God of hope,
Help us to seek you in ourselves.
Help us to see you in others.
You don’t know the other person’s story. My Granddaddy taught me that. I was fortunate to know all of my grandparents growing up and I wouldn’t tell them to their faces, but I had a favorite. He was definitely the funniest, the goofiest, always ready to laugh, wink, do a silly dance, or pull out his false teeth to keep me laughing. And there were some days growing up when we needed all the laughter we could get.
He was a simple and hardworking man. He grew up on a farm and before the 7th grade had to work to support the family. The job I remember the most growing up was as a supervisor for the county’s solid waste division. He would organize his crews and part of his job was to visit dumps around the county. Sometimes I would visit him at work and we would travel from dump to dump to dump. Let me tell you — it was an AMAZING adventure.
And when I wasn’t with him he would always bring me treasures. Books and toys and games. Most of them in perfect condition. And if they were broken, he would fix them better than new. He made life out of, well, trash.
I was just young enough to be more fascinated than embarrassed by my passed-along treasures. I wanted to know their story. I loved the idea that these things had a history before me but I could not understand why someone would toss it away, leave it behind.
When I would ask my grandfather, he told me “You don’t know everyone’s story.” You don’t know what might tear people from their homes or their circumstances, what violence might step into their lives, what decisions they might make. The only way to know someone’s story is to ask them.
I was thinking about my grandfather a little bit when I read this gospel a few weeks ago. I have to tell you: Mark is my favorite gospel. I appreciate Matthews orderliness, and Luke’s sense of justice, and I adore John’s sheer poetry. But if I’m going to read the story of Jesus, I always start with Mark.
I like this gospel’s economy of language and imagery. Mark is so intent on telling what happened in Jesus’s life that descriptions of his birth or resurrection are hazy or altogether missing.
There is a favorite word in Mark: immediately. Mark’s gospel begins with John baptizing Jesus and we are told that “immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness.” Immediately, the story often picks up in the next town or at the next key event. Jesus will heal someone and then immediately cross the lake where immediately someone will approach him to be healed of a demon.
In fact, in the passage we read last week, we see Jesus asleep on a boat in a storm and we think this might be the first time he has even rested. One of the key features of this gospel is its relentless pace. Immediately, immediately, immediately.
And that’s what makes this next part so fascinating. Jesus has just healed another person of a demon. His fame is spreading. As he reaches the other side of the lake, crowds begin to gather and walk with him into town. Can you see it? The lone figure walking across the countryside, the crowd fanning out behind with the dozens closest to him jostling to get even closer and calling out “Teacher, heal me! Heal my mother! My brother!”
Jesus has just agreed to heal the child of the synagogue leader (much like a church warden) and has continued walking in that direction, all the bodies starting to move again when Jesus suddenly . . . stops.
He just stops.
He turns around and that relentless movement forward now shifts.
No one has seen what had happened. “Who touched me?” he asks.
I think Jesus knows Who. In all of the gospels, when Jesus asks a question he is helping the people around him work through their own questions. “Who touched me?”
This woman — she has been ill for years. She has been to every doctor and is broke because of it.
Now this is an interesting point. She had been driven into poverty doing exactly what everyone expects from her, doing everything she is supposed to do in order to become well. She is pushed to the margins even though she is trying to become her best self, whole, healthy. But she had been left behind, poor, broken. Thrown away. Like trash.
And now the healer, Jesus, God is also passing her by.
She should not even be there on that crowd. She is a woman. She is ritually unclean because of her illness — without a remedy, she is even perpetually unclean; what would the Pharisees say? But she knows God calls her to life and wholeness and she just wants to stand up straight again, head held up. She could likely live with her illness if it didn’t take away her person. At almost the last instant she reaches out her thin fingers for just a touch of hope. . . And she feels everything change.
And then Jesus stops.
This interaction, unseen, just below the awareness of the crowd changes everything. It changes the rhythm of the story as only an encounter with the Holy can.
And Jesus keeps changing the rhythm when he says “your faith has made you well.” He uses a word here that means wholeness, completeness, salvation. And it is clear in this story and in other stories and in the way that God moves in our world that the healing of the disease is a separate act from the healing of the person. Different from the act of making-whole-through-God.
“Your faith has made you well.” The God of creation is just that — creative and generative. But it is not just God’s person, but God’s actions that bring life. Again and again in the Bible and in our world we see the movement of God toward wholeness and completeness. This favorite saying of Jesus “Your faith has made you well” (or, Your openness has made you whole, perhaps) reminds us that God’s intent is to interrupt the rhythms of brokenness with the actions of God’s healing.
Again and again God calls us to act as God’s agents in the world. To join God where God is moving and working. I think that is exactly what we are talking about when, in baptism, we are washed with water and buried in Christ’s death and raised to walk in newness of life. We enter into a way of living that is the way of Christ.
Brothers and Sisters, in Christ, the rhythm of our story changes.
The rhythm of the world is not in sync with God. People are hungry for hope, because they often do not have it. As God’s agents in the world we have one task: to stop, to stop moving through life at a level above the level of real interaction; to stop assuming we know the stranger’s story until we ask them; to stop thinking we have nothing to do with the health or illness of the rhythms of the world.
That is one of the beautiful things about this story. It introduces us to the concept that Jesus works with: our faith is a vehicle for God to change us and the world. God desires our wholeness and the way we walk in the world is a measure of our openness to God’s movement.
Those people we pass that we can’t imagine worshipping with us, the people at work riddled with depression, the individual we see at parties but can’t even talk to because of their extreme political views. Who among these does God love?
You don’t know the other person’s story.
This is what Jesus meant when he asked Who….Who is open to God? In whom is God stirring up hope? Where will God show up today? I hope we notice it. I hope we are looking for it. As we go through the world we, too, get the chance to stop. Stop and ask Who – because when we see the answer, it is our job to join in.
Fr. Alan Cowart
Proper 8, Year B
June 28, 2015