thinking theology

A Touch of Incarnation

Layers of Challenge and Promise
June 28: The Gospel Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 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.’ So 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 haemorrhages 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 haemorrhage 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.

This pair of entwined anecdotes is beloved both by women and by those who cherish the healing ministry of Jesus. When asked, most of us will immediately respond that these are stories about compassion and miracle. Like all great stories, however, there remains so much more to consider.

First of all, these are stories about invisible people, girl-children and women, disposable people one might say, or even liabilities; women who must be married off or somehow provided for. What is astonishing in all the stories about Jesus, is that he only registers persons, not categories or labels. These are sick and dying people, not children, not female, neither young nor old, just desperate. Jesus’ compassion has its roots in the visceral concept of incarnation. In each person, he sees his own body, his own suffering, his own death. And they see in him, life and health. It is in this exchange that miracles occur.

In the first story, the daughter of Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, is dying. One assumes a gap in the relationship of these two men, one charged with maintaining the status quo, the other a catalyst for change. And yet, there is no mention that this is even a question. For the sake of love, even of a girl-child, and for the sake of love for all who suffer, a healing occurs. Interestingly, the relationship between the two men does not necessarily change at all. There is no condition or price attached to the healing.

The most interesting feature of this story is the curious mention of the girl’s age. What is significant about that? Might it be that she had become of marriageable age and her “illness” might have other social attachments. We notice that Jesus only allows her parents and his disciples in the room. And when he “raises” the child, he calls her “little girl.” He does not see a young woman or a bride; he sees a frightened little girl. He sees her, not as a commodity or a responsibility to be dealt with, but as a person.

There is a lesson here for the disciples too. Although they would dismiss the problem, Jesus teaches them that death is an event, not a state of being. And grief and broken hearts need as much healing as bodies. What does he want them to believe? Right now, I think he wants them to believe in life itself, in the integrity of souls, in the divine power that energizes all life. I think he wants them to recognize the sparkling reality that is truly life, beyond the business of just living.

Again in the story of the older woman with a haemorrhage, Jesus addresses a person without prejudice of gender or other social condition. What was this woman doing on the street anyway? Disease would have been terrifying in a world without antibiotics. All over the world, people have learned once again to be afraid of blood and germs, although in North America we live in relative safety. Nonetheless, people are constantly attempting to sanitize themselves against life, of which illness and death is a part. Jesus does not confront this woman about her selfish behaviour or her ritual contempt for segregation in illness. Instead, he greets her by saying that her confidence in her own choices has made her well. He tells her to go back to her life and be at peace in her experience of her own power. He doesn’t ask her to believe what he believes or to sign up for his programme. The gift is one she has given to herself.

So what do we need to believe and consider? First of all, I think we need to know that even as each draws our last breath, Jesus will be there with us, inviting us into new life. We need to understand that healing a body is only the surface. Healing the human conditions of discrimination and fear, concealment of self and shame: these are the true disease. Women represent in our bodies the generative aspect of the divine. We need to see women and men with the eyes of Jesus so that no woman may disappear unremarked, unsought, no woman-child may be kidnapped or abused without our actions to save and restore. When all women are safe, then men will also be safe and the world will move from its fixation on death to new life, to transformation. Jesus’ concern points out that incarnation — creation — is worthy. It is the Creator gazing upon the divine body within creation that makes everything that lives holy, pulsing with life in abundance, whether we recognize it or not.

Another message we might derive from this passage is similar. All that we need for healing is within ourselves. We can trust ourselves to be agents of wholeness and peace. To look upon Jesus, to touch even the hem of the divine, is to recognize that potential within us. There is no need for any prayer except that of gratitude for a world abounding with possibility, for the divine rising to the surface in all that lives, for our own consciousness that yearns for completion with the Holy One. Instead of besieging God for intervention, maybe we need to pray in confidence and trust that God is already at work within. To ask for anything except insight is to spurn the gifts given freely and constantly. When we learn to grow from begging children to grateful maturity, perhaps we will be overcome with beauty and grace.

The wounds in Jesus’ body do not prevent him from reaching out to those who loved him. The wounds in our bodies, our world, do not have to mean the end of love. The apostle Thomas had to touch the wounds to believe in life. Sickness, and even death, are not to be feared. Alienation and isolation make us forget the truth of our lives. Christians are required to deal with physicality. Resurrection is physical. Transformation is observable. Love and touching are inextricably bound together. All of life is bound together, the earth and its creatures, the Spirit of Holiness, the Creativity that is God for us, and the Beloved who in his body holds together heaven, that is our dream for the earth, and the truth of incarnation.

Sweet Pea Valley
by Trudy Lebans

my valley
and I’ll show you
my sweet peas
or rather their potential…
the seed has yet
to be planted
able to tunnel
this hard
red soil.

What you mistake for passion-
sun warmth-
is only reflected
and the liquids that pour
in torrents
are not waters but acid too strong
for the fragrant
sweet pea

But one day there will come
a gardener
with black hands
and blind blue eyes
who will not see
this desert
creating an oasis
of cool rains
and soft soil
at the caress
of a hand

Comments on: "A Touch of Incarnation" (1)

  1. Lianne Eriksson said:

    Your insightfulness and wisdom are certainly gifts from God. Your answering the call to share, to teach and inspire and even confound with a challenge to new thinking – these are most certainly a blessing. And I am most grateful!

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