hem-of-his-garmentIn today’s story, Mark 5:21-43 we find Jesus travelling around the countryside teaching and healing.

In the ancient world physicians talked about illness rather than treating it. It was the traditional healers who actually touched people and treated illnesses.[1] Jairus knows that even though his social and economic status should direct him to a physician Jesus, a traditional healer, will have more success healing his daughter.

Jesus follows Jairus to his home. The way is very crowded and there are people everywhere. The crowd is jostling with everyone going about their business as well as the people who had come to see Jesus. In this crowd of people someone touches Jesus. He stops and looks around trying to figure out who touched him.

He asks the disciples and the crowd who touched him. Finally, a woman speaks up. Here we have a woman reaching out to touch Jesus. Such things were not done in this ancient culture. She has violated a basic social code. Not only did she touch Jesus but in order to reach him she walked into the crowd. This is also inappropriate since she has been hemorrhaging for twelve years and is considered unclean. She was to have no contact with the community. Here is a woman without a man to protect her, provide for her or speak for her. She is acting and speaking for herself—also inappropriate.

Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh also indicate that because she has used all her money on physicians it is likely that she was wealthy at some point but has been taken advantage of by the physicians were supposed to heal her.[2] Someone with status and wealth has become an unwelcome and unnamed member of the crowd.

The woman comes and falls at Jesus feet and explains to Jesus what she did and why. As a woman she had no right to touch Jesus, no right to ask for healing from him. Jesus responds, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed.” As she is healed, Jesus claims her as family. She is no longer an outcast in the community but a valued member of Jesus’ family. She has a role and status as a daughter.

Meanwhile, Jairus’ daughter has died. Social code would dictate Jesus should have attended to Jairus and his daughter first. Jairus is a man, probably wealthy and he certainly has a status within the community. Instead, Jesus has wasted his time on a nameless, impoverished woman who had no right to be in the community.

Now that the woman has been healed, Jesus continues on to Jairus’ home and once there sees a crowd of people. Laughing Bird paraphrase describes the scene this way: “When they arrived at the home of the synagogue leader, it was in a state of chaos. Everywhere there were people crying, and you could hardly move for funeral directors, neighbours, and people bearing condolences and casseroles.”

Jesus goes into the room with the girl, touches her hand and tells her to get up. She gets up and her family feeds her.

The gospel of Mark is always flipping things around and playing with our minds. Things that should be are not. Things that should not be normal are quite normal when Jesus is around. Jairus should not have come to Jesus: He is wealthy and powerful. He should have sought help from people of his own social status. The woman should not have come to Jesus for help. She is impoverished and ostracized with no man to speak for her. Jesus should not have attended to the woman at all and he certainly shouldn’t have placed her needs about Jairus.

But the story is bigger than the woman and Jairus’ daughter. You might have noted that the woman was bleeding for twelve years and that Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old. There are twelve tribes of ancient Israel. The number twelve in the personal stories is significant because it indicates that the story has a connection to the larger story of the faith community.

Mark’s gospel has a strong emphasis on forcing Jesus to cross boundaries and to interact with people in ways that are shocking and in many cases seen as inappropriate. According to Ched Myers the gospel of Mark is attempting to establish, within the Jewish faith, “a new social order with equal status for all. This alone will liberate the lowly outcast and snatch the “noble” from death.”[3] It is reminiscent of other places in the gospels where we hear (like further on in Mark 9:35 and 10:31) that the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

Mark’s gospel recognizes that individual healing and healing the social-political world go hand-in-hand. When individual lives are healed, the community is changed. When the community is changed, lives are healed. Sometimes it is easy to get caught in the idea that Jesus’ healing is for us as individuals but as we are healed it changes and heals everyone and everything that we come in contact with. By healing the woman in the street, Jesus brought her back into her community. This small act changed the way the community interacted. It made the community more compassionate, more open, more loving. When we offer healing by inviting people into community, our own communities receive healing by becoming more compassionate, more open and more loving.

Part of our work as followers of Christ is about healing, not just those who are worthy in the eyes of our culture, but seeking healing wherever there is brokenness in life. Last week, the in the parable of the seeds and sower, we were reminded to spread the seeds of love far and wide. This story continues the theme of spreading the love far and wide—without regard for worthiness, propriety, status or wealth. We are called to heal the world. Healing the world might seem like a big task but by healing the brokenness in our own lives and community we contribute to the larger healing of creation.

[1] Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Kindle version) Location 3515.

[2] Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Kindle version) Location 3515.

[3] Ched Myers. Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1988), 203.




