By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 11, 2021
Mark 6:14–29 (ESV)
14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” 17 For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. 18 For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. 22 For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” 23 And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” 24 And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” 25 And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. 27 And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison 28 and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb.
This past week I have thought a great deal about life. I was back on the farm helping my dad. When making various trips and while in the field the farm life allows for a great deal of introspection. When you are traveling at a top speed of twenty miles per hour, you have time to think.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. This phrase had stuck out to me this week. Why would anyone even mention it? Of course, Jesus’ name was making its way across the land and into the local seats of power.
As I was making the various slow trips across the plains of Kansas, I began thinking about Herod. We know him as a king, and when we hear the word king our mind begins to come up with mental images that are filled with grand extravagance. But I want us to consider what Herod was the king of.
To call Herod a king is a bit of a stretch and I think the gospel writers used that term as much in jest as anything. This particular Herod is Antipas, the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was an actual king. When Herod the Great died his kingdom was divided among various heirs because Israel, while being semi-autonomous, were under Roman authority.
Herod Antipas wanted to be king. At one point in time, he was the sole heir of the entire kingdom of Herod the Great but his desire for power proved to be his undoing. Herod the Great, was by all secular accounts an effective ruler. He had the support of the people and when necessary, he would stamp out rebellion quickly and efficiently. The problem was that he had too much influence. Israel has never been large, yet when they have a ruler that is wise, they have had influence that far exceeds their size. Herod the Great had a great deal of influence. That amount of power in such a small area under Roman jurisdiction posed a threat to the influence of Rome, so when he died the only accepted transition of power was to divide the territory into smaller parts. Herod Antipas was given Galilee and Peraea.
This is interesting. If you were to look at a map Antipas was given a decent inheritance, but the areas he ruled were not continuous. The area known as the Decapolis was in between Galilee and Peraea. This division was purposeful, because the politicians in Rome knew Antipas could have been as effective as his father in ruling Israel.
But how did the Herodian dynasty get power in the first place? Herod the great was Idumean, or an Edomite, not Jewish. He became the governor of Galilee because he had great connections. He used his influence to spread the influence of Rome, as well as honoring the people. He would use brutal force to stamp out rebellion, but quickly after he would bring in wonderous building projects like expanding the Temple. He also used his influence and connections to gain greater influence in Israel, by marrying into the Hasmonean family. This family was recognized as the royal family of the Jews because their ancestors were able to Israel to gain their independence from the Greeks. The Herod family although foreigners, became converts to the Jewish faith to some degree. They were able to use religion, might, and political cunning to maintain relative peace.
Some in Israel accepted their rule, while others still saw them as foreigners, and this is why there is a group of religious leaders known as Herodians. They agreed with how Herod and his family used religion and government to accomplish what is necessary.
This method of rule had its problems. It is impossible to govern in both spheres completely. At some point you will offend religious leaders because you are too secular and you will offend those not of similar religious faith by giving in to the religious.
King Herod, the want to be King Herod heard of Jesus’ growing influence, and it caused him concern. It caused concern because of how Herod lived his life.
Antipas used whatever was necessary to ensure his influence. When he wanted to be seen as religious, he would act pious. He had scholars at hand to assist him in speaking to the religious, but he was not too concerned with living a pious life.
Today’s passage begins with Jesus’ name, but then it goes into something else. It begins to speak about Herod’s guilt. If we were to look at a historical timeline of ministry, Jesus and John the Baptist ministered at approximately the same time. John began and built his influence, and shortly after Jesus began his public ministry, John was arrested and executed. It would almost appear as if Jesus did not fully engage in ministry until after John was executed. I think this is important because it gives us a fuller understanding of scripture. We know John as the forerunner, as the witnesses, as a prophet like Elijah. All these things have messianic and apocalyptic meanings.
When Jesus’ name was becoming known and some began to say that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead, and that Jesus could also be Elijah, or a prophet. Antipas had his own understanding. He said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” We are then told the circumstances of that execution.
