June 27

The Audacity of the Desperate

By Marsh Chapel

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Mark 5:2143

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Two women.  One is a recognized adult, able to consult with professionals and spend money on herself.  One, at the age of 12, is just entering adulthood.  As happens so often in the Bible, we do not know either of their names.  One is defined by her illness – she is the woman with twelve years of hemorrhages.  The other is defined by her relationship with her father – she is Jairus’s daughter, child of one of the leaders of the synagogue.  She is further defined by the description of “little daughter” by her father and “little girl” by Jesus, even though in her culture she is now considered old enough to be married.  Finally, she is defined by the fact that she is dying from an unspecified condition; and indeed, she becomes further defined as “dead” during the space of this story.

These definitions carry a lot of weight.  Because she suffers from a flow of blood, aside from the debilitation, the challenges of blood flowing outside the body, and the increasing depletion of her resources and her hope, the older woman is ritually and thus socially unclean. And not just she herself is unclean, but anything she wears, anything or anyone she touches is made by her to be unclean.  This state of religious and social isolation has lasted for her for as long as the younger woman has been alive.  As for the younger woman, we have no idea of who she herself is, or what causes her condition, or how long she has been dying.  We only know that she is at the point of death, that her father and even Jesus do not see her as having moved beyond being “little”, and that she really does die.

Now this is a healing story, and both of these women are healed.  Miraculously so.  And, you may remember our explorations of other healing stories through the work of Sharon V. Betcher, theologian and disability activist.  She notes that the point of the stories of Jesus’ healing is not just the healings themselves.  The point is even more so the point of Jesus’ upending of the political and social realities of the time.   This upending comes in his preaching of the good news of the Kingdom of God having come near, and is revealed through Jesus’ own ministry, teaching, life, death, and resurrection.  Add to this that Mark is often referred to as the gospel of conflict.  Jesus encounters conflict with his own family, his disciples, the religious authorities, and demons.  Finally, there are themes particular to Mark that are very present in this story.  More than healing is going on here.

At the beginning of this story, both these women are in desperate straits.  The woman with the flow of blood is also bleeding money and is only getting worse on both counts.  The younger woman is dying and then is dead.  And this is where the audacity of the desperate comes into play.  When there seems to be no hope, desperate people will go outside their circumstances, outside propriety, even outside themselves.  They will go after what they recognize as new possibility and new life, they will go after what they really want.  The word “audacity” comes from the Latin word for “bold”.  The dictionary definitions are many, and almost seem to take sides: “Intrepid boldness”.  “Willingness to take bold risks”.  “Disregard for conventional thought, behavior or propriety”.  “Rude, disrespectful, impudent” behavior.”  It is not clear that the cultivation of audacity is a good thing.  But, when one is desperate, one may not care.

Certainly the woman with the flow of blood does not.  She, a woman, ritually and socially unclean, has heard of Jesus.  On the basis of this hearsay she pushes through a large and pressing crowd to waylay him on his way to somewhere else. She sneaks up behind him, and even though it’s only his cloak, she touches this man, a total stranger, just because.  Even after all the experts had worked on her to no avail and she was only getting worse, she touches Jesus’ cloak just because she knows that this will make her well.  And instead of lightning bolts, or people pointing fingers and yelling “rude” “disrespectful” “impudent”, instead of all this, immediately the flow of blood stops, and she feels in her body that she is healed of her disease.

“Immediately” is a big word in Mark.  It does not just indicate that something occurs quickly.   Immediately also marks a revelatory event that breaks into human experience with the new life of the Kingdom of God.  So this story does not stop with the woman’s healing.  Instead, Jesus immediately realizes that something revelatory has in fact happened.  He is aware that power has gone from him to another, and he starts looking around for whom this person might be.  Now the woman knows what has happened to her, knows that Jesus is looking for her.  So with honesty as well as fear and trembling, she confesses the truth of her audacity.  And Jesus calls her “Daughter” – he reinstates and recognizes her within her faith and her community as a Daughter of Abraham.  He commends her audacious faith, and blesses her with peace toward the enjoyment of her restored health.  She goes on her way, whole again with life and hope.  The odd thing is that the crowd, for all its pressing, does not seem to realize that anything has happened. And the disciples even question that anything has happened at all.

