Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Restoration: a Midrash

There is a Jewish tradition of midrash: storytelling that fills in details and provides explanation that the biblical account does not offer. This is one of my favorite kinds of interpretation to read. I usually don't share sermons here, but this past Sunday, I wrote a sort of midrash of my own, about the hemorrhaging woman and Jairus' daughter. You can read the biblical account in Mark 5:21-43; this is my interpretation of that story. 

What do you do with a love story gone wrong? What do you do when everything falls apart and ends up terribly, terribly wrong?

She got up terribly tired this morning, as she had every morning for what seemed like forever. Walking to the window, with the warm light of early morning streaming in, she wished for the life she had dreamed of. She wished for the life she had promised with the man she loved. Some days, it seemed like yesterday that the tiredness had set in—not the deep exhaustion of days like this, but the hopeful tiredness of a baby on the way. She couldn’t help but glance at her hands, hands that had recently begun to show fine lines. They bore the marks of these almost 12 years alone. They felt empty, most of the time, left empty by the baby taken from her, a baby now nearly grown, and terribly sick.

Her body shivered from the exhaustion of illness, as she sank to sit by the window, waiting for the strength to gather her breakfast. The warmth of the sun sank into her body, lulling her into sleep, there in her tiny home.

A knock at the door woke her. Out the window she saw a familiar face.

“Joanna,” she called. The woman turned, and rushed over the window, reaching through to hug the woman she had served for so many years—first as a nanny, then raising her daughter when she couldn’t.

“Joanna, how is she?” And the elderly woman’s eyes welled up with tears at the question. She had hoped to ask first how this woman she loved was, before she broke her heart even further.  She tried to sort out how to say that the little girl was even worse, but the tears began to flow as she remembered: days without food, barely drinking, seeming to grow smaller and smaller in her bed, barely moving. As her tears broke into sobs, they spoke the words she could not. The eyes she stared into filled with tears, too, as the whisper came, “She’s going to die, isn’t she?”

Her nod caused the tears to fall from her friend’s eyes, too. They took hands through the windows, and let tears fall, weeping for the child they both loved.

Joanna’s words broke silence, “I have to go. They’ll soon miss me. And I need to be with her.” This was their arrangement after all—Joanna would stay in the house where her mistress wasn’t allowed. Joanna would come as often as she could to this tiny house on the edge of the city, sharing news of the daughter who had to be left behind.

Left there, in her home alone, she gathered all the strength she had to get up, wash her face, change her clothes. There was a fire in her eyes that everyone would have suspected had long since burned out. She had a plan. Although the town had chosen sides with her husband, she’d still heard what no one would speak to her. They talked in the market like she wasn’t there. The servants who had followed her from her father’s house to her husband’s house, like Joanna, spoke to her when they could. There’s a man, they said, who is traveling here. And they told stories of the man named Jesus, traveling around, stories she’d heard of other people—but never so many stories from so many people. Never quite so many stories of demons cast out, of people healed, of boats that didn’t sink in storms, of a man who seemed like the prophets of legend.

And he was supposed to be in the town today.

She might catch him if she hurried. He, at least, would not know her story. He might be willing to help even her daughter. And so she shut the door, steadied herself with her cane, and hurried over dusty roads into the center of the town. Each step drained her strength. Each step made the bleeding that never stopped worse. Each step cost her dearly. But she took each one in the hope that this man named Jesus could do something.

Sooner than she had managed in years, she was near the synagogue, where he would surely be headed. But there was a crowd blocking her way. There was a crowd everywhere. The streets were full of people, pushing and shoving, too many people, many from out of town, crammed into a tiny space. She pushed her cane into the ground, steadied herself, trying to see what was going on.

And as soon as she did, her heart sank. Of course, Jesus was at the center of all the commotion. Of course, he was why crowds had gathered. Of course he was with the synagogue leader, her husband, Jairus. The impossibility of her mission became immediately clear.

How could she approach Jesus? How could she have any place here?

Suddenly, the weight of all that the town knew was heavy on her heart. These people were not her friends. They were the people who knew.

They knew she and Jairus had married, despite their families wanting them to marry other people. They knew it was only after many, many arguments that their families agreed. They had laughed at the young couple for talking about love so much. They knew.

They knew how long it was before a child was born. They, too, held the suspicion it was because they had defied their families. They knew that the child was fine, but her mother was not. Her mother never recovered from childbirth, kept bleeding long after the time she should have. They knew that for months the mother and child lived in the servants’ quarters, apart from the main house, hoping it would get better.
God, have mercy—they knew. They knew she left her husband’s home as soon as her child could eat solid food, weaned or not. They knew he gave her back her full dowry. They knew she had spent it all, a small fortune, searching for a cure. They knew the synagogue leader would not keep her in his house any more, but refused to divorce either.

She wished she could shout out what they didn’t know. They didn’t know that she was the one who refused to let him leave his place of honor at the synagogue. They didn’t know that she chose to leave her daughter in what would be viewed as the more respectable household, the one that would give her daughter a chance. They didn’t know that she was the one who refused to destroy everything they had worked for.

They didn’t know nearly as much as they thought they did. They didn’t know that they never stopped loving each other.

