Not too much, Not too little

Sermon Given June 27, 2021

Our first reading today comes from the apocrypha, a group of texts that often aren’t found in Protestant Bibles. Historically, these books have always been a part of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles as they used a Greek translation of the Old Testament that included these books. But Protestant Reformers rightly noted that these were newer texts written in Greek, and were not part of the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish scriptures don’t include them. So they were removed from Protestant Bibles, though they were later added into Protestant Bibles, mostly for scholarly study. The debate over these books lives in what we call them. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches call them deuterocanonical texts, meaning “another set of scripture”. Protestants call them the Apocrypha, meaning, “writings of dubious authenticity”. The Episcopal Church does include these books in our list of scriptures, considering them beneficial, but we don’t base Church teachings off these texts. Like many things else, we found a middle way with them. Still, we don’t often interact with them. Yet, every once in a while one pops up in our lectionary. 

The Wisdom of Solomon is a fascinating book. It is part of the Wisdom tradition, a wonderful group of books, including Job, which I spoke about last week. These are books from the philosophers in Jewish tradition. They dig into what it means to live a good life, what value there is in life, and ask the really big questions. In this truncated portion of the Wisdom of Solomon, we lose a lot of the context of this philosopher’s arguments, and it makes for a confusing and even somewhat distressing read. 

What is edited out is the explanation of what the philosopher means by death, because the text actually isn’t about our mortality, though it argues that righteousness brings us eternal life.The philosopher isn’t talking about the act of dying, which we all experience, but a way of living that harms others and yourself. Death, this philosopher argues, is the way of selfishness, it comes from breaking apart from community and exploiting others. Those who experience death take from creation with no regard for the balance of life. They exploit and oppress others, not caring how it will affect them. They take and take and take, building up storehouses for themselves while others starve. But God did not make this way of death. God does not delight in this kind of living. God has a different dream for us and for creation. The generative forces of the world are wholesome. They build community, they bond us together in mutuality. Death comes through self-centered living. Immortal life comes through sharing together for the good of all. Life is communal. Life is relationship. We gain it by opening ourselves to God, our planet, and each other. 

Our reading from Second Corinthians, besides being part of a great stewardship campaign, where Paul is raising money for impoverished Christians in Jerusalem, emphasizes our commonality and our mutuality. We’re all in this together, just like Christ was all in this for us. God didn’t have to come to earth. God didn’t have to hang on the cross in solidarity with the oppressed. But God did it anyway. Christ stripped away all the privilege of being God and became a human, not a human who hoarded resources and oppressed others, like the Roman emperor, but a human who gave himself away for the benefit of others, always sharing his resources and providing enough for all. In doing so, those who had more didn’t have too much, and those who had less didn’t have too little. All were able to survive and thrive under his care. 

Our Gospel lesson today emphasizes this mutuality. Here we have a juxtaposition between a poor woman and the daughter of a well respected community leader. Jairus probably was not unknown to Jesus. While Mark doesn’t say, I have reason to believe that Jesus is back in Capernaum, where he regularly attends synagogue. It’s where Peter’s family lived, and it’s a place Jesus and the disciples frequently return to. If Jesus is in Capernaum, Jairus has seen what Jesus can do. He’s watched as Jesus has stood up in worship, casting out demons and healing the sick. He’s seen those with leprosy have their limbs restored and seen a formerly paralyzed man walk around town. He knows Jesus well. So when his daughter is caught in the throes of disease, when she’s on death’s door, he immediately runs up to Jesus, casts himself at Jesus’ feet, and begs that Jesus touch her so she can be healed. Jairus is a person with much. He doesn’t hurt for worldly possessions. Yet none of that matters when his daughter is on her deathbed. He’d give it all for her smile, the assurance that she would live. He reaches out. 