This all occurs as an interruption, while Jesus is on his way to someone else.  And even while he’s speaking to the healed woman, people come from Jairus’ house to tell Jairus that his daughter is dead, and that he, Jairus, should not bother “the teacher” any longer.  Jesus tells Jairus to not be afraid, and goes to his house anyway.  He dismisses everyone else except Peter, James, John, the child’s mother, and Jairus, who is now named “the child’s father” instead of “the leader of the synagogue”.  Jesus goes into the young woman’s room, takes her by the hand, and tells her, “Little girl, get up!”  And immediately the young woman gets up, begins to walk about, and soon will be eating something, restored to her family and her health.

Now we may wonder where the audacity is on the part of this young woman.  We do not know anything about her, or about what her affliction is, before she gets up, and we know nothing of her after she gets up from death except that she can walk and soon will regain more strength and health as she nourishes herself.  There is only one thing that she actually does in response to Jesus’ call.  Immediately, she gets up.  This is the revelatory event, that she gets up, that she answers Jesus’ call and comes back from death to life.

One of my mentors used to say that if the meaning of an event eludes us as a biblical event, we may understand it better if we relate it to events in our present day.  Now to do this with this event brings up some realities that may be uncomfortable about some of the manifestations of suffering and desperation.  So this is a trigger warning, so that if you want to you can walk around, get some water, or just skip this part.  Because we will never know about Jairus’ daughter, whether she died from a disease or an injury or what, and so it’s useless to speculate.  We will never know her reasons for getting up in response to Jesus’ call to return to life.  But Jesus says, for his own reasons that we also do not know, that she is asleep.  And if we do look to young people of our time who are moving into adulthood through the lens of that metaphor of sleep, we know that increasing numbers of them are experiencing clinical levels of enervating depression and anxiety.  There are real issues with alcoholism and other forms of numbing out as attempts to avoid dealing with the overwhelm of the world’s challenges.  Perhaps most significant is that the choices of death over life for this age group are at an all-time high.  The audacity of Jairus’ daughter, who has died, is that she returns to life, she gets back up.  And she gets back up in spite of the people who tell her father that she’s dead and he shouldn’t bother Jesus anymore, in spite of the people in her home who are not just grieving with her parents but are making a commotion of themselves, in spite of the people who laugh at Jesus as if he’s only a teacher who has gotten his facts ridiculously wrong, in spite of the people who seem just fine with her being dead and almost seem to want her to stay that way, the way they tell Jairus not to bother Jesus anymore and the way they ridicule what Jesus tells them is going on. Instead, the young woman listens and responds to Jesus’ invitation to come back to life.  She comes back for her own reasons, not her parents’ reasons, and not for the reasons of the people around her.  For her own reasons, that we will never know, she immediately gets up from death and walks around into new possibilities and new hope.

Two women.  Two revelatory events.  But even before the events, the two women already know who Jesus is and what his work reveals.  They respond to Jesus as even his disciples do not, as even the religious people around Jairus do not.  They are bold, they take risks, because they recognize that Jesus himself is the Good News of the Kingdom of God and he is that for them.  The secret that Jesus insists on is already out of the bag, and increasingly so as Mark’s gospel moves on.  The stories of these two women are not just healing stories, they are resurrection stories.  They prefigure Jesus’ own story, in which suffering serves as the catalyst for the audacity of the revelation of God’s presence and power at work in the world toward resurrection and hope. The conflicts in Mark are because his family, his disciples, and the religious authorities do not recognize Jesus for who he is or understand his work for what it does.  In Mark’s gospel, only the demons and the desperate recognize Jesus for who he is and what his work reveals:  the demons because they actively oppose his work and are terrified of what it will mean for them; the desperate because their suffering has become so great that it acts as a catalyst for  them to go outside of their circumstances, outside of propriety, even outside of themselves, a catalyst to take the intrepid, bold risk that what they recognize in Jesus is the way to a different circumstance of life and new possibilities.  The stories of these two women invite us this morning to learn from our own suffering – and Jesus knows we have had enough of it over the last year.  Because when we learn from our suffering and allow it to act as a catalyst for us to take intrepid, bold risks in faith, we can heal from our wounds and dis-eases, we can get up and meet our challenges, we can go for the life that we really want.  And we can receive God’s acceptance of our desperation, and we can receive God’s desire and power to help.

