Saturday, July 25, 2015

Who touched me?

Sometimes, hearing one of the stories from the Gospels allows me to picture it vividly in my head. It becomes a movie or YouTube video for me, complete with dialog, characters, and plot. One of my favorites, which was recently read one Sunday in our church, is from the brief and succinct Gospel of Mark, chapter 5. It is the well known story of Jairus' daughter. You know it. Someone is sent to Jesus from Jairus' house, asking for Jesus to come and heal the daughter, and along the way, a woman touches Jesus' garments and is instantly healed.

To me, this is a story of daughters: the story about the healing of Jairus' daughter, which bookends the entire event. And the story of the daughter of God that reaches out for healing in the literal sense, and Jesus' response to her. As I sat in church that day, I began to think of the story fleshed out a bit more, with more dialog, more narrative than what is written in Mark's Gospel. So, allow me to take the well-known story, and retell it as if I was writing it....

Jesus, having crossed the lake in a small boat, had barely stepped out when the crowds, knowing who he was, descended upon him. As word spread through the village that the great healer and teacher was there, people dropped their chores and ran to the lakeside. After all, how often do you see a living prophet and healer? And they drew in so close to him, that he could barely move.

Peter being, well, Peter, started to push people away, acting like a bodyguard to allow Jesus to go through. Soon, he was confronted by someone dressed in fine silk and linen, obviously someone of great stature and importance.

"Please, PLEASE! Let me through! I must see The Teacher!" the man pleaded. Peter gave way, and the man lurched towards Jesus, through the pressing crowd. He stumbled, but allowed that stumble to put him in a place of humility before someone he thought could help. 

Jesus stopped, and looking down, saw someone who was on his knees. As Jesus bent down to lift up the man, the man scrunched himself into a ball, to keep himself humble before this Healer. 

"I am Jairus, Rabbi. I....I have a daughter...she is my only daughter....".  Jairus began to cry, the cry of a man desperate to save someone he dearly loved. "She is dying, Rabbi. I believe that if you could, please, come to my house, and, and....simply...touch her...." he stumbled for words. "She'd...she'd be OK."  He looked up at Jesus, his eyes red and stained by tears and dust, and pleading in themselves. Jesus gently patted Jairus, smiled softly.

"I will come, " Jesus said with assurance. "Please," he continued, lifting Jairus up off the ground with his strong carpenter's hands. "Get up." He smiled at Jairus. "Lead on." 

Many in that crowd felt envious, even jealous, of Jairus. How come HE gets to get Jesus to heal his daughter? Oh, that's right. He's a "leader in the temple". The resentment in the crowd was mixed with curiosity, and they began to all trail along, some of them jeering Jairus for thinking only of himself. Others wondering if Jesus would get there in time (they knew the young girl had been sick and were sure that she'd die before Jesus would get there - serves Jairus right, they thought).

On the fringe of that crowd was a woman, who, even though she was young, looked old, because she'd been subject to bleeding for over 12 years. No doctor had been able to help her, and whatever money she had, she'd spent all on failed cures and remedies. She was considered "unclean" due to her condition, and as she worked her way through the crowd, she used that to her advantage. She wanted to see this Jesus whom she'd heard about. She wanted to see if he MIGHT be able to heal her. - even if all she did was just touch his clothes, it could help. It sure couldn't hurt! She fought valiantly to get close, coming up from behind the group, or coming in from the side. She stumbled, and as she did, she reached out and tugged at the fringe of Jesus' clothing. Her fall was ungraceful, and she landed face down in the dirt. 

But something happened in that millisecond from the touch to the landing. And as she took stock of her pain from the faceplant on the dusty road, she felt a surge, a tickling, that emanated from her fingertips, through her arm, down her torso, to her loins, and finally, out her toes. She felt it. And she knew it. She'd been healed. She tried to push herself up, but there were people literally standing on her hands. With a new vigor, she pushed herself up, and was about to turn and go back through the crowd, when she heard a voice, quiet, yet clear and piercing.

"Who...who touched me?" Jesus had a bewildered look on his face. For a man who claimed to be God, why would he need to ask this question. Jesus raised up his hand, and wagged his finger as he repeated his question. "Who touched me?  Someone...touched me."

Peter laughed, and shook his head. "You're kidding me?! You have all these people around you, and you're asking 'who touched me'?"  Peter, ever tactful, was laughing hard, but stopped when Jesus looked at him with a dead seriousness.

"Someone...." Jesus stated again, "touched me."  The crowd now fell silent, and looked around, wondering which one of them had touched Jesus.  Most of them had touched Jesus, either by body-to-body contact when they were shoved into him, or as they reached out and touched him over the shoulder of one of  Jesus' disciples. 

The woman, timid and afraid, stopped trying to escape. But now, a new boldness, triggered by the healing and her desperation to be healed, took over, and she turned and faced Jesus. When she spoke, though, it wasn't in a small voice, but a voice backed up by confidence and hope.