She looked at Jairus, there in the blazing sun, pushing through crowds, dragging Jesus along behind him, and knew he was as desperate as she was. He had to be, to go find this man and drag him along, undoubtedly to their daughter’s deathbed.

Hope that she hadn’t felt in a long time welled up inside her. The love for this man and their daughter that had kept her going for 12 years made her push just a little closer in the crowd, hoping to touch the man who might help her daughter.  He’d never know in this crowd, of that much she was certain. She needed some connection to her daughter’s only hope.

And so she pushed and prodded, tired though she was. Just as she was giving up, a man moved. He saw her and knew—not that she wanted to touch Jesus, but that he didn’t want to touch her. He jumped back before he thought, and she put out her hand, almost grabbing Jesus’ arm. She wasn’t strong enough, and barely brushed his robe before he went on his way.

But something happened. What exactly she didn’t know. In that instant, something changed. The exhaustion that had been present for so long left. What had been true about her for 12 years wasn’t any more. Something had happened, something wonderful.

“Who touched me?” The moment of joy was broken as soon as it began. Jesus’ words silenced the crowd, “Who touched me?”

“How could he know?” she thought.

“How could you know?” the disciples echoed.

“There are people everywhere,” she thought. “He couldn’t know it was me.”

“There are people everywhere,” the disciples echoed. “What do you mean who touched you?”

The crowds fell silent. She felt herself walking toward him, moving easily for the first time in years. In front of him, staring into his eyes, choosing not to look at her husband, she knew he head healed her. She fell to her knees and said, “It was me.”

And he knew. He knew more than anyone in the town ever had. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” She didn’t move at all, for servants were approaching. With confusion in her eyes, seeing those people gathered there together, Joanna choked out, “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the teacher any more.”

She looked to the Teacher, knowing how much he had already done that day. Her eyes met his, and she turned to follow him. Jairus’ eyes filled with fear as he looked at his weeping servants. Jesus’ words barely registered in his mind, “Do not fear; only believe.”

The crowds, already confused by what had happened that day, easily stayed behind as a small group traveled on to the home. Peter, James, John, Jairus, Jesus, and this woman went into the room. Mourners shouted they came near, mourning and wailing so loudly they barely heard the commandment, “She is not dead; she is sleeping.”

Just the six went into the room, where the little girl barely made a ripple in the covers. Just six people went into the room that smelled of sickness that had lingered for many days. Just six stood in silence , waiting for what would come next.

But just five saw Jesus take the hand of a child, and speak, “Little girl, get up.”
Just four knew for sure something like that could happen at all.
Just three were amazed by the power of the one they had chosen to follow.
Just two were given back their child.

Just one saw her entire life restored in a day. Just one understood what God-among-us could do.

As God treasures her, holding even her name a secret, may we treasure her story and remember the many who are like her.

Thursday, August 13, 2015


This past Monday, I ordered food delivered to my office. My car and I had a fateful half hour on Saturday, so it was at the dealership. The joy of living in a world where people will bring me things I want to wherever I am is great. But I digress. This isn't about the wonders of delivery service--at least not mostly.

The delivery driver, not surprisingly, got lost. Somehow the directions I put into GrubHub didn't make it to him. He called, so I knew when he pulled into the parking lot and I walked out to get my food to save him from walking inside. That plan didn't work.

Instead, he grabbed his bags and followed me in, chatting the whole way. I, left to my own devices, am not a chatter. At about 3 minutes, I'm done. But this guy clearly wanted to chat. About pretty much anything. So as I was searching for a pen to sign the receipt and wondering how on earth I'd get rid of him, he kept chatting.

Then, he looked around my office. I'm rather enamored with my office d├ęcor. Far fewer people than I'd like read the poem about Deborah and want to have a conversation about that. I'm guessing most of them don't know the story. Again, I digress. My pizza delivery guy was looking at the signs behind my desk. They're all pro-LGBT in one way or another. He honed in on the one that reads, "We believe Arizona is read for the freedom to marry."

The people who made those signs got the reality of a conservative state. Talking about freedoms might get you places human rights appeals never would. It's the same way we talk about revenue rather than taxes. Some things just work better than others. It's also entirely possible that pizza delivery guy would think Why Marriage Matters Arizona, the organization that made the signs, is a conservative organization.

So he asked, "Freedom to marry?"

And I answered, far more focused on wanting my food than thinking about anything else, "Oh, that was from before same-sex marriage was legal."

Then time slowed down in a different way. I realized I had just said something that, well, could have all sorts of results. I was suddenly glad the secretary was there, too. Eventually, I saw my response register on his face. "Oh," he said, and quickly left the building.

There have been very few times in my life when I felt someone's disgust in response to me. On Monday afternoon, though, I did.

I live in a world where I forget that's possible. I forget that being fully who you are isn't always ok. I forget that my straight, cisgender voice matters for changing that. I forget people can be made to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their own spaces. I forget the weight of everything that "Oh" implied.

Because, for me, you what happened?  I already told you almost everything. After pizza delivery guy left, I thought about it for a couple minutes, had an "Oh!"  of my own, and then sat down and ate my salad and cheesy bread.

So I am reminded we are not done with welcoming all God's children, with raising our voice for all God's children, with using our privilege for those who do not have it. Here's hoping for the Reign in which "Oh" carries little weight.