Mark 5: 24-31
I grew up as a camper at Camp Westminster on Higgins Lake, a beloved place for me as a camper and then as a counselor. It is an amazing place, a place of fun, adventure, friendships, a sacred place where lives come together and where people engage each other and engage God. It is a place that changed my life.
Last year the Camp posted their new annual report. This report analyzed life at Westminster in a totally different way. Usually, these kinds of reports come out with the number of scholarships reported, the dollars spent on giving kids the opportunity of the summer. But, this annual report looked a little different, it still had the numbers but it highlighted some different things. It listed things like “79 campfires, 89 canoes floated on the Au Sable River, 64 meals served outdoors.” What this said to me, is how valuable those moments were, those campfires that were shared with counselors, the hours spent drifting down the river talking to your fellow campers, linking up canoes and chatting with each other, the meals tirelessly prepared outdoors, working together to create something and the friendship and laughter enjoyed over those meals. The numbers were there, the numbers of the things that were done the things one does, but all the meaning behind those things was shown in the mundane activities they did together, the everyday experiences that were lifted up—the new ice cream flavors that campers created, the friendships built canoeing down the river, the being together that really changes lives. That is what I read in that annual report: the totally radical idea of the healing power of building relationships.
In Mark’s gospel account of the story of the bleeding woman, we hear this. The story is one of Mark’s famous “Markan sandwiches” where Mark begins telling one story—in this case the story of Jairus’ daughter, interrupts the first story to tell another story and then finishes the first story. In doing so, Mark sets up a parallel comparison between the two people being healed, in one story Jairus’ daughter is a person of some prominence, her father is a Jewish teacher and approaches Jesus in search of healing, in the second story the woman in the story has lost any social significance. Her ailment, excessive hemorrhaging, would have made her ritually unclean according to Leviticus purity codes, meaning she would have been considered not only untouchable but also inadmissible into the temple. Also interesting is that this woman is given no name, throughout the story she is only referred to as a woman defined by her physical ailment. Mark truly sets her up as an outcast, a woman who is an outsider, untouchable, unclean, unknown, nameless.
When the woman approaches Jesus, she approaches the back of his cloak, hoping that some of the glory of Jesus will seep through his cloak and make her clean. She touches just the hem of his garment and she feels her healing. She immediately recognizes that indeed some of Jesus’ glory seeped into her and made her well.
Now that was a miracle, this woman was made well, cured of her disease that no earthly doctors were able to cure, that all the money she had could not fix, nothing could fix her problem. Some unexplainable, incomprehensible miracle happened—Jesus’ touch healed her of her physical ailment.
But there is another healing in this story. Not of Jairus’ daughter but still of the woman. In commentaries and articles about this story the woman has many names, depending on the time of the articles publication or of translations. The woman is referred to as “the hemorrhaging woman” or “the woman with the problem of the flow of blood” or “the woman with an issue of blood.” Time and time again this woman is named by the disease that affected her.
And therein lies the second healing of this story. The healing not of the outside- not of her physical ailment but the healing of her inside. The healing of her soul, her identity, her person. The woman is not called by Jesus as a nameless woman, he does not call her a woman with an issue of blood. Jesus turns to her and names her something much greater; he calls her “daughter.” By doing so, he is effectively naming her a child of God. In that moment she is transformed, not simply healed of her disease, but transformed by the power and grace of Jesus, who calls her daughter, who recognizes her as a child of God.
It is that second transformation; that second healing that goes often overlooked but is such a sign of what Christ’s healing is. The healing not simply to be restored physically but the healing of a soul, the healing of a life lived in the margins, outcast from society. This is power of Jesus- to not simply heal a woman of a chronic physical disease but the power to make an unnamed woman a daughter, the power to make an outsider, an insider—a person who is deeply loved, deeply known.
As many of you know I spent a year after college as a Young Adult Volunteer- a program of the PCUSA for Young Adults who want to put their faith in action by serving of mission. I served my YAV year in Nairobi, Kenya. Before I left for Kenya all the YAVs gathered together for a week of orientation in Stony Point, NY. During that time I was introduced to a concept that has stuck with me over the years, that has compelled me in ministry in many ways. It’s a rather simple phrase coined by the Presbyterian Church’s Mission Agency, it is “being more so than doing.” The idea with “being more so than doing” is that in the practice of mission work, the importance ought to be placed on “being there” more so than “doing.” More emphasis on your presence with a group of people than the number of tangible things you do. At the age of 21, I heard this idea and reinterpreted it as best as I could to make it make sense to me. I understood it to mean, “ok, build some relationships, get to know the real need, then get to the doing.” More like being as an avenue to doing, rather than being more so than doing.
Over the course of my year in Nairobi, I learned that being was a whole lot greater than doing. Being was the importance of sitting with a new friend and learning about each other, being was the time that gave people voice, being with each other was the time that made people feel known, feel recognized and feel loved. Being is more precious than doing.
When Jesus turns around to that woman in the crowd after her physical ailment is treated, he makes a daughter, he makes her known, known to him. David Lose, the President of Luther Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota writes of this moment: “The only way to accept God’s great “I love you” is to first hear God’s equally important “I know you.” Jesus does this by turning around in the crowd and giving that woman a place in his family as a daughter. We can begin to do this by recognizing the importance in being. The importance in being as well as in doing which allows us to know one another, to be known and through that to experience love.
During seminary, I spent a year as an intern at a Church in Trenton, NJ, Westminster Presbyterian Church, a multicultural, multigenerational, multilingual church in the heart of Trenton. Worshippers include babies, African women, old guard boy-scout leaders, teachers, young mothers, grandfathers, white folks, black folks, Asian folks. The church truly claims its identity as multicultural. At the end of each service, before receiving the benediction the church circles around the pews, grabs the hands of the people on their left and right, enclosing the pews in the circle made by the congregants hand holding. Looking into the face of each other, holding the hand of the other, the church receives the benediction and then together responds with the passing of the peace in several languages. One of the languages in which this is done is in the language of the Natal Tribe of South Africa. The exchange is quite a beautiful greeting. It begins with the words “Sawa Bona” meaning “I see you,” which is to say “I respect and acknowledge you for who you are,” followed by the wonderful response, sikhona, meaning “I am here,” or “when you see me, you bring me into existence.” “Sawa Bona- I see you, I respect you and acknowledge you for who you are.” “Sikhona- I am here, when you see me, you bring me into existence.” The phrase acknowledges the presence of the other, it acknowledges the importance of the other and it lifts up the value of that relationship, the integrity of knowing one another and being known.
There is power in relationships, there is power in the healing that comes from being known, the integrity that comes from being known, the love that is shown in being recognized as a child of God. When Jesus turns around in the crowd and calls that woman out, he does just that: he recognizes her value as a child of God. When we follow the practice of “being” alongside “doing” in mission, we do just that, we be with one another to show one another love. When Camp Westminster posted that annual report, we see the value in the time spent together, the value in the being. Jesus’ love is radical and gratuitous, it calls outsiders in and it heals from the outside all the way through to the inside. It calls us into relationship with one another, to a place where we can learn about one another, love one another and value one another- saying “I see you” “I am here.”