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"Daughters of God"

"Daughters of God"

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When bad things happen to other people, most of us have a tendency to look ever so slightly away, the better to hold our own more closely.

When I pass a car accident, I always say a prayer for the family affected even as I ask safe passage for my own. Anybody else do that?

When I hear about another mass shooting, even as I pray for everyone involved, there is a part of me that cannot help but give thanks that it didn’t happen in my community or my church or my kid’s school. At least not this time around.

When I hear the stories of families waiting for the return of hostages in Israel or the stories of mothers holding the lifeless bodies of their children in Gaza, I shudder with empathy, knowing that I would go absolutely mad with fear and grief if anything like that ever happened to either of my children.

In the face of any of the horrible things that happen, I’ve often reached out to hug my own children and whisper: “You know how much I love you, right?”

“Yeah Mom, we know,” they say, as they roll their eyes and pull away. But I persist in telling them anyway, as if my love can protect them.

I think that’s just human nature. What we love we do our best to care for. What we care for, we do our best to protect.

Deep down we know we can’t save everyone, so in the face of tragedy we double down on our efforts to save our own. We hold the ones we love just a little bit tighter. We reach out, whether they want us to or not, the better to hold them close.


Well, two thousand years ago there was a little girl who lay dying. I don’t think you need to be a parent to understand the urgency that propelled her father from her bedside, but if you are a parent, then you understand him all too well.

Jairus, a leader in the synagogue - a wealthy, well-respected, powerful man - is utterly undone by his daughter’s illness. When we meet him in today’s reading he is desperate.  For all his power and pull, he has not been able to find anyone with the skill to save his little girl.

And so having already tried everything, he is now willing to try anything. Jairus leaves his daughter’s bedside, braves the crowd down by the docks, and throws himself down at the feet of an itinerant preacher who is rumored to be holy.

He begs Jesus, begs him, to come and lay hands on his little girl that she might be made well.

And without so much as a word, Jesus agrees to help. He starts off immediately with Jairus toward the house, a crowd of people in their wake, everyone invested in the project of helping this good, humble, God-fearing man save his precious little girl.

When all of a sudden some other woman gets in the way.

Of course, she didn’t mean to. It was nothing personal. But she too had heard about Jesus, and she too was willing to take a chance. Having no one to help her, she has decided to help herself. And having no one to speak to, a rather heartbreaking detail that gives us a little window into her social isolation, she talks to herself.

This woman on the edge of this community psychs herself up and for one brief moment, dares to propel herself toward the center. “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well,” she tells herself.

And to the utter amazement of all, she is right. So right, that to the utter dismay of Jairus, Jesus comes to an abrupt halt and says:

“Who touched my clothes?”

His disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’"

But Jesus, rather than hurry on to the dying child, keeps looking around and around until finally this woman comes skulking out of the crowd toward him. She grovels at his feet and admits to what she has just done.

According to Mark she “came in fear and trembling, fell down before Jesus, and told him the whole truth;” the truth that for 12 long years she has been bleeding continuously, a condition that had rendered her ritually impure and no doubt effected her ability to marry and have children herself.

Now what I am about to say is pure conjecture on my part. I have no proof. But whenever I read this story, I can’t help but wonder if Jairus didn’t recognize this woman at Jesus’ feet; if he wasn’t in some way connected to her suffering.

For you see his daughter, is 12 years old. This woman has been bleeding for 12 years. The writing in the gospel of Mark is so spare that no detail, however small, is there for no reason.

Could it be that Jairus was in the synagogue when this woman’s condition was made known and she was declared unclean? I’m not saying that he was the one who spoke the words, but is it possible that he was there that day?

Is it possible that he turned his face ever so slightly away from her suffering all those years ago, shook his head with pity, and then rushed home to pick up his brand new baby girl and say a prayer that nothing so sad would ever happen to her?

Did he hold his child close on that fateful day and whisper that come what may, he would always protect her because she was his own and he loved her? Has he been passing by this woman ever since, not wishing her ill necessarily, but not doing anything to help her either?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that what happened next would have shocked Jairus to the core. For you see Jairus and everyone else in that crowd would have stood there hushed, fully expecting Jesus to cast this other woman off with pity or frustration if not outright fury.

Who did she think she was to get in the way of these men and their mission?  Where did she get off slowing them down or taking an ounce of Jesus’ time and attention away from the pure, innocent little girl who needed Jesus even more?

I can imagine Jairus standing there, his heart in his throat, thinking: What? Why? Why now? Why you? You were already a lost cause. But my daughter, she still has a chance. It’s been 12 years for God’s sakes. How could you show up today of all days, in this moment of all moments, and do such a thing?

But even as frustration and despair threaten to overtake him, Jairus stands there and watches in silence as Jesus leans down and blesses this other woman. To the utter amazement of all assembled, he doesn’t cast her aside, but lifts her up saying:

“Daughter … daughter, your faith has made you well.”

