Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Jesus Cares About Women: Judy Packwood's Sermon on Jesus and the Healing of the Woman in Mark 5

For the past year our Lay Readers have been preaching once a month as part of their ministry development. Last Sunday was Judy Packwood's turn. I was moved by what she had to say so I asked her if I could post it here. She agreed.

Here's the written version:
Lord Jesus, we accept this day as your gift. We open our senses to see you. We lend all our energies to things of goodness and joy. Thanks you for your presence with us. In your name we pray. 
I thank God for Jesus.

Thank you, God, that Jesus shows his followers, including all of us, that women matter. He affirms women as faithful. I am immensely grateful for that. And he notices us. If we were in any doubt of that, this story in the Gospel this morning of the healing of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years must surely convince us. 
In 1971 Helen Reddy wrote a song: 
I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back and pretend
'Cause I've heard it all before
And I've been down there on the floor
No one's ever gonna keep me down again
Oh yes I am wise
But it's wisdom born of pain
Yes, I've paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything
I am strong - strong
I am invincible - invincible
I am woman

The world needed a song like this at that time. The song became the anthem for the feminist movement. But you know, if we had just looked into the Bible and read about Jesus’ treatment of women, there would have been no need for the song, or even the feminist movement. Jesus gives women worth. 
This story is wonderful. (Mark 5.25-34) It is such an encouraging picture of how to treat one another. Jesus’ care for this anonymous woman shows us how we must treat one another – especially, I would argue, the ones we have deemed ‘unclean’.

The woman (ELDERLY, it is suggested) had been sick for 12 years. During that time she had seen many doctors and had spent all her money on medicines that not only didn’t work, but made her worse.

Some of the “cures” she may have tried” – Rabbi Jochanan says: "Take of gum Alexandria, of alum, and of crocus hortensis, the weight of a zuzee each; let them be bruised together, and given in wine to the woman that hath an issue of blood.

But if this fail, "Take of Persian onions nine logs, boil them in wine, and give it to her to drink: and say, Arise from thy flux.

But should this fail, "Set her in a place where two ways meet, and let her hold a cup of wine in her hand; and let somebody come behind and affright her, and say, Arise from thy flux.

But should this do no good, "Take a handful of cummin and a handful of crocus, and a handful of fenugreek; let these be boiled, and given her to drink, and say, Arise from thy flux.

But should this also fail, "Dig seven trenches, and burn in them some cuttings of vines not yet circumcised (vines not four years old;) and let her take in her hand a cup of wine, and let her be led from this trench and set down over that, and let her be removed from that, and set down over another: and in each removal say unto her, Arise from thy flux."

The Jewish cures for this problem listed in the Talmud were (1) carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen rag around one’s neck in summer and in a cotton rag in winter or (2) carrying barley corn from the dung of a white female donkey. 
Not only was the woman sick in her body, physically dying even, but her condition meant that she was ‘unclean’ – she wasn’t allowed to attend the synagogue or the temple. In Leviticus 12, we can read the laws pertaining to a woman who is bleeding. She was cut off from all things holy. She was sick spiritually. And to make her sickness public would have exposed her to shame and contempt. And this had been going on for 12 years. No wonder she was desperate! 
She had heard about Jesus. Perhaps she thought – maybe there is something to this man. I’ve done all the conventional stuff – now it is tiem for the faith healer. She resolved to try to get near him so that she might touch his clothes and, she hoped, be healed. She reached out for Jesus in her weakness, not her strength and immediately was healed. Now that is something to which we must pay attention. This woman had three strikes against her – she was a woman, she was bleeding, and the law said she was outcast, unclean. In the midst of all that, she chose a path of action that on the face of it was quite wrong. And yet Jesus healed her.
Another thing - she had no proof that she would be healed – all she had were stories from other, hearsay. My story- healing of ulcer 
Jesus was immediately aware of what had happened. Someone had come to Him in her need and had touched Him for healing. And He could not leave it at that. We learn here two things. Firstly that Jesus was immediately aware that he had been touched. .The healing that happened affected him. He knew about it. And secondly He was intimately concerned about people. He could not ignore a plea for His help, even in the present urgent situation (Jairus’ daughter). He turned round and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” Can you imagine how the woman must have felt when he said that?? Fear and trembling at the very least! The dear disciples, the dear practical disciples, full of common sense, gave the woman an out. She could have just walked away, couldn’t she? But no-one touches Jesus and is unchanged. No-one. And no one ever called in faith on Jesus and is ignored. The woman knew, somehow, that the right thing to do was to go to Jesus and pour out her heart to him. Even though, remember, she had done something that was quite wrong according to the Jewish laws. She had sinned. She was a sinner. And she didn’t know what Jesus would do to her.
How does Jesus respond to the woman? Was he displeased with her? Did her shake his finger at her and say Get away from me woman. You are unclean. Not at all. First of all he listens to her. He didn’t ask for her story before he healed her, the healing happened when she reached out and touched him. He didn’t ask if she understood who he was. He didn’t ask her to explain the theology of healing. He didn’t even ask if sh was ‘right before God’. He is so compassionate and tender with her. He listens. Jesus gives her his time, his attention. He listens. One of God’s greatest gifts to each of us in our hour of need is a good listener. Notice he doesn’t give her any advice! 
He calls her daughter – reassures her that she belongs, that she and he have a relationship. He commends her faith, He gives her his peace – a wonderful gift, and assures her of her continues wholeness. She is healed in body and in spirit.

In saying your faith has made you well, Jesus encourages the woman, and all of us, to know that it was his sovereign will that healed her. She was healed because of her faith on the Lord of glory. She believed that he could, without worrying about whether he would. In her weakness, she witnessed to Jesus’ divinity, and in turn, Jesus witnessed to her faith. I think she would have felt strong and possibly invincible, in a humble way, at that moment.
Do we approach the Lord with expectant faith? Do we reach out to Jesus expecting that he will hear our requests and act? When we go to the prayer ministry for prayer for healing, do we believe Jesus can heal? Are we perhaps waiting until the time is right, until we know enough, until we understand enough? Are we asking by faith? If our redemption, our salvation, is dependant upon our full knowledge of the truth of Jesus and his way of life, none of us will be saved. A little faith, a mustard seed sized faith, even though it be imperfect, acted upon, is better than great faith unsupported by consistent deeds. The woman was healed not because Jesus wanted to heal her or because she was the only one who needed healing, but rather because she had faith. Jesus says – your faith has made you well. There was no need to perform sacrifices or rituals or obey complicated laws. In the end, being relieved of her uncleanliness was just a matter of having the right sort of faith – believing that Jesus can heal. 
In Jesus we see the infinite love of God extending to each one of us as he gives freely and wholly of himself to each person he meets.  Cleansing and restoration is available for us all if like the woman with the flow of blood we will only reach out to Him, believing he can do it.

Jesus cares about women – and men – and children. We all matter to him. In her song, Helen Reddy gave great worth to women, but I think she missed the point. It is in Jesus that we are woman, man, boy, girl. In Jesus we are strong, In Jesus we are invincible. Never forget that! Praise God for Jesus. Amen