Herod Antipas, although accepted as a Jewish leader by many, was not the greatest example of piety. Antipas had a problem; he was married to his brother’s wife. The whole Herod family is a bit twisted. The wife in question was not only his brother’s former wife but was also his niece. Herodias was the last living member of the Hasmonean royal family, the daughter of Antipas’s half-brother. Since she was the last member of this family, who she was married to could claim to be the ruler of the Jewish people. We are not told exactly why the divorce happened, but we can infer that Herodias was a power seeker. Her first husband Herod the second was the one that was to inherit the kingdom, but when Herod the second got caught in a scandal he was removed from the will. Then suddenly Herodias divorces and marries the most likely son of Herod to unite the kingdom again.
It was not the fact that she was his niece that caused the problem, but that she was the wife of his brother. John the Baptist did not mince words in this. He referenced Levitical law to support his stance. This law states that a man should not marry his brother’s wife because it will reveal his brother’s nakedness. The wording of these laws confuses us because they use wording that we do not understand. Nakedness does not necessarily mean what we think, it can mean something like honor and dishonor, so to marry your brother’s wife dishonors your brother by publicly revealing his lack of honor. When John condemned the marriage, we could see it as being a condemnation based on honor and respect. Philip, or Herod the second, was removed from the will and by Antipas taking his wife adds more dishonor to him by dishonoring of his brother.
To dishonor his brother, is to dishonor God. Throughout scripture we are told that God places people in or allows for positions of power. When Herod the second lost his position, it was God’s will. Antipas by marrying Herodias while her husband, his brother, lived was not only dishonoring his brother but was joining his brother in God’s displeasure. It could be seen that God did not want the continuation of the Hasmonean linage of power, so when Antipas married Herodias, they were attempting to circumvent God’s will.
There are other interpretations to this Levitical law as well. Some scholars believe that Leviticus was not written as law for all people of Israel, but for the priests and kings. When a leader of God’s people participated in actions condemned by Levitical law, it was a sign that they did not have the integrity to be a leader of the people. Antipas married his brother’s wife; therefore, he was condemned from holding the position he desired. He could not be king.
The point I am getting at is that John struck a nerve in Herod’s life. Antipas wanted to be king, he wanted to be the king of the Jewish people. He married a woman whose linage would give him greater standing in that area, but issues remained. He wanted to be seen in one manner, while living another. He sought to silence the voice that was calling out his hypocrisy. Just when he thought he had silenced that voice, another name is heard. Another voice proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is at hand. When the name of Jesus comes to the courts of Antipas, he is struck by guilt.
We all have areas of hypocrisy. Our leaders have areas of hypocrisy. What do we do with this? Antipas sold out. His desire for power and influence trumped his faith. And ultimately his quest for power lead to his complete loss of power and exile, and he died with nothing. Another king in Israel’s history also used his power to gain things that were not his. A king by the name of David. David’s lawless actions were also called out by a prophet of God, but the story ended differently. We do not look at the name of David with the same disdain as we do Herod even though David was just as bad as Antipas.
David committed adultery, and as a result he committed an act of murder to cover up his indiscretions. The difference is Herod killed the voice and David repented. David was willing to accept any judgement God bestowed on him and Herod tried to outmaneuver God. Even though Antipas respected John’s righteousness and believed that John was a holy man, he was willing to kill to silence that voice. And when Herod began to hear the name of Jesus, Herod Antipas was plagued by guilt and fear because he realized that the voice of God was still speaking out against his actions.
What do we do when we are faced with our own sin? What do we do when it is revealed to us that our actions and our words do not reflect the life we claim to live? How do we respond to those among us who are living hypocrisy in their own lives? Are we willing to sell out our faith for power or are we willing to lay down our power for the sake of our faith?
We all sell out. Antipas sold his life and reputation for power and influence, and he lost both. And he died with nothing. David sold his power and influence to gain a restoration of his life and reputation. We all sell out. We are all willing to give our lives for something. What are we giving up and what do we gain? John cried out to those in the wilderness to repent. Jesus also encourages us to repent, to turn around and walk on a different path. Jesus shows us what that path is.
