Are we a people of faith?
God offers us so much, doesn’t he? Forgiveness. Healing. Spiritual liberation. He is indeed a God of infinite mercy and grace and compassion. None of these things can be taken from us because they are the gifts—the riches—offered to us by a Creator whose love for us is limitless. Who could possibly ask for more? So I ask again, are we a people of faith?
I wonder sometimes.
Negativity is seemingly everywhere and more often than not, we seem to cling to the things we have rather than giving freely as Paul suggests in today’s reading from 2nd Corinthians. You might say that Paul is calling for a redistribution of wealth when he says that we ought to give according to what we have, for the sake of equality. He isn’t calling for a shift in the power structure where the ruling class becomes impoverished and the poor become rich; where the oppressor becomes the oppressed and vice versa. He is simply saying that we should be seeking an equitable balance in our society where the basic needs of all are taken care of. You might be wondering, how might such a thing be accomplished? I’m glad you asked; the answer is simple: by giving freely.
Giving should hurt a little bit, shouldn’t it? It is easy to give a little; harder to give a lot. We tend to calculate everything and yes, good stewardship of finances is important. Can we know for certain that what Paul tells us today is going to hold true in our lives? Paul tells the Corinthians “at this present time your abundance is a supply for their need, so that someday their abundance may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality.”
What guarantee is there that if we give when we have an abundance, we will receive when times are tough for us? There is no way to prove that; no economist or accountant would ever recommend hedging our bets on such a notion. But are we people of the bottom line? Or are we people faith?
How many of us know someone or maybe are someone who has had the experience that the more freely they’ve given when they’ve had more than they needed, the more it seemed that they received without even asking for it during times when life was not so good? That the more they’ve opened their wallets to help out friends and strangers alike, the more likely it seemed that when they were down on their luck, someone would come along to ease their burden?
This could be a coincidence. Maybe they’re just lucky. Some people do seem to have the good fortune of having things go their way more often than not. Or maybe the key has just been their willingness to make themselves available in the lives of others. We are a Christian family. We help those who are in need—at least I hope we do. All of us have had our moments of surplus and our moments of need.
But have any of us ever been hungry? I don’t mean “hangry” as my wife would call it, where we’ve gone a few hours without food and we’ve just seen a commercial for Chili’s or Burger King and we’re really getting a little moody because we’re dying to satiate that craving for something delicious. My wife and I just returned from a mission trip to Peru and I’m not sure what I was expecting prior to arriving in the mountains above Lima but it was nothing like what we actually encountered. There are simply no words to describe the poverty we witnessed; no way to convey the hunger that was all around us. We each spent a day with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity in Lima’s Pueblos Jóvenes—this being one of the poorest neighborhoods…on earth!—and the hunger and desperation can only be described as a crime against Creation itself. I don’t know that any of us here have ever experienced this kind of desperation and hopelessness; feeling that we had no choice but to resort to desperate measures; to…take…something that wasn’t ours.
It hurts. It really hurts when you have to endure that kind of plight while simultaneously being aware of the fact that there are so many people in our country and in our world that have more than they could ever spend in two lifetimes.
It hurts. Because it should not happen. Children should not go to bed hungry anywhere. Parents should not have to choose between whether they can afford to keep their children or be forced to abandon them on the doorstep of an orphanage. When you push people to their limits and force them into desperation, it is only natural for the human survival instinct to kick in—even if it appears to go against all that we might comfortably view as being moral or decent.
So why, then, does it surprise us or maybe even instill outrage in some of us when we hear about or read about people who—much like the bleeding woman in today’s Gospel reading—take matters into their own hands and simply take that which they so desperately need?
In discussing today’s Gospel reading, I don’t mean to diminish the importance of the miracle of Jesus’ healing of Jairus’ daughter but that’s just Jesus doing what Jesus does. Jairus had faith and his faith saved his daughter’s life. A beautiful and true story. But it’s just Jesus doing his thing. For me, the more amazing part of today’s Gospel is found in the faith of the unnamed bleeding woman.
She wasn’t an important man like Jairus; she was a poor woman; insignificant to the point that Mark didn’t even name her. She did not have a male sponsor (something that would have been important back then) and she was viewed as impure because of her bleeding Mark doesn’t say where or why she was bleeding and we don’t need to make speculations because regardless, Jewish law would have viewed her as perpetually unclean. She was a cast-out. An undesirable; a woman who, for all intents and purposes, would have had no chance to make it in this world; a woman…without…hope.
