Nineteenth Day of Lent

Luke 8:40-56 
40 Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. 41 Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house 42 because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying. As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. 43 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. 44 She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. 45 ‘Who touched me?’ Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, ‘Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.’

46 But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.’ 47 Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. 48 Then he said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.’

49 While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. ‘Your daughter is dead,’ he said. ‘Don’t bother the teacher anymore.’

50 Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.’ 51 When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. 52 Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. ‘Stop wailing,’ Jesus said. ‘She is not dead but asleep.’

53 They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. 54 But he took her by the hand and said, ‘My child, get up!’ 55 Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. 56 Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

These two stories are a complex, interwoven tapestry that tell us an awful lot about who Jesus is, what his mission was and what it is to be a disciple.

Luke starts off with the story of a young girl of twelve years old, and so just about to hit puberty, who is the daughter of a wealthy man. But she is sick. The man throws himself at Jesus feet pleading with him to come and heal his daughter which Jesus consents to do, but he is hampered in his going by the crush of the crowd.

This story is then intercepted by a story of an older woman, who had been bleeding for twelve years. She had visited all sorts of doctors but none had been able to heal her. The implication is that for twelve years she was ritually unclean and thus unable to touch anyone or be touched by anyone. Think of the isolation.

Her faith to reach out and touch Jesus, secretly, results in her healing, but also in Jesus being apparently too late to heal the daughter of the synagogue leader, Jairus.

There are all sorts of parallels in the story. The number twelve for instance. A young girl and an older woman and of course the sensitive issue of blood, spoken and unspoken. A rich man who throws himself at Jesus’ feet, an impoverished woman who does the same. A young girl who is healed by the conscious touch of Jesus and a woman who is healed through her touching of Jesus without his knowing. A child healed through encounter, a woman healed prior to encounter.

I am struck by this very physical and real demonstration of Jesus ministry which he described elsewhere as “the last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matt 20:16). Here the impoverished and ill woman interrupts the request for help from the community leader who is made to wait until Jesus has dealt with her illness.

He also commends her for her faith (Luke 8:48) whereas the household of the synagogue leader struggle to have faith sufficient to see a miracle (Luke 8:49-50, 52-53).

I am also struck by the issue of shame in the story and how for so many of us our culture makes us ashamed of our bodies, of how they work or don’t work, of their size or shape and of what we do with them. This shaming resulted in twelve years of isolation for this woman. So I love the fact that Jesus calls her “daughter” and commends her faith and its part in her healing and tells her to “Go in peace!” (Luke 8:48). In so doing he restores her to physical and mental health, reintegrates her to community and changes her relationship to her physical self after twelve years of loneliness caused by the complexity of her body.

Even if just for today, resist body-shaming either yourself or others. Be kind to your body, pamper and spoil it. Rejoice in its abilities, and its non-conformity. Laugh at its strangeness. Be at peace with your body.

Lord Jesus
You knew tiredness in your body
And loneliness and rejection.
You knew physical pain
And you crossed that mysterious border
Between life and death.

Grant me patience with my body
And its limitations
Give me joy in its abilities
And wonder at its mysteries.

May its needs and desires
Be a source of delight
And never of shame

For Jesus sake
Who loved every body