He made it his custom to worship God, in the community. He withdrew often to pray in isolated places. And he ministered to the needs of those around him. He called and commissioned his disciples to Love God in worship, to embrace the Spirit in prayer, and to live the love he showed with other. Jesus is calling us to walk a different path. But he does not call us to do it on our own. Antipas sought to gain everything on his own and in the end he lost. We will lose too without Christ. Jesus came to show us what life with God is like, and he also shows us what life without God is like. Antipas wanted to silence Jesus as well, He participated in the execution of Jesus on the cross. The wages of sin is death. Each of us will eventually have to pay those wages. But death could not hold Jesus, he takes on our death and restores life to those who entrust their lives to him. Antipas sold out. He sold his life for fame and fortune. Jesus calls us to sell out too, but he is calling us to something greater. Life with Jesus does not end with death but we will live with him, for he is the resurrection and the life. How will we respond?
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By Jared A. Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 4, 2021
Mark 6:1–13 (ESV)
1 He went away from there and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” 5 And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief. And he went about among the villages teaching. 7 And he called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in their belts— 9 but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. 10 And he said to them, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 And if any place will not receive you and they will not listen to you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. 13 And they cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.
Today we have a couple of interesting stories to discuss. I really do not know where I am going with them because, I have just spent the week in my hometown. There is something amazing about hometowns. They are a place where we can relax and get back to our roots. I am, no matter how long I live in the city, a country boy. I say this not because I like country music or enjoy wearing boots and cowboy hats. That is not what I mean, although I tend to be seen in that manner at times. If you see me driving around listening to Willie Nelson, I urge you to encourage me to get out of town. I do not like listening to that music, but when I get to feeling too claustrophobic in town I will listen to the most insanely country, country music just to get some sense of being home.
We sometimes need to get home and back to our roots. We need to get home at times, to remind us of who we are and where we have gone. But there is a downside to going home at times, people know who you were. They remember those stories from when you were in high school. They remember the mistakes you once made, and they know who your relatives are. We often cannot see the people from our hometowns as who they are, we only see who they were. This is not a bad thing if you were well known back in the day, but if you were not regarded as one of the community’s elite it can be hard to overcome the past.
To be honest I do not know where I, personally stand in my hometown. I helped a great deal, I was involved in many different things, but I never stood out. I have always been involved, even today I get involved and many higher profile activities, but rarely do people associate my name to what is going on because I take a support or advisory role.
Jesus went back to his hometown. And our peculiar human nature shows through. He went to the synagogue to worship with the community, which was his custom. Throughout the gospel accounts we see Jesus joining the others within a community to worship together. As much as I would like to say that theologically we do not need to gather, I cannot say it. I know that there is nothing theologically requiring that we participate in worship to have access to the grace of God, but I recognize that there is a human need for it. We need this gathering to encourage, direct, correct, and promote our faith. If we neglect the meeting together, we will become distracted and eventually the light that once burned bright will diminish. And it will continue to diminish to the point that we will no longer even recognize that a light was even there.
Jesus made it his custom to worship, even when the people around him disagreed with his interpretation of scripture. He worshiped. I want us to consider that for a moment. Even when the people of the community did not recognize his interpretation of scripture as being right, he continued to worship. He continued to speak truth, but he did not let a difference of interpretation distract him from the point and purpose of worship. When we come to worship it is not about you or me, it is about God and us.
Jesus went to his hometown and on the Sabbath day he was in the synagogue worshiping. And when the opportunity came for him to offer teaching, the people were astonished by what he had to say. We often look at scriptures like this and we assume that what we are seeing in the verses of scripture resemble what we do on a Sunday morning. That is not necessarily the case. The Psalmist says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Worship was the first and primary function, but just the beginning. The synagogue within the community was also the school, the library, the court, and the place common concerns of the community were discussed. The synagogue was a community center, within a community that centered on devotion to God. People would go to these places to worship, learn, raise awareness of issues, and to seek justice. The synagogue is not the seat of the community in our culture. There are aspects where this is the case but not as a whole.
Jesus went to the synagogue to worship, and then when that Meeting for worship was complete, he began to talk. The conversation grew. Questions were asked, answers were given, and a crowd began to build. It was not uncommon for this sort of thing to happen. It was common for teachers to travel among the various synagogues to offer teaching because the synagogue was a place of learning. But what was uncommon was that Jesus was teaching there in that synagogue.
