June 30, 2024 — The Rev Mary Petty Anderson

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Proper 8, Year B

I don’t know what’s wrong with the woman in the Gospel, but I figure it doesn’t matter too much, because if you’re like a lot of folks, you can relate to this story. You walk around bleeding in different ways, leaving a trail of blood and tears, while your life-force slowly seeps away. Which is the reason the woman in the Gospel steps up, not too concerned about interrupting anything. That’s not the intent, but it turns out that the interruption is crucial, and as often as not, what’s holy lives inside the interruption.

 Mark has a habit of telling one story inside another, a double dose. A leader of the synagogue begs Jesus to make a house call to heal his daughter, but on the way Jesus gets distracted when a new character shows up. Female and alone, without a husband or father or son or brother, she fends for herself. And she has no name. We only know she has been hemorrhaging for twelve years, and that she’s out of cash.

Historically a lot of folks have lived this way. There’s no place for them in the big story. They live and die without seat, voice, or vote, and they feed on the leftovers of history. But this woman quietly pushes forward, not making much of a fuss. All we know is that she is someone whose body is in trouble. She suffers, and she is poor.

At the end of her rope, she makes one more effort. She makes her way through the crowd and moves toward the center of power. She reaches out to Jesus, her hand reaching to touch his cloak: “If I can only touch the hem of his garment, I will be well.” If only I touch it — if only I can– if only.

Immediately, immediately she is healed. Now she has Jesus’ attention. You don’t know whether he is irritated, or if he is curious, or if he is full of compassion. The disciples are of no help. They become defensive and don’t care. But Jesus does. This woman with no name is about to be known, in all of her dignity and all of her individuality.

She has lived for so long as an outsider that she falls downs before him with trembling and fear and speaks up. What does that tell us?  She has nothing to lose, and that she has the wherewithal to speak her truth. What is she afraid of? What makes her tremble? Her culture tells her that a woman alone does not speak to an unknown man; it’s simply not done. But Jesus sees her, and what he sees is family. He speaks to her with tenderness, and he names her ‘daughter’. The name places her within the human family and within his family.

“Your faith has made you well.” Notice that he does not claim to have healed her. He gives her the credit. It is she who has believed the stories she has heard about this person, and she has enough faith to step into the circle. And then, with a gentle sort of grace, Jesus blesses her: “Go in peace.” Be well.  Live. Thrive. Move into the center. Name this child. The model here is that Jesus takes time. He stops. He turns around. He sees. He asks. He listens. He embraces her in the language of family.

Bishop Melissa has talked about going from the abyss to the city, but in this story, it’s from the city to the abyss. The city—think of everyday life, indifference, predictability, day after day, the same routine. The abyss: think of mystery, receptivity, invitation, an encounter with the unknown, with the power of Jesus, not just some person, but an encounter with the incarnation, with Presence, an engagement with the divine. The movement is from the predictability of the everyday to an encounter with the unexpected, with love and surprise and invitation, where she knows that she’s worth loving and being accepted.

This week comes Independence Day. You might have expected to hear a story about freedom. But that is exactly what this story is about. This is about someone desperate, who finds freedom and a place. Jesus turns around and looks at this woman and forces us to look at her, too. Is this your story, your lifeforce seeping away?  Do you know your name? The far as I can tell, it’s the story for a lot of us. The story of the woman who bleeds intrudes into our comfort zone on lots of levels. Being left out is an express lane to death.

This incidental story tucked inside another story reminds us that healing can actually happen. It heals us to be seen and to be listened to. It heals us to have a name. It heals us to be part of a family. It heals us to be blessed. The healing lies in being known and accepted. What more could we ask?

This story is an invitation to move from the city, to get close to the center of power, to move toward the abyss, the ever-present abyss. How much better can it get?

My eyes for beauty pine,
My soul for Goddës grace:
No other care nor hope is mine,
To heaven I turn my face.

One splendour thence is shed
From all the stars above:
‘Tis named when God’s name is said,
‘Tis Love, ‘tis heavenly love.

And every gentle heart,
That burns with true desire,
Is lit from eyes that mirror part
Of that celestial fire.

Elizabeth Coxhead