Pentecost 5, Year B – Three people very vulnerable

Title:Pentecost 5, Year B – Three people very vulnerable

 Pentecost 5, Year B (full size gallery)

Today’s readings encourage us to remember God’s goodness and act toward others with the same unflinching generosity and compassion, particuarly in the area of sickness and healing. Lamentations reminds those who are suffering that God’s goodness will surely come. Paul encourages the Corinthians to offer their surplus of wealth to other communities who are in need. In the gospel, Jesus brings the daughter of Jairus, a synagogue official, back to life in anticipation of his own resurrection.

Though Solomon’s name never appears in this book, tradition attributes the Book of Wisdom to him, in part based on the prayer for wisdom in chapter 9 (1 Kings 3:5-14). It is a reflection of Jewish wisdom based on Israel’s experiences of God’s saving work in its history.

Today’s verses explain God’s nature in view of the presence of death in creation. Death does not please God. God’s creation is meant to be “wholesome”. Human beings, made in the likeness of God, were created for “incorruption,” but sin “summoned death” (1:16). Immortality, once intended for all, is now reserved for those who continue in a right relationship with God, the source of life and well-being.

In 587 BCE the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, destroyed the temple and led the Jewish leaders into a fifty year exile. This traumatic event was the most desolate time for the Jewish people. Their suffering was bad enough, but their spiritual anguish was unbearable. Every way that their theological struggle took them was unacceptable: was God no longer interested in their welfare, not powerful enough to stand against the invading powers, or, worst of all, not even present in the temple?

From the depths of their suffering, the author of the book of Lamentations gives vent to his feelings of anguish in five carefully constructed laments. The first four poems are acrostics, each verse beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. As we might say, these verses chart the gamut of pain “from A to Z.”

But a lament is not just an outpouring of pain. It moves from the pain to the belief that God is present even in the greatest suffering. This trust is always coupled with the hope that this pain will not last forever. The mercy and compassion (“steadfast love”) that characterize God’s covenant relationship will eventually be manifest.

"Someone in the crowd around Jesus went and proclaimed God’s faithfulness, visible in all that Jesus was doing. Remember –the desperate woman who was determined to touch Jesus, sure that she would be healed, decided to take this rather daring action because she had heard about Jesus.

"What some ordinary person had told her about Jesus convinced her that God’s faithfulness to her through Jesus would indeed heal her, and she was not disappointed.Now it’s our turn.

The thanksgiving for healing in the Psalm was probably composed and sung in fulfillment of a vow. Both sickness and health are regarded as coming from the Lord—illness as a probable sign of sin while restoration to health would show innocence. Sickness brings the psalmist closer to the realm of Sheol, the grave, from which the Lord rescues him.

At the meeting of the elders in Jerusalem that dealt with the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile churches of Christians, Paul had agreed to “remember the poor” (Galatians 2:10). The Jerusalem community, persecuted by the Jewish leaders and suffering from the effects of sustained food shortages in Judea (Acts 11:27-30), was itself in particular need of help. Paul was diligent in encouraging the communities he had founded to donate for its relief (1 Corinthians 16:1-4).

This provided a way of maintaining fellowship with the Jewish branch of the Church, with which relations were sometimes strained. In Paul’s eyes, the Gentile churches were already indebted to the Jewish church for the gift of the gospel (Romans 15:27). He cites the example of the Macedonian churches in order to incite the Corinthians to similar efforts.

Theologically speaking, Christians have already given themselves to the Lord in response to God’s love shown in Christ. Their response to one another is to be patterned on Christ’s own self-emptying in the incarnation (Philippians 2:6-11). Gratitude for the riches Christ has given motivates true generosity to one’s neighbor. Imitating Christ’s generosity is the ideal to strive for.

The Gospel is the story of Jairus appeal for his daughter followed along with the story of the hemorraging lady. Then the story of Jairus daughter is picked up again.

Jairus, “one of the leaders of the synagogue,” (v. 22) comes to entreat Jesus on behalf of his daughter. The terms used throughout the story may be understood on several levels: Jairus’s plea that Jesus touch his daughter, “that she may be made well, and live” may be interpreted also that she may be saved and have (eternal) life.

For the first time in Mark’s gospel, a respectable member of society “falls at Jesus’ feet.” Whatever mixture of motives he might have, the ruler of the synagogue also has some faith that Jesus can help his dying child. Jesus recognizes the quantum of faith in Jairus and responds to it. Our lord is quick to respond to any budding faith, no matter how it is mixed with self-serving interests.

The faith Jesus asks of Jairus can mediate grace to his daughter. It represents the faith of the community on behalf of the individual. Jairus is challenged (v. 36) to respond where the disciples have failed (4:40).

David Lose provides his own interpretation of the Gospel this week:

"Central to this parable is the vulnerability of the characters and, even more, Jesus’ response to that vulnerability. Consider for a moment how simultaneously different and similar are the three characters involved in this scene. First the difference. Jairus, a leader in the local Synagogue who by gender, position, and status enjoys a comfortable, if not also enviable, level of power and prestige. An unnamed woman afflicted for more than a decade with an illness that has not only been painful and potentially debilitating but also has more than likely moved her to the fringes of her community (see Num. 5:2-4). Finally, a young girl, sick unto death, who has no rights, no power, little life remaining, and no say in what will happen to her.

"Three very different persons from different stations in life, yet all united in an extreme vulnerability. Jairus reduced to the painful impotence every parent feels when a beloved child is ill, such that he will throw himself into the posture of worship/begging to induce Jesus to help him. The woman pushed to brave the crowd and its potential hostility in the hope of only touching the healer passing through her town. A little girl wasting away with only hopes and prayers to surround her. Utterly different in station, utterly the same in condition.

"And Jesus responds to each of them with compassion, naming both the unnamed woman and the little girl “daughter,” calming the fears of both the woman on the fringe of society and the man who leads his synagogue with words of peace and courage, healing and restoring the girl to life and to her father and the woman to health and to her community.

"Perhaps we’ve become so accustomed to Jesus’ compassionate response that it doesn’t make much of an impression on us, but just now, at this place in Mark’s Gospel and at this point in our national history, I think it’s worth noting that the very consistency, even predictability of this scene is what makes it so extraordinary

"Jesus responds to the vulnerability of these three different characters, restoring them to health, life, and wholeness… because he always responds to vulnerability, offering health, life, and wholeness to those in greatest need of them. He has just crossed once again the border between two opposing lands and contrasting, even hostile, cultures. His mission in both territories is the same – to seek out, heal, and restore those who are most vulnerable, a man possessed by demons on one side of the border and these three different yet identical characters in need on the other. And that has been the consistent, if not relentless, pattern of Mark’s story about Jesus: he everywhere and always notices, cares for, and responds to those who are most vulnerable.

"In today’s reading, I was struck by the emphasis on touch. Jairus begs Jesus simply to lay his hands on his daughter, the woman wants simply to touch Jesus (and Jesus notices that he is touched because of the nearly reflexive discharge of healing power in response to that touch), and Jesus doesn’t simply lay his hands on the young girl in healing (as her father asked), but takes her by hand and lifts her to life. And so Jesus doesn’t simply respond to those in need theoretically or at a distance, but touches them, connects with them, and joins himself to them through his compassionate embrace.

"Again, notice both the reflexive outpouring of power in response to the woman’s need, but also the disciples’ confusion: “Lots of people are touching you, Teacher, why ask which one?” Yet Jesus knows that amid the commotion one person in particular is in need, one person required his power, one person needed restoration.