Last week we spoke about the synagogue ruler or leader. The man whose daughter was ill to the point of death, the man who risked his very reputation to bring Jesus to his home to offer healing to his daughter. I mentioned his position but we may not fully grasp what that position was. This ruler or leader was the overseer of all the synagogue activities. The leader is the one that various teachers would contact to get permission to teach. They would go to the leader of the synagogue to secure meeting space and after the leader would promote the teacher within the community. It was important to make friends with the synagogue leader because they held power, and it was also important for the synagogue leader to maintain good standing within the community. The leader would probably seek teachers that would present a wide range of thought to give the community the greatest access to information, because it would be from these teachers that the various schools of thought would choose rabbis from. If a child showed any promise the teachers within the synagogue would recommend them for further training.
So, the ruler or leader of the synagogue would be seeking teachers, trying to offer the best teachers that their community could afford, to give the greatest opportunity to the community to learn and succeed. Jesus came to his hometown, without credentials. The synagogue ruler would not have given him space to teach, because he knew who Jesus had been. His teaching was not on the schedule and he did not have a room reserved. Jesus just simply began teaching, probably within the common meeting space, where people would gather to talk. But as he was talking the crowd grew and people were listening. This astonished the leaders. Maybe they were astonished because no one showed up to their class and they had a great lecture prepared, so they walked out to the hallway and heard someone talking and they too were captivated. Maybe they were astonished because they remembered Jesus sitting in their classroom and the way he was teaching was not something that was taught back then.
Jesus was there. He came to worship and ended up teaching. And the crowd could not believe what they were hearing. They began asking questions like where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? They asked these questions not because the disagreed with what he said, but because they knew who he was. They knew that Jesus was the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James, Joses, Judas, and Simon. He was a carpenter.
This is an important word. Jesus was known as the carpenter. We do not fully grasp that phrase because our culture is a bit different. The synagogue was a community center, a place of community enrichment, education, history, justice, and worship. Everyone was part of the synagogue, which is why the threats of being put out of the synagogue was so great when we read through the gospel accounts. If you were put out of the synagogue you were not part of the community, you did not have access to education or justice. You were outside. All people within the community had access to a basic form of education, but unless a child was invited to learn under a rabbi, at the age of majority the child would go home and learn their family trade. Jesus was the carpenter. He went home to learn the family business he was not asked to learn from the rabbis or given the opportunity to continue in formal education. He was the carpenter. But notice again not only was he the carpenter, but he was also the son of Mary.
In this society men were recognized by their father. If we were to look at the list of the disciples, we have James and John the sons of Zebedee, and there is also James the Son of Alpheus. We even know that Peter’s dad’s name is Jonah. Several times in scripture we see the prefix bar which means son of. But this community does not say bar Joseph which was Jesus’s earthly father’s name, the name of the house and family business he would have joined. They knew him as bar Mary. He was his mother’s son. Jesus lived his entire life with a stigma within a community of uncertain parentage. They did not know who his dad because timing of his birth was questionable, but they knew his mother. And that stigma forced him to remain in a place within that community, he was the carpenter. He did not have access to anything more. When Jesus came home and is found teaching in that manner it astonished the crowd because they knew he was reaching beyond the place they had allowed him to remain. He was going beyond their expectations, and that movement within society threatened their positions.
Imagine you were a synagogue ruler in Nazareth and the rabbis you recruited failed to teach this man. And now years later here he is teaching in his hometown synagogue and everyone is looking at you and your crew wondering. Not only is Jesus threatening the understanding of your teaching, but the very fact that he is teaching undermines your authority within that community. Jesus is a threat to the very fabric holding that community together.
I want us to just think of that. They took offense not because of what he was teaching. The content was not the problem. It was who brought the content to the conversation. They took offense because the illusion of righteousness they held was at risk of being exposed as a fraud. They preached and taught certain things but their actions spoke differently. Jesus was not offered the same privileges because he was the son of Mary. Jesus saw what was happening before his eyes. People were listening and engaging, then the leaders entered the room and suddenly the tide turned. The crowd was reminded that Jesus was the carpenter, the son of Mary. Those few words suddenly sucked the life out from the room. And people were reminded that they should not listen to Jesus because if they did, they would be suspected of supporting perceived sinful activity. “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there.