Now, in addition to the two women, there is another person is these stories.  This person is named – his name is Jairus.  He is an important man in his community, a leader both religiously and socially.  He is also a father, and it is in his love for his daughter that he discovers the audacity of the desperate.  His daughter – his “little daughter”, even though she is moving into adulthood – she is dying.  As far as we know, Jairus himself is healthy and content with his life for the most part.  Here his suffering lies in the fact that with all his importance, with all his leadership, he cannot stop his daughter’s death.  So for his daughter’s sake, he goes outside of his circumstances, outside of propriety, outside of himself.  He  takes the audacious, utterly improper risk for a man in his position.   He begs in public for his daughter’s life at the feet of an itinerant preacher who is already in trouble with the religious authorities.  His daughter is unable to come to Jesus herself, well, he will bring Jesus to her.  Because Jairus also recognizes Jesus for who he is and understands his work for what it does as the revelation of the power of God at work in the world toward the Kingdom of God.

And in Mark’s gospel, Jairus is not alone in his audacity of the desperate on behalf of someone else.  The others are part of the crowds who bring their sick and their children, and those possessed by demons both real and metaphorical, and a deaf person and a blind person, they bring them out to Jesus, from their homes and cities.  They chop a hole in someone’s roof to let their paralyzed friend down to Jesus inside when the crowd at the door would not let them through.  As a woman of another faith and nationality they argue with Jesus when he refuses to heal their daughter, and help him to change his mind and heal her anyway.  They love another person enough, are desperate about another person enough, that they will take the audacious risks to use their resources on behalf of these for whom they are desperate, to bring them to Jesus, and to ask, even to beg, for Jesus’ help on their behalf.  They too recognize Jesus for who he is and what his work does, and they help their loved ones to make their own decisions and take their own audacious risks at Jesus’ invitation.  In love and faith they find the audacity of the desperate to become allies, points of connection, and resources for those who at the moment do not have them or do not have enough of them.  Jairus’ story and the stories of these others invite us to consider:  what or who suffers enough, what or who we might love enough or come to learn to love enough, what or who for the sake of justice we might will ourselves to love enough in their suffering, that we might find the audacity of the desperate on their behalf.   That we might take the risks of becoming allies, points of connection, and resources for those who at the moment do not have them or enough of them, so that the power of God at work in the world for them might further be revealed, and they might expand their own decisions and their own audacious risk-taking at Jesus’ invitation.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this scripture comes to us in June.  June is a very full month.  It is Pride month for LGBTQIA+ folks.  Juneteenth is this year a national holiday.  And June contains Father’s Day, a complex commemoration of a complex and still-evolving identity.  But before the Month and the Holiday and the Commemoration, there were people, many of whom were people of faith, who found the audacity of the desperate.  They learned from their suffering, so that it became a catalyst for them to go outside their circumstances to take risks with intrepid boldness toward a new way of life in wholeness and freedom.  Those who saw their suffering, and became desperate on their behalf in love and justice, became allies, points of connections, and resources to support them and help expand the possibilities in their risk-taking and decision-making.  While there is still a long way to go, many people, like the two women in their time, have been healed into new life and hope through these movements toward wholeness and freedom, and their stories continue to this day to inspire audacious risks and to support hope that change is possible.

The audacity of the desperate is both a challenge and a gift.  A challenge, because we have to be desperate to find it, and then be desperate enough to allow our suffering to work as a catalyst for us to take audacious, risky action toward changing our situation with God’s help.  And the audacity of the desperate is a gift, because when we find it, for ourselves or on behalf of others, the audacious risks we take in faith will reveal God’s power at work in the world for us and for all those we love, toward our healing and the new life of possibility and connection that we most desire.  Thanks be to God for the audacity of the desperate.

-The Rev. Dr. Victoria Hart Gaskell, Minister for Visitation

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