Sunday, July 1, 2018
Proper 8 Year B
In March of 1995, American poet Jane Kenyon began writing what would be her last poem. She’d been sick with leukemia for a little over a year, and because of the chemotherapy drugs she was on, she was no longer able to physically write, or even hold a pen. So Jane dictated these words, which grew out of the experience of her illness, to a neighbor. She died the next month at the age of 47.
Her final poem was titled, appropriately enough, “The Sick Wife.”
The Sick Wife
by Jane Kenyon:
The sick wife stayed in the car
while he bought a few groceries.
Not yet fifty,
she had learned what it’s like
not to be able to button a button.
It was the middle of the day—
and so only mothers with small children and retired couples
stepped through the muddy parking lot.
Dry cleaning swung and gleamed on hangers
in the cars of the prosperous.
How easily they moved—
with such freedom,
even the old and relatively infirm.
The windows began to steam up.
The cars on either side of her
pulled away so briskly
that it made her sick at heart.
The simple words of this poem describe not only Jane’s physical weakness, but also her mental dullness and the aching isolation that comes from being sick. I can color-in the picture – I’m sure we all can -- and see her sitting alone in the car, feeling “old,” before her time. Not able to summon the energy to exchange nods with others in the grocery store aisles. Not having the focus to decide which type of apple or cereal to buy. And definitely not having the oxygen to spare for chit-chat with the cashier.
Just alone, in the car, watching life – literally – pass her by.
It’s this kind of all-consuming isolation and weakness that is at the center of today’s Gospel in Mark. First there’s Jairus, a powerful man, the leader of the local synagogue, but his 12-year-old daughter is at the nadir of weakness – the very point of death. He is consumed by desperation and looks to Jesus for healing. Jesus hears his request and hurries on his way to Jairus’ home. Only to be ‘interrupted’ by a second cry for help – the silent, persistent, even sneaky approach of the hemorrhaging woman. Labeled “unclean” for 12 long years according to Jewish law, she was also at rock-bottom – according to Mark, not worth having a name and completely penniless. An outcast’s outcast. Frankly, for her to even be in that crowd around Jesus was scandalous.
Of course, just as Jesus’ powerful presence healed this woman, just as he uttered the words which drew her back into community, back into wholeness, “Daughter, your faithfulness has made you well,” Jairus’ friends delivered the news that his daughter was dead. Is it possible, do you think, that his daughter died on account of this nameless, unattached, penniless, unclean woman’s interruption? Well, that’s beside the point, because now the daughter too, unnamed, is considered ‘unclean.’
Two cases of aching isolation. Physical weakness. Utter hopelessness. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”
But significantly Jesus doesn’t let these first century taboos of blood and death – society’s barriers -- keep him away. In fact, Jesus goes the other way when it comes to taboos that keep people from community. That’s exactly where Jesus is present. And that’s exactly where Jesus heals.
Ultimately, this was Mark’s mission as he wrote his Gospel. He didn’t just want to tell the wonders of Jesus’ healing powers, but more importantly, to tell the story of Jesus – who confronted, head-on, the taboos of blood and death – himself, on the cross. THAT was Mark’s mission. To tell the good news of Jesus: declared an outsider, abandoned by virtually EVERYONE, who faced the ultimate weakness – death - yet trusted in God’s healing presence and power to raise him to life again.
Is there any doubt we need that healing presence and power right now? If you related in any way to Jane Kenyon’s poem, like I did, it’s clear, we do. Walls which keep the sick at bay are everywhere in our lives – like those steamed up windows of Jane Kenyon’s car. I know Jarius is here; and there are plenty of Jairus’ in this community. All praying that God will save his or her daughter – or son -- who is on the brink of death, weak from depression, or hopeless against drug, or alcohol addiction. So too, is the hemorrhaging woman in our midst. She is isolated and weak from aggressive cancer, advancing age, or a rare auto-immune disorder. She is praying for deliverance – not just from her physical weakness, but from her isolation.
As disciples of Jesus “clothed with [the Spirit’s] power as from on-high,” you and I are the ones called to see them, called to ask the question over and over again, ‘who is NOT here? And why?’ Who is hidden on the fringes of our community? Sitting behind steamed up windows, unable to summon the strength to walk in?
Then, like Jesus, we must cross those invisible boundaries that divide our society, and convey with our lips and our lives that God is present in suffering with a constant, unwavering source of mercy and love. Suffering, of course, is painful. The memory of it uncomfortable – awful, even; the thought of our next experience of it, scary and unnerving – but it is not to God! God is there. Love is there. So should we be.
Just as Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman discovered, this love is a powerful, healing, and resurrecting love. And going back to Jane Kenyon’s poem, with this knowledge, perhaps we will not pull away quite so briskly, but instead see and love the face behind those steamed up windows. That’s where healing begins. Amen.