Saturday, July 01, 2006

Pentecost 4 - Year B

Friday evening, I stopped in at the church to quickly check my messages before I went home for supper. But one message stopped me dead. I received an email from a woman I knew in Nova Scotia, who likes to send out those cutsey-poo, saccharine sweet messages about guardian angels helping people find parking spots in crowded shopping malls, or pictures of babies with hands clasped in prayer, or stories too syrupy even for Chicken Soup for the Soul, but not, apparently for friends. If you have email, you know what I’m talking about.

But I decided to open her message anyway. And this was no sugary sweet message or story, but a horrific picture. A picture I’d seen before and had posted it on my weblog with a bit of commentary. I know others have seen it to.

In the picture, a little famine stricken child – a child younger than Naomi – was crawling towards a UN food camp located a kilometre away. Meanwhile, a vulture stood patiently in the background, waiting for the child to die so it can eat her.

I was going to pass out a copy of the picture to you folks, but I thought it might be too disturbing for some, and maybe even a little obscene. It’s a terrible picture that speaks a terrible truth; that children still die horrible, preventable deaths, in a world of abundance.

I don’t know about you, but ever since I became a dad, almost five years ago, I’ve become more sensitive to children’s suffering. When you become a parent, you become a parent to all children everywhere. Whenever Sophie or Naomi gets a fever, I worry. When I saw that picture, I almost threw up.

So, I think I know why Jesus was like a man on a mission when he heard a little girl from the local synagogue was sick and dying at home. And why he dropped everything and ran to find her.

Along the way, a woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years – 12 years! – grabs his cloak, hoping, believing, praying, that she could be healed without any attention being drawn to her. After all, if anyone knew her condition, she could get in a lot of trouble. She wasn’t supposed to be in public, let alone touch any one. The bible was crystal clear. Women with her condition were “unclean.” Those she touched were then “unclean.” And if she was caught making others unclean, there would be consequences. Terrible consequences. The book of Leviticus was unambiguous.

So, she reached through the crowd and touched his cloak. Good News: she’s healed. Bad news: Jesus stopped cold. She knew that he knew that she touched him. Now, she was in big, BIG trouble.

“WHO. TOUCHED. ME!?” Jesus roars.

Silence. All eyes descended on this newly healed, terrified woman, cowering at Jesus’ feet.

She hoped that her death would be quick and painless. But they would probably bury her to the waist, and then throw rocks at her until she was dead. Her fear gripped her so hard she could barely breathe.

Here was a great teacher who knew the bible inside and out, so he knew that she broke God’s law.

But instead, he looked in her eyes, and with gentle love and calm compassion said, “Daughter, you faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

He knew who she was and what she had done. So did everyone else. Some grumbled about how he completely disregarded clear biblical teaching. But others saw his compassion and love was really what bible teaching was all about. Still others saw that in her willingness to claim God’s love for herself, she taught them all a bigger vision of God’s justice and how God wants to gather all people. There were two teachers there.

Meanwhile, back at the house, the news was not good. This was every parent’s worst nightmare. The child was dead.

“Thank you, Jesus, but your services are no longer required.”

“She’s not dead, she’s just sleeping,” Jesus says.

Some preachers just don’t know when to shut up, do they?

“At least let me see the girl,” Jesus says.

Taking with him her parents and his inner-circle, Jesus took her hand and said, “Talitha cum,” or “Little girl, get up.”

Her eyes opened, and she got up out of bed.

It’s a wonderful story, I think. It says that people were amazed by his ability to heal and raise the dead. To anyone’s eyes, these were deeds of tremendous power.

But to God’s eyes, these were acts of love, not all that different from the dad asking Jesus’ help or the woman grabbing Jesus’ cloak. Jesus talked about faith being the great healer. But I wonder if faith is less about strong belief and more an act of desperation.

The dad hunted the city looking for Jesus and the woman fought her way through the crowd, their faith was the result of being at the end of their ropes, of wanting something – anything – to happen. There was nothing else they could do. Jesus saw their hurt, and he responded with love.

That is why we are going to Mexico, to open our eyes to see hurt, to love people for who they are and not just as objects – “the poor” – we can help. We want to see the world more broadly, to see how others live, to be more sensitive to people’s suffering and to experience their joys. To reflect upon how Jesus asks us to respond to hurting people. To say to with Jesus to all who suffer “Talitha Cum” - get up and walk.

The photographer who took the picture of the starving child walked away; he received his Pulitzer Prize, only to commit suicide a few months later, collapsing under the weight of his guilt. Instead of us walking away, Jesus is asking us to walk TOWARD those who suffer, so that we can be his healing agents in a fractured and hurting world, and maybe in return, be healed ourselves. Healed of diseases that we might not even know we have; diseases of indifference, diseases of prejudice, diseases of “affluenza” as one writer puts it, the disease of wanting stuff more than loving people. Maybe we’ll find we can teach folks something, but my guess is we’ll realize that there’s so much we need to be taught ourselves.

We’re going south to see and to observe, to listen and to discover, to ask questions, to experience a life quite different from our own and to be transformed. And we will come back maybe with more questions, and more aware of peoples’ struggles in our own families and communities.

So I ask you, people of Good Shepherd, to pray for us, that God will open our hearts, will soften us towards people’s struggles, to act contrary to indifference. I ask you to ask God to bless the people we encounter, and to help us explore and live God’s justice as we build new relationships.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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