We kind of pause and wonder why could Jesus not do mighty works in his hometown? Was it because they did not have enough faith? I do not think that was the case. They had faith in God. This is not a town that lacks faith. These are the families that produced a young woman that could say to God, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” You do not get that level of commitment from the youth within a community without faith among the elders. They fully expected God to do mighty things in their sight, but they like many of us expect those mighty things to come in specific ways, and through the right people.
Jesus could not do any mighty works among the people in his hometown for one simple reason, once the leaders reminded them of who he was, they walked away. They did not want to lose their standing within the community by associating with the offspring of a scandalous event. This should teach us something about ourselves.
Right after this encounter in his hometown, Jesus calls twelve to him, he then sends them out into the surrounding community with the authority over the unclean spirits they might encounter. He charges them to take nothing for their journey except a staff. He left specific instructions not to pack bread, or a bag, and no extra money. He told them to make sure they put on durable footwear, but not to take extra clothes. Jesus sent these men out into the surrounding community, with the clothes on their backs, the shoes on their feet, and a walking stick.
They had just watched the reaction that Jesus’s hometown gave him, and Jesus turns around and tells them to just go in faith. To walk out into the communities with the assurance that they have the power to do what God is calling them to do, and to expect that the community will provide for their needs. The disciples went out in faith proclaiming the gospel and they healed the sick and they liberated those that lived in bondage. Yet the people of Nazareth had Jesus sitting in their synagogue, and there was not a thing going on there. Why?
We have all that we need right here in our community already to do everything God needs us to do. What is keeping us from seeing God moving in mighty ways among us? We are.
We look at the things around us and we do not see that God can overcome. We have accepted that we are too small to make a difference. That we are too old to make changes. We have gotten comfortable and complacent. I want us to consider how we have acted toward people that may have expressed some calling to minister in a greater way. Did we encourage or were we hesitant? We are called to representatives of the kingdom of God. We are called to bear the Image of God and to represent him in the world confused and afraid of the shadows cast in the darkness. We are called to reflect the light of God in that darkness and to live with the boldness to cast out fear. Yet there is something that is causing us to hesitate, there is something holding us back. There is something keeping us from participating in God doing mighty works in our community. I cannot tell you what might be causing you personally to hesitate, but I can what is expressing itself in the wider community. Just like Jesus’s hometown we label. He was the son of Mary. Our own prejudices cause us to hesitate, they cause us to pause.
The truth is this Meetinghouse and this Meeting of the Church should be like the ancient synagogues, it should be a place of worship, education, justice, and encouragement. We should be a center of culture and civility. We should be encouraging deeper thought and discipleship. God is greater than our political ideologies, he is greater than our economies, he is greater than our ethnicity and race, but He uses all those things to teach us about himself. We need each other and all our uniqueness. We need all our stories, both of redemption and failure. We need all our sorrows and our praises. We need our complete diversity of experience because it opens our eyes to what God can do. And when we start to see what God can do, we begin to realize that God has and will use what we least expect to do might things. Capernaum got the glory of God’s work and Nazareth is seen as a judgmental town. Not because of faith in God, both believed God could do great things. But they became known in different ways because of how they treated those bearing the image of God to them. Let us always be able to see that of God in all people and let us trust that God can provide for what he is calling us to do.
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
June 27, 2021
Mark 5:21–43 (ESV)
21 And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22 Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23 and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24 And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25 And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26 and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28 For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29 And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 And he looked around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34 And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38 They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41 Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43 And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The stories in today’s scripture are some of the most powerful stories of healing in the Gospel accounts. I say this for a reason. The main reason is because of who is being healed and our jaded and somewhat incorrect understanding of ancient cultures. I also say this because of how Jesus interacts with the people.
Last week we saw Jesus getting on a boat to go across the sea. He was leaving his adopted hometown of Capernaum and going to an area of Roman Palestine that had a denser demographic of Gentiles. Because of this population density those that lived in the area found it more profitable to serve the people or their customers than to remain religiously pure. The people began raising animals that were considered by Hebrew people as being unclean, and they did this not for their own consumption, but instead to sell the animals to others. They were contributing to what they considered sin. This highlights the hypocrisy of many that claim to be religious. I, myself, will not do this but I will provide access for others. That is a discussion for another day but this type of lifestyle weakened their spiritual resolve. Since they were relying on sin to provide for their lifestyle, were they committed to following the ways of God?