Now I know how our hearts catch upon those words; those words about her faith making her well, and all the questions such a statement stirs up in us about why God heals some people and not others. And I wish I had an answer to such questions, but I don’t. Nor does this story.

What I can tell you is that when Jesus calls this woman “daughter,” he is healing a wound far greater than her hemorrhage.

He is letting everyone in that crowd, everyone who hears this story, everyone from Jairus back then to us right now, know that there is no one in all of creation living outside the bounds of God’s love.

He is letting us know that our suffering is not the result of God abandoning us, or God’s punishment for something we have done or failed to do, but that our suffering is in fact one of the things that draws the Divine toward us that God might be with us through it all.

Jesus could have called this woman any number of things…lady, woman, madam - he probably could have called her by her very own name….but Jesus chose instead to call her “daughter” as a visceral reminder that this poor, lonely, long-suffering woman was once somebody’s little girl too.

He called her daughter as a reminder that every last one of us started out small and vulnerable, innocent and, dare I say …worthy? Worthy of care, worthy of love, worthy of being heard and seen, healed and made whole.

Jesus had been on his way to the bedside of a little girl of privilege, the daughter of a religious man, an innocent, someone we all would regard as deserving of such healing. But Jesus stopped along the way to pronounce that this other woman was deserving as well, because just like that little girl, this woman too was a child of God.

Jesus didn’t stop to heal her, for she had already healed herself. He stopped to heal us and our mistaken notion that some people are more worthy of God’s love and care than others.

By refusing to look away, by calling her “daughter,” Jesus claims this woman as his own, as family, and in so doing invites Jairus, the crowd, and anyone who hears this story, to see her as family too.

It is a powerful, life changing moment. It is a truth Jairus would have needed time to integrate. Only, before the moment is even passed, there is a tug on his sleeve and one of his friends is there, pulling him aside, wrapping his arms around Jairus’ shoulders, telling him he is so sorry… so very, very sorry… but it is too late.

Jairus’ daughter is dead. There is no need to trouble the teacher any longer.

It would seem that this holy interruption has cost the girl her life. It would seem that Jesus - whether intentionally or not - has preferenced the one over the other. The woman has been restored to the fullness of life. The little girl has died.

But, and this is important, one of the truths of this story, indeed one of the central truths of the gospel, is that Jesus is not an either/or kind of savior. Jesus did not come to save one part of the world at the expense of another.

The kingdom of God is not a zero sum game where someone must lose in order that others might gain. No. Jesus came to save the whole world that God loves so much, and he proves it now.

Overhearing their conversation, Jesus grabs Jairus and says, “Do not fear, only believe.” He dismisses the crowd.  He takes along only the father, Peter, James, and John, and they continue on their way. When they arrive at the house Jesus tells all the mourners who have already assembled to get out.

“The child is not dead but sleeping,” he says.

And they laugh…”

Until Jesus doesn’t. One look at him and within moments they are gone.  Jesus would not have it any other way.  In contrast to the first healing, this miracle is personal. This healing is private.

Jesus didn’t want or need a grand spectacle because the truth is, people already cared for Jairus and his family.

Thanks to his standing in the community, they already have plenty of friends, connections, and support. People loved Jairus.

In healing his daughter, Jesus is simply affirming that for all their privilege, Jesus does too.

To paraphrase my brother in Christ, Shane Claiborne,“Jesus doesn’t just love the 99%. Jesus loves the 100%.

Both of these women are precious in Jesus’ sight and in healing them, Jesus hopes that they will both be seen as precious in the sight of their community.

Jesus would have them both be recognized, not just as daughters of their human fathers, or even daughters of their particular people, but as daughters of their Heavenly Father, the Divine parent we all share.

In Bible study this past week, Jim Palermo reminded us that this is one of the central tenets of our faith. “When Jesus taught us to pray,” said Jim, “he began with the words “Our Father” rather than “My Father.” This is why Jesus counsels us to ask for “our daily bread,” rather than bread for ourselves alone.

“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Jesus asks, when someone tells him that his family is at the door. “Not the woman who gave me birth,” he responds, “or the children who came from her womb, but all those who do the will of my Father in heaven.”

Jesus renounces any privileged claim to his own flesh and blood in order to make the case that we are all part of the same family, God’s family. God loves us no matter what we do for a living or what we have done with our lives.

God loves us no matter what we have suffered or what we have done to survive.  God’s love is never the question because God’s love for every last one of us is never in question.

The question is whether or not we will love one another the way God loves us, love one another the way the healthiest families love one another.

Love one another as fiercely as Jairus loved his little girl, as desperately as I love my own children, as unconditionally as Jesus loved that woman on the edge and that little girl at the center.

Todd used to say that we have one job and that is to love like Jesus.

If we can learn to do that,

love one another as fiercely and unconditionally as Jesus loves us,

then our faith will save us,

because our faith will make room

for every last one of God’s children

to be seen,

to be loved,

and to be made well.   Amen

1. the greek word sozo can mean healing and salvation

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