And yet…with Jesus…there is always hope.
With all that we know about Jesus—thousands of years of history and scholarship and research—we still have such little faith because we’re so caught up with our own nonsensical obsessions and insecurities and paranoias. We’re so quick to abandon hope and delude ourselves into believing that we are in control so we foolishly try to create heaven-on-earth-scenarios in this world. We cast aside members of our own society through draconian policies of law enforcement and implementation; for-profit-prisons and mass incarcerations of specific demographics aka “slavery by another name;” a blatant disregard for the under-employed, the unemployed and the homeless; so-called “quality-of-life” laws that criminalize panhandling and merely sleeping on city sidewalks; quality of life for WHOM?
You’ve heard it said that desperate times call for desperate measures; there is no time more desperate in a person’s life than when they literally have nothing left to lose. It is interesting however that for many, desperation leads people not to bad behavior but instead to seek a source of hope. Like the children Jessica and I spent the last 8 days with, this poor, outcast, bleeding woman who most certainly had nothing left to lose recognized the embodiment of Truth when he stood before her. She knew that because of her status, she probably would not have been granted a meeting with Jesus had she attempted to arrange one with the burly fishermen who surrounded him. In other words, because of society’s prejudices and norms, she could not even get a foot in the door because the deck was perpetually stacked against her. So she resorted to desperate measures; she improvised. She “took” what she knew she needed.
The children we worked with in Peru recognize that Jesus is their hope and they process together every Sunday through the streets of their little town to church because they know where to find the only thing that matters in this world. When communion time comes, there is something resembling organized chaos as the entire church seems to get up in unison and rush the altar. They recognize their source of hope.
Perhaps for the bleeding woman, her action was a form of “theft.” After all, civic laws throughout history have either been based on or have been very much in line with the Ten Commandments and stealing made God’s top ten list of no-no’s. This woman quite literally took Jesus’ power from him. It says so right there in Mark’s Gospel: “At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?”’ But Jesus—a master—THE MASTER—of forgiveness and compassion–decides to turn this into a teaching moment; not for her—he already knows her heart—but for the rest of us. Jesus’ response to feeling the healing power drain from him is: “Who touched my clothes?”
This is a fascinating question. Did he really not know? Some scholars believe that he didn’t. I’m not entirely certain but I don’t think it matters because by asking that question, he offers her a moment for true redemption. And…she accepts it. She is honest; she falls to her knees at his feet and as Mark says, “tells him the whole truth;” she essentially says, it was I, Lord; I know you can heal me because I believe in you. This woman who for so long had been cast aside, unwanted and unloved by those around her had now found a reason to be hopeful; she had found…the source…of all hope…the source…of…faith.
Jesus doesn’t embarrass her or scold her or do anything that we might be tempted to do if we were in his shoes. He doesn’t look to “punish” or “rehabilitate” her for the crime of theft. No. Because he is not driven by pride or ego. Jesus embodies the spirit of forgiveness; the spirit of true charity and giving. His power is his to give freely; but even when it is taken from him, his only response is: “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Forgiveness. Compassion. Healing. This is what our faith is about; this is what God offers us, freely and unconditionally; this is what we as Christians should want to offer others.
We spend our lives seeking things that amount to nothing and yet this woman recognized the one and only thing that any of us should desire because it is the one and only thing that cannot be taken from us: our status as children of God. More than a few times during my time in Peru, I heard some of the high schoolers we chaperoned say things like “this experience should make us appreciate the things we have at home.” They’re young so I don’t fault them for thinking that way but I disagree. I feel that Christ is calling us not to appreciate “things” but to divorce ourselves from “things” because “things” get in our way; they distract us from recognizing that the source of our hope and faith—the ONLY thing that can fulfill us is Christ. When we have nothing, we are liberated; we are free to see Christ as he is; free to rush the altar to encounter him; free to give freely of ourselves in order to help those who have less than we do. These children who are now forever in my heart are poorer than most of us could fathom and yet they are richer than all of us combined because Christ is their everything. Though Christ was rich, he became poor for our sake; through choosing poverty with Christ, we are made rich in ways that no earthly riches could ever rival!
THANKS BE TO GOD. AMEN