Rev. Dr. Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd, Westworth United Church, June 28, 2015
II Samuel 1:17-19, 23-26; Mark 5:21-43
Have you ever been desperate? Desperate with grief over the death of someone close? Desperate with anxiety over a serious illness? Desperately pained over a family member lost in addictions? Our gospel lesson gives us two stories of very desperate individuals who take very desperate actions.
Jairus was a well-known and well-respected leader in the local synagogue. Everything seemed to going well for him, until his 12 year old daughter suddenly took sick—seriously sick. She was dying, and he was beside himself with grief and desperation. He had heard of this crazy prophet who was purported to be a healer. This healer was also known to ridicule some of the respected religious leaders and tromp on sacred traditions. But Jairus was desperate. He cast aside his pride and did the unthinkable. He went in search of Jesus, and fell at his feet, pleading for his healing touch. A gathering crowd was amazed that their prominent leader would stoop so low, and awaited Jesus’ response. He simply agreed and began to accompany Jairus to his home amidst the growing clamour of the pushing and shoving crowd.
But on the way, Jesus was suddenly side-tracked by someone else desperate for a healing touch. She didn’t think anyone would notice. She didn’t think Jesus would notice. She had been bleeding for twelve years—for as long as Jairus’ daughter had lived. For all of these years she was an outcast, considered unclean, an untouchable. She shouldn’t even have been there, jostled in the crowd, extending an unclean curse to all who pressed upon her. But she was desperate. She had spent all her resources on doctors, but she was in more pain than ever. Living with the pain was horrible. Living with the community’s ostracism was a death sentence. And so, she dared the unthinkable. She had simply had enough and walked in desperation into the crowd, pushing through thou shalt not, caring not whom she cursed with her touch. She thought only of healing touch—her touch on his cloak. Her touch that people winced from—her cursed touch that might be able to bring healing.
Jesus whirled around, “Who touched me?” She was frightened, knowing that she had just cursed a healing prophet. His disciples jeered at him, “You are being jostled by dozens of people and you ask who touched you?” But she knew Jesus knew. In that moment the crowd faded from her senses. She was desperate, she was terrified, and suddenly she was emboldened to give voice to truth. “It was I.” And she told him her story, waiting for the inevitable banishment. Jesus took courage from her, stepped beyond the pale and joined her in the land of banishment, offering a blessing, an assurance of health, to an unclean woman.
It was all over in a few minutes, but those minutes had proven deadly, for they were quickly interrupted by a breathless servant, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t trouble the rabbi any further.” Incensed by this heartless pronouncement, Jesus steadied Jairus with his eyes, and proceeded undeterred to his house. Once again, Jesus stepped beyond the pale into the land of banishment, defiled once again as he reached out to touch another untouchable—a dead body. But Jairus’ daughter was not dead. Jesus’ healing touch lifted her to life.
Out of desperation, two individuals dared to defy the crowds and their morés to find healing. Desperation sometimes gives us the courage and strength to step beyond the pale, to envision what should not be, and to find healing.
Our lectionary pairs these stories of desperation and healing with the story of David, desperate with grief over the death of his soul friend, Jonathan, and Jonathan’s father, Saul. King David composed a song of mourning and instructed the entire nation of Judah to sing it. It may have seemed a bit odd to the nation to have to sing about their king’s love for another man that surpassed the love of women. We don’t know what this meant to David. But this story has given some people courage to step out in desperation from the shadow of shame and find healing in the proclamation of love for their same-sex partner. For others, this story has given them the courage to acknowledge the importance of a deep, life-covenant of friendship with a platonic soul mate. This kind of relationship may be even harder to affirm in today’s sex-crazed world that cannot imagine a deep friendship that does not involve sex. David’s story of love for Jonathan has given courage to many over the centuries to step out in desperation against societal denial and proclaim the truth of the heart. Desperation sometimes drives us to our forbidden senses; to courageous leaps into miracles of transformation. Desperation sometimes dares us to step beyond the crowd; to step out of step into a new awareness, a new reality.
Our country, Canada, exists because some people were not content with the flat world. Some people were driven in desperation from their old country and their old worldview to risk sailing over the edge of the world. Some people dared to question the unquestionable.
The movie, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” connects quantum physics with spirituality. It notes experiments that suggest a particle can be in 2 places at the same time. This leads us to question the unquestionable: Can we only know the past and not the future? Can we only influence the future and not the past? It leads us to question what we have been taught as hard, cold facts. Hard, immovable, material reality is, in fact, neither hard nor immovable. Our thoughts, our emotions, our prayers, our energy can and do shape our reality.
There have been many experiments on meditation and prayer—some of them double-blind studies. They suggest that meditation and prayer can change our physical reality. In one experiment, over 4,000 meditators met in Washington D.C. and predicted that they could reduce the crime statistics by 25% over a 24 hour period of meditation. The police scoffed at this predication, but it was made on the basis of the results of previous studies. So—the police begrudgingly cooperated. And indeed, after a 24 hour period of meditation, they found the crime rate to have been reduced by 25% during this time.
This Tuesday, as we celebrate the life of Mary Toombs, we will hear stories of her gift of healing touch. Healing still happens today.
Our increasingly secular society scoffs at the waste of time that an adherent of any religion spends on prayer and meditation. We should just accept reality as it is and should not try to change it. Yet, stories of our faith from both biblical times and today suggest that we should never be content with the suffering around us. The continuing terrorism in the world tells us that we live in desperate times. I pray that we never grow complacent with terror and suffering. We cannot let terror have the last word. Just as Buddhists believe that lovingkindness meditation eases the suffering in this world, let us, as Christians, dare to believe in the healing power of prayer. Even if only one heart is touched and transformed by the Spirit of compassion, prayer is worth our efforts.
Deepak Chopra suggests that, if we ask questions, the universe is compelled to answer. In our asking, we will be open to the answers within us and around us. We will become more aware of the synchronicity of life in all of its illogical twists. That is miraculous, healing work of the Spirit in our midst.
May we have the courage and the strength to dance beyond the pale of shouldn’ts, to step out of step into the possibility of the impossible, to question the unquestionable, that we may find healing for ourselves and for this wounded world.