Sunday, July 1, 2018

Desperation and Compassion

Lamentations 3:22-33: Mark 5:21-43

Day after day, Jesus goes out into different parts of the Galilee to reach people with his message of God’s love and a healing touch. This day is no different. He is back home in Capernaum, near the sea with a crowd gathered as usual.

Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue – an important man in town – hurries up and asks Jesus to come quickly. His twelve-year-old daughter is very ill. It looks like she may die, and he begs, as an important man never wants to be seen doing. He gets down in the dirt, lays himself flat, and begs Jesus to heal his daughter. Jairus is desperate.

Jesus sets off at once to Jairus’ house. As they make their way, a crowd follows along. In the crowd is a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. She may have been wealthy at one time, but now, she has nothing. The doctors have not been able to cure her, but they have accepted her money just the same. All this time, she has been ritually unclean – unwelcome in most homes, and avoided by people so she doesn’t contaminate them with her uncleanness. She has been bleeding and isolated for twelve years and she is sick and tired of it. She is desperate.

As she and the crowd travel with Jairus and Jesus to take care of the sick girl, the woman sees her chance. If I can just touch his clothes, she thinks, I will be healed. He doesn’t have to talk to me, or touch me, or anything. I just want to touch his clothes. She is so filled with nervous energy, she is trembling. And suddenly, she is close enough to touch the hem of his tunic; she reaches out, and she feels it: healing energy.

Jesus can sense the healing energy leaving him, even though the woman touched just his clothing. How did he know, with all those other people around him?! And yet he did, and he stopped everything to talk with this woman and assure her that she is healed and blessed. He calls her “daughter”! He has shown her compassion.

As they resume their journey to Jairus’ house, messengers arrive with the news that the girl has died. There is no reason to continue. But they go on anyway. When they get to the house, there is weeping and wailing outside the house. Jesus assures the crowd that the girl is only sleeping. Then he takes only the three lead disciples plus Jairus and Mrs Jairus in with him.

He speaks to the child, saying, “Child, get up.” And she sits up. Can we imagine her looking around the room and realizing that she has been healed from deep illness? Jesus tells her parents to get her something to eat, proving she is really alive and well. Then he tells the disciples and the parents to say nothing about what they just saw. But, of course, what happened was too amazing to be kept secret for long.

I started thinking about these texts as a set of interruptions – On the way to heal a child, a woman touches Jesus, and he stops to talk with her and bless her. In just the same way, our lives are often a series of interruptions.

But the political conversation, the constant barrage of messages from the right and the left, made me think about this differently. I rarely post personal status reports on Facebook – like, I am really enjoying lunch at a restaurant, or I found these cute clothes at the store. And I don’t let the crooks of the world know when I am away by posting vacation photos.

But I do like to share important sayings and photos. This past week, my brother Dave and my son Dan disagreed with something I shared. We were discussing the question of immigration.

It’s a hot topic, with people of faith taking stands everywhere on a spectrum from far right to far left. I am sure we have people all along the spectrum here this morning. It is clear we need Congress to make significant improvements to the current law. What is not clear is what changes to make and how to implement them. I recognize and understand more every day that the issue is extremely complex and there are no easy answers, no matter where we are along the right-to-left spectrum.

Today’s Gospel tells stories about people in desperate need. I see a connection in the text to the desperate need for relief expressed by those seeking to enter the US from Central America.

And the stories tell of the compassion offered by Jesus. I see a connection to a need for compassion expressed in the public outrage at the way the immigrants have been treated recently. And in the compassion offered by church groups of all sorts including Lutherans.

… The people who risk everything to reach the relative safety of the US are desperate. Their lives are at risk on a daily, if not hourly basis at home. The gangs will not leave them alone. Women and girls are raped, boys are forced to join the gang and do what the gang tells them to do. They are forced to watch while their mothers and sisters are assaulted. They are desperate. When they decide to flee, the journey itself is frightful and dangerous. They are desperate enough to make the trip anyway. 

While we want to ensure they enter the country legally, they deserve compassionate treatment, no matter how they enter. It is compassion that brings us to look at immigrants with gentle eyes. It is compassion that drives millions of people to object to the policy of separating children from their parents. It is compassion that causes us to object to the deportation of lifelong residents without documentation, leaving their families without financial and emotional support.

… There is frequent reference in the Old Testament to the compassion of God. In English, the Hebrew word “hesed” is translated as steadfast love and mercy. In the passage from Lamentations in today’s readings, we are reminded of God’s desire to offer abundant compassion to all God’s people. When Jesus offers compassion to desperate people, he expresses this same divine desire for compassion.

When we follow Jesus, we are called to be compassionate, even as we seek justice according to God’s laws – the Ten Commandments – and according to the human laws we have created and amended numerous times over the last 242 years – the Constitution. We may not be able to change much about the laws Congress writes, but in our own lives, we can always seek to be compassionate: in our prayers, in our thoughts and comments about others, and in the ways we give to and touch the lives of our neighbors. Amen