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Sermon for Proper 8/Ordinary 13 Year B Mark 5:21-end

June 16, 2015

WWHDo not call anything impure that God has made clean.” Words from Acts chapter 10.

In the name…..

When I was a student teacher, I did a teaching practice at Castleford High School. In my favourite class – Year 10 (we called them 4th years then) O’ level group there was a girl who was always missing. If I asked, the other kids said, ‘She’s gone to see matron.’ Why would anyone want to see the school nurse? My unhappy experience of them was always to do with having an injection or being searched for head lice. I’d later wise up – kids pretend to be ill so that they can bunk off lessons. But this girl was ill – severe menstrual bleeding.

The woman in our story would not just have missed lessons like my pupil. She would miss out on normal human society. Purity laws forced a woman with gynaecological problems into a lonely existence. Leviticus 15:19 stipulates that a woman with a flow of blood be deemed unclean.

Unclean. When we see something disgusting we might say, “Ugh!” Parents may add, “Don’t touch it!” You’re walking in the woods and see some droppings on the ground, you go, “Ugh!” and try not to step in it. The ancient Hebrews felt the same about some things: certain animals, foods, diseases, bodily fluids, and dead things. Such things were “unclean” or “impure”. If you touched them you became unclean. If you had one of the diseases, you became unclean. Anything or anyone that you touched became unclean. Being unclean was the opposite of being holy. You couldn’t come to the temple to worship. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of the holy God.

Unclean things and people were estranged from God and each other. Their view of unclean things is like our saying, “One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.” Contact with one of these unclean things made you an unclean person. There is some truth to this. If you hang around someone with a contagious disease, you are likely to end up with the same sickness. If you hang around with the wrong group of people, their bad influence may “spoil” you.

JDThe taboo about a Jewish male touching a female also comes into play in the story of Jesus’ healing of Jairus’s daughter. A girl of twelve was of marriageable age. By taking her hand Jesus was overstepping the normal bounds of convention. Contact with a dead body was also treif – non-kosher, and demanded a period of quarantine and ritual washing. The Meaning in the Miracles – J. John (Canterbury Press 2001) p.24

Both females are afflicted with crises associated with the status of women in that society. The adult woman is sick with one of the most polluting signs of female adulthood. The adolescent is on the threshold of a similar curse, puberty. The woman has suffered with bleeding for exactly the same period of time as it has taken Jairus’s daughter to reach the official age of puberty and marriageability—twelve years.

The woman’s haemorrhage is the affliction of adult women in magnified form: she bleeds endlessly and is perpetually polluting. The authorities, the physicians, have left her poor and sick. The ordinary social structures cannot help her. They are part of her problem. She suffers from her very femaleness.

Jesus mixes everything up. Jesus doesn’t become unclean by contact with the unclean people. They don’t bring him down to their level. Jesus’ holiness transforms their uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. God participates in a feast with tax collectors and sinners. With people in situations where others said, “Ugh”, Jesus has a hug — or at least a healing touch. Jesus’ holiness transforms the people’s uncleanness.

Jesus raises them up to his level. Jesus makes them worthy to be in the presence of God. Jesus, as the one good apple, can make all the bad apples become good. His healing has implications far beyond that of a simple miracle: it seems to indicate a shift in consciousness in respect to women: an attitude of outreach to the “unclean” rather than one of judgment and exclusion.

Outreach to the “unclean” rather than one of judgment and exclusion? You wouldn’t think so to listen to some fundamentalists such as David Sorenson who argues that all modern bible translations are a plot by liberals, that the King James Version alone is accurate. For example, 2 Corinthians 6:17: Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean [thing]’ Which is why the children of Jehovah’s Witnesses are discouraged from joining the stamp club or the school band, why a friend of mine cannot sit at the same table as her grandchildren because her daughter married a member of the Exclusive Brethren and and why some bishops who call themselves traditionalists stay ‘separate’, won’t take communion at the same table as others at the Lambeth Conference and oppose gay priests and women priests. Would they have opposed Jesus as being too ‘liberal’ in today’s gospel?

As people excluded, the women represent those who have been denied admission to or full participation in the church. Gender, race, sexual orientation, age, culture, language and physical disability have been reasons for exclusion or subordination. The gospels call on those who have the power to exclude and oppress others to have a change of heart, to be open to a transformation that empowers them to embrace wholeheartedly the other.

Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

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