Sowing Seeds of Love

seed and sowerMark continues with the fast pace from the previous three chapters with several short parables. We begin with the parable of the sower. Imagine being a farmer sowing this crop. Our farmers are careful with their seed, careful not to waste it. I imagine a farmer in first century Palestine being even more careful with the seed. This is seed that they saved from last year’s crop. If it isn’t going to grow something, it could be eaten. In a time when life is precarious and seed is precious we hear this story:

“Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain.”

Farmers would have been careful about the seed they were planting and yet here is a farmer throwing the seed willy-nilly everywhere. The seed lands in places where there doesn’t seem much chance of growing and flourishing. It seems wasteful. But when you scatter seed how do you know where it will land? There is no way of knowing.

But there will be some seed that will land in good soil and grow deep roots and flourish to bear new seed for a new season.

But the disciples didn’t understand. They went to Jesus and asked, “Why are you talking about farmers and seeds and soil? What does that have to do with your message?” And so Jesus gives them and explanation.

The explanation tells us that like the seeds that land on the packed ground of the path some people don’t really stand a chance at hearing and following Jesus’ message. Then there are others who hear the message. It sounds good in theory but they are easily distracted by life or the pressure to conform to the culture around them. Then there are people who will hear the message, put down good roots and thrive to produce more seed.

Jesus moves on to another parable—the parable of the light. This parable reminds us to pay “attention to what you hear.” The Greek word for what may also be translated as how. “Pay attention to how you hear.” How we hear something is as important as the actual message. Many of us will hear the scripture from the perspective of white, middle class Canadians. But can we also hear the message from the perspective of a new immigrant? Can we hear the message from the perspective of someone who truly struggles to make ends meet each month?

And here’s the message:

“The measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”

How we hear scripture is important. We can hear it as ourselves. But we also need to use our imagination and imagine what it might sound like to someone other than ourselves. How would scripture sound to someone on the margins of our culture?

Hearing the message as a myself—I might think if I work hard everything will fall into place. I’ll be able to continue doing work that I love. I’ll have enough money to make ends meet, a bit to save and for a few extras. In my more cynical moments I am reminded that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In the grand scheme of the world I am one of the wealthy ones and it sometimes seems impossible that the world could be any different. From here it is easy to become complacent and even indifferent to the plight of others.

Hearing the message as one of the workers from White Spruce (a provincial jail that supplies a work crew to various community groups) it might sound more like this—I work hard and get nothing back. No matter what I do nothing falls into place. I’ve never had much and what I do have keeps getting taken away from me. I guess the scripture is true. If you have nothing, it will always be taken away. People who have wealth and power always get more wealth and power. From here it would be easy to spiral into despair.

It sounds very different depending on your perspective and location. We always need to read scripture looking for the good news. What good news do these parables have for us? Perhaps because we haven’t really heard the message, the message is not one of good news. At face value, this message seems to perpetuate the cycle of poverty. It seems to reinforce complacency. Because we haven’t really heard the message of God’s love we are caught in a cycle where the rich get richer, the poor get poorer and there seems to be little we can do to change that. If we actually hear the message, then the cycle of poverty can be changed.

Jesus takes us back to seeds again. A farmer goes and plants seeds and then goes on living life—not being terribly worried about what the seeds are doing. After a period of time, the seed sprouts and grows and then the farmer comes back to harvest the crop. All the farmer had to do was plant the seed. The sun, the soil, the rain does the rest and creates the conditions for the seed to grow. In these parables seeds are often understood as the message of God’s love. So all we are being asked to do is scatter the love. We don’t have to make sure it grows or oversee every step. All we have to do is plant it. It doesn’t even have to be a very big seed, or a very big bit of love. A tiny bit of love can have amazing results—like a mustard seed. Doing a bit of research this week I discovered that there is actually a plant that looks more like a bush which may actually be referenced here. A tiny seed does actually grow into something that provides shelter.

So pulling together these short parables we can begin to make sense of what the writer of Mark might be trying to tell us. We have this farmer going out and sowing seeds everywhere and not really paying attention to where they might land or whether they will have much chance of growing to a mature plant. Like the farmer, we are called to spread the love. We don’t know which seeds of love will grow and flourish. We don’t know where the love that we share might land. But it doesn’t matter. Our task is to plant the seed. Some of the love we scatter will find a place to grow. When it finds a place to grow and flourish, the roots will go deep and people will grow in that love. At certain times in our lives we will be scattering the love. At other times we will be that hard soil where nothing will grow. At other times we will be the soil that nourishes the seed.

We need that seed of love in our lives. We need to sow the seeds of love. We need to receive the seeds of love. We sow seeds and we wait with active hope for the kingdom of God among us.