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God, give us open eyes to see you, opens ears to hear you, so that we may know you and believe you. Amen
I’m sure I’m not the person you expected to be preaching for re-opening Sunday. I am here today because as the lectionary and life cross paths. I asked Fr. Chip if I could preach on this Gospel passage about two years ago. Because despite the spiritual depths our beloved male priests plumb for us time and again, there was just something about this story and the woman in it that just seemed a little outside their realm of experience. So, here we go –
If I were to ask you who the most beautiful woman in the Bible is, you might answer Esther. She was the first beauty pageant winner after all. Or you might say Mary – there is that glow that pregnancy brings. Or possibly Lydia from the early church – I’m sure this seller of purple cloth was an effortless fashionista. I have a feeling that the woman in today’s Gospel would probably not even hit most people’s top ten, but she is at the top of the list for me.
To truly understand how beautiful this woman is, I think we need to better understand where she has been for 12 years. I promise not to get too detailed, but we do need to understand that no matter how flattering the dress you wear or how new your shoes are, there is a blech factor that stays with you in situations like this. I know the women already know what I am talking about, but for the men I will confirm, probably your worst nightmare, we are talking about the “issue of blood.”
The woman in the story most likely had a condition called menorrhagia, which is associated with heavy bleeding – like run to the bathroom every 2 to 3 hours kind of bleeding, anemia, and heavy cramping. And that is just one tiny part of our picture.
According to Levitical law, this woman would be considered unclean. Meaning that she was cut-off, communally and religiously isolated because to touch her or be touched by her, you would not be able to attend worship services or participate in community life either. We have just spent a year in a similar situation, but now imagine you are the only one who cannot touch or be touched. She wouldn’t have even been able to care for her family by cooking meals. If she had children, she was not the one they could come to for comfort when hurt. If she had a husband, her condition was grounds for divorce. If she wasn’t married, her condition squashed any hope of a wedding day.
Her one solace was that once a month, the other women in her home would be relegated to the same isolation as her. We know that her life had some measure of love in it to be allowed to spend “all she had” on physicians because it was highly unlikely that this woman was independently wealthy. But even the women in her home got to return to a normal life and the physicians had no answers for her, instead they made everything worse. So, she was back to simply taking up space – watching life through a window.
Now having experienced quarantine this past year, I’m not sure I would have been as brave and been able to muster the faith it took to get out of the house in hopes of getting near this miracle worker named Jesus. But this woman risked it all, fought the fatigue, put on her big girl panties (literally), and ventured out with the faith that if she just touched his clothes. She didn’t need a big show of it. She didn’t want to take up his time. But she knew deep down that Jesus was the One who could heal her. I can almost picture her crawling through the crowd, praying that she would not be noticed or trampled. Reaching out her fingers between a tangle of legs, she manages to brush against Jesus’ robe. She knows instantly her condition is gone.
But this is not what makes her beautiful. It makes her admirable, and someone I look up to on those days when I want to whine about a slight headache.
The beauty this woman possess was with her the whole time, but it took someone else to unveil it, bring it to the surface, and reflect the truth of it back to her. Picture her in your mind, yes, she has been healed, but the years of isolation, social rejection, the bone-deep fatigue, living with chronic pain, the depression of one failed medical visit after another still hang on her.
Until she hears Jesus say, “Daughter.” With one word, Jesus brings her back to community, brings her out of the shadows, calls her chosen, says that she is loved. Jesus affirms the depth and power of her faith. Can you see how radiant and beautiful her face is now? Now that she is seen, fully accepted. Now that the beauty of being a child of God is fully recognized within her.
Well, wasn’t that a fun little trip into the Gospels? We feel good. We got a happy ending.
I’m afraid this is where the hard work begins. Because we are called to do this same beautification work. This is the ministry of reconciliation that Paul describes to the Corinthian church when he tells them to see everyone as a new creation.
It’s funny – I grew up hearing about the ministry of reconciliation. It was always a hot sermon topic. But I didn’t understand it until Andrew introduced me to a theologian with a funny name – Maximus the Confessor. His teaching in this area was so revolutionary, we named our cat after him.
Maximus taught that we all have a tiny God-spark within us. The worries of this life, bad choices, and sin come and cover over up that spark. Our role as Christians is recognize that everyone has that spark whether they acknowledge it or not, and help fan that flame, unleashing the beauty of who God created them to be. Just as Jesus did for this woman.
Now I know what you are thinking – that sounds like a lovely theory, but have you met the people in my life? And I answer your question with a question – Have you met the people in David’s life from our Old Testament reading?
A number of years have passed since last week when Saul was dressing David up in his fancy armor. And in that time, Saul has tried to kill David about a dozen times. So, I’m right there with David when Saul tragically dies wanting to mourn him and sing his praises. Umm. No. So, how was David able to lament the death of this man with such reverence and heartfelt earnestness? He knew that Saul was the Lord’s anointed. He remembered that God-spark within Saul. Saul may have forgotten it was there – but David honored it until the end.
I will tell you point blank that adopting the God-spark view and beautification ministry will be the hardest thing you ever do. Choosing love is hard. Choosing at accept people, fully embracing who they are is uncomfortable. Choosing to look for that God-spark in everyone or at least seek to remember that it is there is not easy.
I have found two tools to help me as I try to see people in this new God-spark way. First is an honest prayer given to me by a Dominican nun when I was struggling with my own Saul. And it goes, “God, I do not like this person. I certainly do not love them, but I know that you do and that is all that matters, so help me to treat them accordingly.”
The second is a question that I learned from Richard Rohr. Before we get to the question, I want to come back to what we talked about earlier with the woman’s beauty. That it was there all along. She was lovingly hand-crafted by God. She is a child of God. But it took Jesus calling her daughter reflecting that truth back to her like a mirror for her beauty to shine through. We all act as mirrors for each other and sometimes what we see in that mirror is not something we like. In these instances, our first inclination is to put it all on the one holding the mirror and say well, they’re rude, or bossy, or small-minded. However, Rohr encourages us to first look within. I told ya’ll this was going to be hard. And ask ourselves, “What is this person reflecting back to me that I don’t like about myself?” This part we are not liking may be something society has deemed undesirable – gender expressions that don’t fit the checkboxes, skin color that is deemed inferior, accents that are supposedly uneducated. Or it may be an area of honest growth in ourselves that we are working on or an unmet needed that is calling for attention. But the question brings us back to the answer – I am a child of God. The person reflecting this to me is a child of God. Can I accept these truths and embrace who I am and who the person before me is?
In order to be good mirrors to others, in order to see the God-spark in the people around us, we must be first grounded in knowing that we are children of God, lovingly hand-crafted, and beautiful.
The best part is that as we get grounded in that truth for ourselves and others and start reflecting that back to each other – then there is no more “them,” “those people,” “the other.” Instead, everyone is daughter, as Jesus said, brother, sister, child of God and that is beautiful. Amen.