Jesus, Giver of Life
by Robert Hamerton-Kelly
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
“Little girl I say to you arise.” — Mark 5:41
Today Mark gives us two stories to contemplate, one set within the other. The overarching story is of Jesus raising the twelve-year-old daughter of the synagogue leader Jairus from the dead, and the inset is the story of the healing of a woman with a 12-year hemorrhage. Both are stories about females, both are stories about giving life.
Female children are less valued than males and bleeding women are good for nothing, in that culture, in this culture and as far as I know in every culture of the world, excepting those that have been influenced by the message of Jesus. Whether Mark arranged this narrative to make a point or things actually unfolded like this, we have before us a powerful affirmation of the dignity of women and girls.
Today little girls are commodities of the sex trade; in certain countries Jairus’ 12 year old, whom he calls his “darling little daughter”(Gk: thugatrion- vs.23), would already be a seasoned whore with a life expectancy of 30 years; or she would have been aborted from the womb, or sold as a bride to an old man, or widowed into the heart-rending ignominy of the widow status, where the choices are to whore or to die.
Today, as in prior times, these crimes against women and girls are not only sanctioned but also even commanded, by religions. There is nothing more shameful than the sex ethics of all religions; they all treat the female gender as dirty, dangerous, and dishonorable, and women as essentially throwaway items. The love of Jairus, a prominent Jew, for his daughter shows that Judaism includes mitigating factors (but it still shuns a bleeding woman as ritually unclean), and the readiness of Jesus to touch in public a ritually unclean, twelve year shunned mature woman, and raise a little girl by touching her dead hand, shows what Christianity should be doing but very seldom is.
Is there something significant about the “twelve years” in these two stories, twelve year bleeding, twelve years old – twelve tribes of Israel, twelve disciples? If we take our cue from this and read the symbols we might say that Jesus raised both from the death imposed on women an girls by religion; the women from the death of social ostracism by the laws of their religion, the girls from the general burden of religious humiliation into a new life beyond religion. In our cases their religion brought to the woman a specific kind of death, to the girl a general death under its laws. 12 years old is the age of the bar/bath mitzvah when a child becomes responsible to obey the law of Moses; can we read this as saying that at this significant point in her life Jesus raised the little girl from the death of being a female under Mosaic ritual into a freedom in which she can touch menstruating women, touch corpses and still be in good standing with God? Can we read it as saying that little girls are beloved by God as much as little boys, and that both sexes share the divine image? The answer is, “Yes, emphatically this is how they should be read.”
I remind you that one of the 14 Benedictions recited as part of the regular liturgy in the synagogue at the time of Jesus said, “I bless you Lord God for making me a man and not a woman.” Jesus silences that pernicious lie forever.
By now you see that Jesus rode roughshod over the ritual taboos of Moses: in public he touched a bleeding woman, the most disgusting of creatures under the Law, confounding the cultural horror of female pollution. He insisted the gesture be public: she touched him secretly; he called her out of the crowd openly.
She should not have been in the crowd in the first place; everyone she jostled she polluted; they would have killed her had they known. Jesus virtually proclaims that she and he have touched, and that instead of her polluting him he has purified her. Jesus the Life giver; Jesus the debunker of Religion.
He took a corpse by the hand, touching the other great pollutant, the dead body. He goes out of his way for just a little girl, a dowry nuisance at worst, and a sex commodity at best. Jesus declares her divine image, and restores her life, a new life, beyond the humiliation of religion. I hope she could sustain its freedom but I doubt it; religion like the cruel sea would rush back and crush her, in the name of doing good.
This is the last sermon before our summer break. We shall resume on September 13th, the first Sunday after Labor Day. This is a good word for our summer meditation. As we continue to read and see the depredations of religion around the world, these two vivid stories will stick in our minds and continue to remind us that Jesus not Religion loves little girls, and struggling women, all the trash that religion throws away or keeps in the close quarters of its ritual garbage bags, Jesus loves specially and gives them the fullness of life. And of course he does this for all of us who ask him. He will take us by our dead hand and say, “Arise!” and we will get up and walk away from our fears and all the religious do’s and don’ts, all the classifications of people as good and bad, all the stereotypes and provocations, into the freedom of Jesus’ true life, beyond the violence of religion and the religion of violence.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (i.e. religion). Galatians 5:1.