Jesus stays in that region for a short time. The community out of fear and greed basically drove Jesus back to the boats because the consequence of his ministry hit them financially. The redemption of one man, carried a steep price for the community. And this I think is important. The cost of redemption is paid in part by the members of that community.
We as humans are social beings. Early in our spiritual history we are told that it is not good for mankind to be alone so God created a helpmate. There are many theological, sociological, and political theories that can be derived from that statement, but the one I want us to focus on is simple. We need other human brains around us to assist us to fulfill our purposes. We are not complete without others. We as strong and as intelligent as we cannot function to our fullest capacity without someone beside us to communicate with. We need others, because the others that we communicate with will look at the same things with different eyes and provide a different perspective. Those others we interact with provide us with more information and allow us to broaden our knowledge.
Adam had a simple job. He was to name all the animals, and to tend the garden. This does not seem like a two-person job, but we are looking at this from a cultural perspective. Animals to us are, by in large, a source of income. God created humanity to be farmers, naming animals and tending a garden. Farmers may take care of the livestock, but very few have names. There is power in a name. By giving a name we are giving that being a place in a community. We are giving it a purpose and defining its essence. After a while we as humans begin to see things in generalities and without a different perspective, we miss aspects of a being around us. When I was a child, we had farm cats. At times we had as many as thirty cats running around our farm. These cats were there to work and were not pets. Because I had that perspective, I regarded these animals very differently than my sister. I had one name for thirty individuals, where my sister saw the individuality of all thirty. And consequently, how I interacted with these beings was also different. If I approached one of these cats, I usually was met with claws. But my sister, who interacted with these animals based on their individuality could pet and hold nearly every one of these thirty nearly wild cats. She saw them and named them and they were part of her community. I saw them only as animals and we interacted as such. The name defines how we interact and care for what is around us. When we know a name, we begin to build a relationship. Without a name there is no relationship.
Jesus gets back on the boat and a great crowd gathers around him. In that crowd is a synagogue ruler by the name of Jairus, and this man has a sick child. This child although we do not know her name, we know something about her. She is Jairus’ daughter. If we were to listen to all our history books and what is being taught, we would notice something off in this story. We are told that women are not valued in antiquity, and that might be true, but in our Christian text and in our faith, women have value and are part of the community. This daughter is loved by her father to such a degree that he would put his own name in jeopardy by asking a man accused of being possessed by Beelzebub to come to his home to heal her. I want us to just let that sit in our minds for a moment. We do not always apricate what is in scripture when we do not consider historic and cultural context. The historical and cultural context would tell us that Jairus is out of the ordinary, this is true. But the fact that this out of the ordinary activity being recorded in our Christian text is also telling us something profound. We as people of Christ should not see this as out of the ordinary, instead this should be the norm. A father should have just as much concern for a daughter as they do a son.
Jesus listens to Jairus’ plea and goes with him to his house. And a great crowd is following him as he makes that journey. And there is within that crowd a woman. I do not know if you have noticed, but women make up a significant portion of the stories within the gospels. This woman had a discharge of blood for twelve years.
Bodily discharges make people ritualistically unclean. This is something that we struggle with today. We do not fully understand this concept of uncleanness. Blood was regarded as the life force. In a simple and unscientific understanding of the human body, when blood leaked out of the body people were believed to be losing their life force. This is understandable because if you lose enough blood you die. Similar ideas are given to other fluids in the body as well, although blood was the greatest.
Those that are losing blood are unclean, not because of sin but because they are losing life force. They must be protected and cared for, and those that care for those cared for individuals that were discharging life fluids would need to be isolated from the larger community as well. We often see this as being barbaric and inhumane but we must remember that these cultures did not understand as much as we do today. They did not understand germ theory and that microscopic organisms transmit disease. All they knew was that life forces were draining out of the body and to prevent others from having life forces drained from them these people needed to be isolated or quarantined for a period.