"I touched you," she said clearly, speaking each word slowly. The crowd parted to give Jesus an avenue to go and chastise this woman. One man was overheard to say, "Oh! This oughta be good!". But Jesus didn't charge her, or come at her with anger. He walked to her, smiling, extended his arms, and enveloped her in a massive bearhug. 

"Oh, my dear sweet daughter," he spoke as he placed his strong and weathered hands on each side of her face, wiping off her tears. In a voice filled with love, compassion, and sheer joy, Jesus said to her "Your faith has healed you. Go with peace, and be freed from your suffering."  Jesus kissed her on her forehead, smiled gently at her, looking deep into her eyes.  Pulling his hands from her face, he turned, and walked on......

Now, I could go on and tell the rest of the story - but I won't. Because, to me, the story is not about Jairus' daughter's healing. The Jairus' daugther story is the setting for the other story: the story of the woman. Seriously, if Jesus was God as he said he was, wouldn't he know who touched him? He full well did. This man of God who could identify demons within a person, who could see into someone's soul, who knew that the woman at the well had multiple husbands - he knew who touched him. So why did he ask?

Because Jesus knew that there was more healing to be done than just the bleeding. He knew that she needed to be healed completely, because the bleeding had led to other sicknesses that weren't visible: a lack of confidence; a fear to be in public; and the sickness of hopelessness. Jesus turned and asked because he knew he needed to engage that woman, to draw her our, and finally, to embolden her. To take away her fear. And she is bold. I don't think that woman timidly admitted to touching Jesus. She did it loudly. She'd been afraid for so long, and now, she was no longer afraid. She knew she'd been healed. That enabled her to take a stand for herself, something she'd never done before. 

For you see, Jesus heals completely. Not just the physical. He heals body, mind and soul. And on that day, 2000 years ago, his healing gift helped two daughters become whole. 

Soli deo gloria

Saturday, July 04, 2015

What does Independence Day mean to me?

Today is July 4th - Independence Day. Today, we as the United States of America celebrate our independence from Great Britain. But it's a day that, for me, has a deeper meaning and significance. 

First of all, I wish to be a Mr. Know-it-All, and correct the millions who say "It was the day the Declaration of Independence was signed."  Nice thought, but it was the day that the Continental Congress, made up of representatives of each of the 13 colonies, adopted the aforementioned Declaration. Now, we must also remember that it was not adopted unanimously: there were dissenters who felt that declaring independence from Great Britain was foolish, and that the war to gain independence from Great Britain - which had been going on for over a year - was doomed to fail (and the reports that Congress regularly received from George Washington in the field surely fed that belief). They didn't want to leave the protection of Great Britain, despite the way they were taxed unfairly (sound familiar) or had to house British troops in their homes (without compensation). They did not wish to make such a major split.

But when you think about it, there was another reason they were hesitant: the sheer MAGNITUDE of what those men were saying in that document, so eloquently written by Jefferson (and heavily eviscerated by Congress to remain as inoffensive to slave owners as possible - sound familiar?), not just calling for independence, but stating that man has rights endowed on him by the Creator - that's when you realize that it was truly a revolutionary document.

You must understand European history, and it's belief in the class system - of hierarchy. The belief in the masses that God favored kings and rulers, then principalities, then aristocracy, until finally you get to the peasants. If you wish to get a spin on this from the comic perspective of Monty Python, the British comedic troupe of the 60's, 70's and 80's, watch this clip from "Monty Python and The Holy Grail".  Europe controlled the then-known world. Great Britain and King George saw the American Colonies as distant people, and their land as a resource for British commerce. They were colonists, and, with some exceptions, rural people. They were subjects of The King, and therefore considered peasants or servants, to be used at the King's pleasure. 

But for men like Jefferson and Franklin, steeped in the Enlightened thinking coming from philosophers such as Locke, Montesquieu and Hume, man was equal, and government was derived from the powers of the People, not from a King or a human authoritative figure. When you read the opening paragraphs of the Declaration, its author, Jefferson, brought these ideas out front as the reason to declare our independence:

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.....

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed......

This was a completely new and absolutely revolutionary idea. This stated that all men, regardless of birth or station, are equal. Therefore, it inferred that Kings do not possess unique and entitled rights to rule over the people, that The Creator (notice that Jefferson did not specify the Judeo-Christian "God", but a more natural god, not involved in the daily mechanics of man - which was also a new concept) endowed upon ALL men the ability and the RIGHT to self-govern. 

The men of that Continental Congress read this and, in some respects, were hesitant to sign, since this was not only an act of treason to a seated King, but to the whole concept of Monarchy and God appointed Kingship. This was treason of a high order, treason against accepted norms of society. But some men, like John Adams and other key members of Congress, realized that this was important, and that the people were important. The true idea of Liberty, a Republic, began to form here, and was complete when the Constitution was fleshed out nearly 20 years later. 

So, today - Independence Day - let us look carefully at the document that started it all - read it, dwell on it, think on it, and do so without a biased Fox, MSNBC or Bill Maher-skewed eye. Read it for what is was - and IS!