Yet, what felt like a sure thing suddenly feels like anything but. As they are walking on their way to Jairus’ house, Jesus suddenly stops. He wants to know who touched him, even though the entire crowd is reaching out to him. Here we find this poor woman. She may have once had enough resources to survive, but twelve years of being sick and paying doctor bills have wiped her out. She has nothing left and her condition is worse, not better. Yet, she also has seen what Jesus can do. She trusts with all her heart that the power within Jesus can make her whole and complete. Even on the way to a dire emergency, Jesus stops to acknowledge her. He wants to know who she is. He wants to hear her story. She falls down before him in wonder and tells him the whole truth. Her determination brought in a bountiful harvest. Not only does Jesus heal her, an act that even surprises him, but she is seen and heard. She is valued and loved. Her illness had taken much from her, but her trust and her gumption brought her to Jesus’ feet, where she was healed and made whole, able to participate in community in the ways she desired again. She had little, but in the end, she didn’t have too little. God gave her more than enough. 

I wonder how long Jairus stood there, waiting for Jesus, anxiously hoping that it wasn’t too late. 

But it was too late. He gets pulled aside by some messengers, telling him that his worst fears have been realized. His daughter is dead. What more could be done? But Jesus isn’t done with Jairus’ daughter. He goes in and heals her, restoring her to the family who loved her beyond all measure.

Had Jairus not had the determination to stay close to Jesus’ side, even as Jesus was seemingly sidetracked with the formerly bleeding woman, his daughter would not have lived. He was willing to share the precious resources of his time and Jesus’ healing power with the woman, trusting that there was enough to go around. He didn’t try to make Jesus hurry up, he didn’t try to shove the woman aside or tell her to shut up. He waited, even when his heart screamed for his daughter, longing for her life. He had much, but he didn’t have too much. He didn’t try to hoard Jesus. 

Jairus had to give up something in order to give space to the woman. What did it take for Jairus to not overpower the woman in that moment? How much faith does it take to not rush the one person who can do something when your child’s life is on the line? He released control over to Jesus, entirely and completely. It was probably the hardest thing he ever had to do. 

What does it take for that kind of trust to permeate our lives? It’s hardest for those whom society gives the most power to, those who have many resources and multiple people who call them boss. There is a temptation towards self-centeredness, towards taking from others, towards believing their needs are the most important. But even those who aren’t powerful can feel the pull toward self-centered living. It’s the way of death, the way of sin. It’s so attractive because it promises us the ability to take all that we desire in this life, to control our own destinies. We have to constantly be reminded that we are not the center of the universe. That place belongs to God.  

God’s not against people with power and resources. Jesus provides for them. God’s also not against people without power or resources. Jesus provides for them too. But there is a balance that God asks of us. Those with power have to give the floor to people without. They have to step aside sometimes, recognizing the need for others to speak, even when they have very real needs and concerns. There has to be a trust that in God’s Kingdom, there is enough for all. That’s a hard thing to do. 

But what would the world look like if it were reality? What would it look like if mutual support was part of everyday life?

The other night I was at the table with two people, with different balances of power and privilege, different financial realities, different backgrounds. They could have easily never interacted with each other, never found commonality with one another, unless they had not both seemingly randomly ended up together at St. John’s. And I watched the give and take of the Kingdom, as each supported one another. Resources were offered and received. Love was poured out. It was the kind of support and relationship that leads to greater life. In different areas, the one with little didn’t have too little and the one with much didn’t have too much. They balanced things out as they shared space. The Kingdom was in our very midst. It was growing, even through simple actions, like sharing a meal. 

And I wonder if that was how Jairus was able to do it, able to hold back and give the woman her space with Jesus, even at the moment of his deepest need. Had he been able to share space with her in the past? Did he know her? Could her name still roll off his lips, even if it had been a while? Had they once been at the same table together, laughing and chatting, offering each other space and mutual support? Did he support her healing just as much as he supported his daughter’s? Is that the miracle within the miracle? 

We are all longing for that kind of mutuality, especially when we have spent so long distanced and separated. We need those spaces at the table, where the person sitting across from us is different in many ways, and yet are a friend. We need those spaces where we can bump into those who we wouldn’t encounter in other spaces of our lives. We need strong community and mutuality. That’s what I think we as humans long for the most, a community that supports each any every person in it, no matter what the need is, subtly sharing and balancing power, believing with all their hearts that there is enough to go around. That’s how the fullness of life comes into our very midst.

Today, I pray that we may recognize those spaces and foster them. May we learn the give and take of God’s Kingdom, trusting that God can indeed provide enough for all. Amen.