselves and pat ourselves on the back once it’s taken down. Great.
Or, instead of obsessing over the outward and visible sign of the problem, we could actually talk about the problem.
But that’s hard.
Racism is not an easy fix. Racism is not a comfortable conversation. Racism is not a piece of fabric that can be taken down, folded up, and put into a box and stored somewhere, or hung up in a museum where my generation can someday take our children and grandchildren to show them this antiquated item from our childhood, a thing as foreign to them as a typewriter, a vinyl record, or a rotary phone would be to me. Racism is not a flag, and while taking down the flag might be a start, it is not the whole solution.
There has also been a lot of talk about laws that could be made. Unlike the United States, most civilized countries already recognize that hate speech is not free speech. More regulation of firearms would be a huge step in the right direction, too. There have been conversations about background checks, mandatory gun safety courses, stricter ID requirements to purchase a gun…and those are all good ideas. If you feel called to action, take action. Use your vote, your time, your talent, and your money to work toward these things if you feel strongly about them. Call up your congressman. Sign a petition. Write an editorial for your local newspaper. Gun regulation and anti-hate-speech laws are things I’d love to see happen. But, like taking down the Confederate flag, those measures aren’t the whole solution either. They will only fix some of the symptoms of racism rather than the problem itself.
The real problem, I’m afraid, isn’t something that can be fixed.
Humans like fix stuff— by nature, we like to fix stuff, and we’re good at it. Mechanics fix cars. Plumbers and electricians fix problems in buildings. There are many professions and trades filled with amazing folks who have a gift for fixing. Physical problems have physical solutions, human solutions– they can be fixed.
But human souls aren’t cars with blown head gaskets or toilets that won’t flush right. And racism is a sickness, a dis-ease of the soul. It is a fracture in the unity of the Body of Christ. It is antithetical to God’s dream of seeing right relationships restored among all God’s children.
Racism can’t be fixed. It must be healed.
Healing is not the work of humans by ourselves— that’s fixing, which works fine for toilets and air conditioners and houses and cars, and can even be pretty effective in getting rid of nasty flags and the passage of good legislation.
But being able to fix stuff doesn’t do us much good when relationships are broken, unity is damaged, lives are lost, and souls are sick. We need healing.
Healing requires us to work side-by-side with God and with all of our brothers and sisters– no matter the color of their skin or who they love or what they believe. Healing requires that we ask hard questions, and aren’t satisfied with easy answers. Healing requires that we acknowledge our own privilege, examine our own consciences, and take ownership of our own complicitness in systems that are unjust.
It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable. To quote The Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, “The future is not a place for the faint-hearted.” The future– the future that God dreams of– is not a place for those unwilling to participate in the work of God, even when it is difficult, uncomfortable, and even painful. That Kingdom work we are called to do is, ultimately, the work of mending broken relationships— between us and God, between us and each other, between us and the whole created order– it’s the work of healing.
Maybe St. Mark was on to something, telling us those two stories at the same time. They might have more in common than you think. Both the woman with the bleeding issue and the man with the dying daughter actively sought Jesus out. One of them was a leader in his community and the other was completely cut off from the community, but their pain and sorrow and longing for wholeness brought them both to the same place. And they both did so in faith. Remember what Jarius said to Jesus? Look at verse twenty-three. “Come and lay your hands on her that she may live.” And then look at verse twenty-eight. What did the woman say? “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” They didn’t say, “I guess it’s worth a shot.” They didn’t say, “Hey, this might work.” They knew in the marrow of their bones that Jesus could– and would– heal them. They believed with all their hearts that the miracle they needed was possible with Christ– and not just possible, but inevitable.
Healing happens when we are willing to partner with God, and submit our will to his. Healing happens when we are willing to be in community with one another– even, and perhaps especially, those we might find distasteful.
And, as we learned from Jarius and the bleeding woman, healing requires a lot of faith and humility and trust. Healing requires hope. But, as my priest once said to me, “Healing always happens, Anna. Always.”
Do we believe that?
We are faced every day with problems that cannot be fixed, problems that must be healed. Do we believe that if we seek God out in faith, humbly, willingly, that God will make that healing possible? We are God’s people, all of us. We are heirs of the resurrection of Christ. But are we bold enough to claim that inheritance for ourselves, and for the whole world?
We must be people of hope, a mighty hope, a hope that casts out fear and prejudice and apathy and laziness. We must be the Easter people whose song is Alleluia, whose story is resurrection. In the words of an old Gospel song that became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement, we must believe that we shall overcome, we shall live in peace, we shall all be free. That’s God’s dream for humanity, and we are all called to help make it a reality.
Deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome, someday.