Adult women have a unique place in this understanding. Every month there is a discharge of life force that renders them unclean. They were required to isolate themselves from the rest of the family during this time, and everything they touched was to be cleaned before this unclean status was transferred to others. We often regard this as being terrible but I want us to be a bit more gracious. An ancient understanding of the human body would not understand a cyclical discharge of fluids that maintain life, like we do today. There was a fear that a woman might die during this time, because she was losing life in their minds. The isolation was not because of sin, but concern for her wellbeing. The men in the family were to step up and care for the children so that the mother could do all she could to care for herself during this fearful time. That was the intent, but that was not always the practice.
We have similar concepts today. We know more and we do our best to act on the knowledge we have. That is why we encouraged people to wear masks during the pandemic. And yes, we know that there are differences of opinions in this but that is the intent. We wanted people to wear masks out of care and concern for the community. And those that were unable or unwilling to wear a mask were encouraged to isolate as much as possible. In many ways we implemented a concept of ritual uncleanness. These ideas were implemented to prevent the potential spread of agents that could drain life from people.
This woman had this discharge for twelve years. She had been in isolation for twelve years. We know the length of time because that is important. There are social ramifications to this that we can interpret. For twelve years she did not bear a child, because she could not have contact with her husband. She was regarded baron. Unable to produce life because of this life force draining problem. Most likely because of this condition she was divorced, and her dowery would have been used to pay for care so she was also impoverished. She was isolated and rejected by society. And yet she was in the crowd.
We do not give this woman enough credit. She would have been regarded by her society as someone cursed by God. Unclean, contagious, and a drain on precious resources. She was incapable to bear life and slowly she was draining life from herself and everyone around her. Yet she heard about Jesus and went to him. And she thought to herself, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
We are told that her faith made her well. I want us to think of this. Jesus healed her, but she had a part in the process. We as individuals must participate. We often look at faith from the wrong perspective. We often look at faith as passive, especially when it comes to health. I have faith that I will be healed. I prayed and that is all I need to do. No. She suffered much under many physicians but she was still active. She still pursued reports and acted on those reports. She, even in her delicate state, pursued information in whatever way she could.
We need to be active in the kingdom if we want to see God working. We must have the correct perspective or the distractions around us will cloud our vision. The crowd was pressing in on Jesus yet when this woman touched his clothing, Jesus asked who touched me? The disciples were surprised at this statement because they saw the crowd. Everyone was touching Jesus; how could he isolate an individual in the crowd? But Jesus was perceptive and knew. He turned around and looked for the woman, who at this point was swallowed by the crowd because she stopped surprised while everyone else surged forward. Then when the crowd stopped and she heard Jesus speak, she was fearful.
She was afraid for many reasons. The first she had just made everyone in that crowd unclean so she could face consequences for that. But also, what she had just done could have been considered theft. She stole her healing because she touched Jesus without his knowledge to gain the healing. She stole her healing. She fell before Jesus expecting the worst. But what does Jesus do? “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” He calls her daughter. This is a term of endearment and concern, not just a term of female progeny. Jesus looks at this woman and gives her value and restores her to the community.
This takes us back to Jairus and his daughter. He valued his daughter enough to risk everything for her life. We do not know why and that does not matter. He valued her more than his standing in the community as a ruler of the synagogue. People came from his house while Jesus was speaking to this woman, and informed Jairus that his precious daughter died. Jesus turned to this man when he overheard what was being said and spoke to him. “Do not fear, only believe.”
Faith is action and faith is hope. Jesus told Jairus that he would heal his daughter, and the people were attempting to distract Jairus from that promise. We must remain true. Continue to seek, continue to believe, and continue to live with the hope that Jesus will overcome what we perceive as obstacles.
What does this have to do with living today? If we believe something to be right and true, let us live it out. Early Friends looked at the church of their day, a church that claimed Christ yet were killing people that practiced faith differently, and they said the rituals that claim righteousness are empty unless the truth of those rituals are lived. They decided it was not good enough to eat a piece of bread and claim to have Christ if we would not actively live the love of Christ with others. They would not claim baptism as authentic unless the life lived was in keeping with the kingdom call. Faith is action. Faith is living hope. Faith is living our beliefs every day of our lives. It is seeking healing even when it could cost everything, even if the world around us finds it foolish.
Each of us here today has available to us everything those first believers had available to them. Use what we have, to bring individuals from the multitude into the community, like my sister did the cats. Call them by name and see them, give them value, and hope in the name of Christ.
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