Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sunday 28 June 2015 - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Theme(s): Healing / Restoration / Giving / Equity between Rich and Poor / Waiting patiently for the Lord

Sentence: Jesus took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" (Mark 5:41)


Gracious God,
grant us the gift of faith
that we may be made whole
through the power of the Holy Spirit
and in the name of Jesus who restores life.

Readings: (related)

Lamentations 3:22-33
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43


Lamentations 3:22-33

Did you know that our English Bible title for this lament for the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple comes from the Greek title in the Septuagint (Threnoi) and not from the Hebrew title ('Ekah') which means 'How' and is drawn from the first line of the first verse, 'How lonely sits the city'?

Some of the most marvellous words in the Bible are presented in this passage. After a catalogue of appalling misfortunes the writer (Jeremiah?) affirms, against context, 'The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end' (22).

Yet the words continue with acknowledgement that the Lord himself is responsible (in some sense) for the situation (long story short: a significant portion of the Old Testament explicitly or implicitly presumes that the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians is punishment for Israel's disobedience): '... when the Lord has imposed it (28) ... For the Lord will not reject forever. Although he causes grief ... (31-2) ... for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone (33).

So the writer's viewpoint is that the steadfast, ever merciful love of the Lord for his people will eventually overcome and bring to an end the cataclysm which has engulfed Israel. 'It is good that one should wait patiently for the salvation of the Lord' (26)

In relation to our gospel reading today, this passage speaks to the haemorrhaging woman, who endured her illness for 12 long years. But, as we see in the comments below, the woman herself stands for Israel yet to be fully restored after the Babylonian destruction, the hope of Lamentations not yet fully realised at the time when Jesus came to inaugurate his kingdom.

Psalm 30

Essentially this psalm expresses the sentiments of the Lamentations' passage. Sometimes our lives are marked by the heartfelt sentiment at the heart of this psalm,

'For his anger is but for a moment; his favour is for a lifetime. / Weeping may linger for the night but joy comes with the morning' (5).

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

From the earliest days the life of the church's ministry and mission required, not to put too fine a point on it, cold, hard cash. But this cash requirement was a subtle matter, and invoked (as here) some profound theological reflection.

The subtle matter is that the collection of funds which Paul discusses here (i.e. 8:1-9:15) is twofold in purpose: first, to bring relief to the Jerusalem church at a time of economic plight through drought; secondly, to underscore the unity of the scattered churches resulting from apostolic mission with the mother church of the mission, the church in Jerusalem. (Shades, in Anglican terms, of parishes showing their unity with the diocesan cathedral ...!).

(As an aside, if perchance you read through the whole of 8:1-9:15 and notice a degree of repetition between the two chapters, it is possible that this is because 9:1 represents the start of a different letter of Paul to the Corinthians, about the same matter as addressed in chapter 8. Note 8:10-11: some kind of delay in completing the collection had taken place).

What about profound theological reflection on 'cold, hard cash'? (Here we will stick to 8:7-15).

1. Paul does not make giving (at least in this instance) 'a command' (8). Rather he offers 'advice' (10). Yet honesty requires us to recognise that Paul pulls out a number of persuasive stops in the rhetorical melody he plays here to play on the emotions of his readers! To give one instance, in verse 8, Paul effectively invites the Corinthians to compete with others to be more generous than them.

2. All Christian giving is anchored, according to Paul, in the 'generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ' (9). When he talks about 'though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich' he is articulating his theology of the cross (see both 1 Corinthians 1 and Philippians 2:5-11). Christ died that we might live.

3. Verses 12-15 answer the implied question, 'How much should we give?' We look in vain for a figure, either in actual cash amount or in terms of percentage of income. 'God loves a cheerful giver' (9:7). Rather Paul describes the general situation: you have abundance, the people we are collecting for have need, so it is 'a question of fair balance between your present abundance and their need' (13-14). To be blunt, there is a commitment to equity in this passage. Your needs x my surplus = both on the same level of wealth. (This should not be a shock, if we recall, say, Acts 2:45; 4:34).

Mark 5:21-43

Why does Mark run two healing stories together, the Healing of Jairus' Daughter (21-24, 35-41) and the Healing of the Woman with the Issue of Blood (25-34)?

Two clues are already given in these titles: both stories are stories of healing (but see further below) and both are stories of women being healed.

We can also note the obvious point that Mark ran these two stories together because they happened in this way. But the less obvious observation we can make is that Mark has a habit in his gospel of 'sandwiching' items together, bread/filling/bread, and this story is one such occasion.

Further subtleties are worth noting.

- the daughter is aged about 12 years (i.e. on the verge of becoming a woman, 42) and the ill older woman has been unwell for 12 years (25). A question to ponder then is whether Mark understands the number '12' as specially significant. Has it something to do with Israel (a nation of 12 tribes)? When Jesus calls her 'Daughter' (34) it is not because he assumes a fatherly role but because he understands her to be a 'Daugher of Israel'. Associated with this address by Jesus we also observe that the young girl is emphasised as Jairus' 'daughter' (23, 35). We will return to this question about Israel in a moment.
- although both women have already been described in terms of 'healing' it could be more accurate to speak of restoration. Jairus' daughter is either dead (so the supporters of Jairus, 35) or comatose (so Jesus, 39) so that when Jesus raises her up (42-43) he is restoring her to life as much as he is healing her of whatever has led Jairus to seek help from Jesus. The unwell woman would, according to Mosaic Law, have been permanently unclean and this permanently confined to the margins of society. When the 'haemorrhage stopped' (29) she could return to full participation in society: her place was restored.
- in both instances the physical touch of Jesus (in two senses of 'of') is important. Jairus is convinced that Jesus must 'Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live' (23). The woman is convinced 'If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well' (28).

If Jesus restores two lives, the number 12 leads us to consider that the two restorations speak also of the larger work of restoration which his mission is involved in: the restoration of Israel itself. The original 'kingdom of God' is the united kingdom of Israel under Saul, David, and Solomon. That kingdom was fractured then destroyed by successive exiles of each of the fractured parts. At the very best it might be said that occasional partial restorations occurred subsequently in the centuries before Jesus came. Now Jesus comes proclaiming a new kingdom of God in a manner such that people think of him as a new Davidic king. But Jesus keeps deflecting that interpretation (including here at v. 43).

In the kingdom of Jesus, faith (34, 36) is the basic requirement of its citizens (not national, racial heritage). The marginalised (e.g. women generally, unclean women in particular) are placed at the centre of the kingdom. The restored Israel Jesus is working for is a well nation of faith-filled people.

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