Harrowing Of Hell
July 1, 2018

Blessed: Been there, done that, got the t-shirt

Preacher: The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

Just the other day I was in the Target downtown, and I came across two t-shirts that I was tempted to buy – the first was a t-shirt with the Scooby Gang in front of the Mystery Machine, and the other was a gray t-shirt with seven letters—all in caps—that spelled out “BLESSED.”

Now, I thought it was kind of wonderful to find this sentiment on the front of a t-shirt in a secular store. This wasn’t a religious store or anything. This was Target and from that Target downtown you could conceivably purchase this shirt then, say, go wandering over to SAM wearing your “Blessed” status on over heart. Or you could meander down to the Pike Street Market and without saying a word proclaim to the whole world just how “Blessed” you are. Because it’s true, isn’t it? We are blessed. And if we get the shirt, well that will prove it.

Now I do feel blessed each and every day—or, perhaps more truthfully, I try to feel blessed every day. But something about that t-shirt didn’t sit right because here is the thing. This seemingly wonderful sentiment – this feeling of being blessed has also become in our day-and-age a more subtle way of bragging. On social media, our friends post a wonderful picture of their vacation on the Orient Express or some other luxurious place – all smiles and chinking of wine glasses and write those special seven letters all in caps “BLESSED”. Posing in front of the Eiffel Tower with a bunch of extraordinarily beautiful French people— “Blessed.” Got the job everyone wants …” Blessed…” And so, it almost seems like being blessed is something that doesn’t exist for everyday people…It is only open to a special few and it just sounds nicer than saying, “Look at how successful I am…look at how white my teeth are.”

And let’s face it, even those of us who don’t use the word this way – we also have an idea of what “blessed” looks like. We probably don’t think of a dear friend who has cancer as being blessed or our neighbor who has lost her job as blessed. They probably wouldn’t think of themselves that way either. But does that mean that they aren’t blessed or that we have settled for a rather small definition of what blessed looks like?

If we look at the definition of blessed it means a whole lot of things. It is an adjective that refers to 1. Someone or something who is holy, sacred, consecrated. 2. Someone or something worthy of deep reverence and respect. 3. Someone or something that has been made holy through sacrament and blessing AND it can also mean someone characterized by happiness or good fortune.

But it is this final definition that we seem to fix on every blessed time (did I mention blessed could also be used as an intensifier?) But with our current preferred definition of blessed, would Jesus himself be blessed? I mean with his early death and the cross? I rather doubt that those who pronounce themselves “blessed” or those who buy the t-shirt are walking around hoping for that.

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus in the midst of a crowd who comes seeking to be blessed and healed. And most of those who crowd around him would certainly not fit into our modern definition of blessed. They would certainly not be posting “Blessed” above their selfie on Facebook… except perhaps for one…Jairus, the head of the synagogue. Jairus was that guy that probably could have easily fit within our definition of blessed. He fits the profile – he has a good job, he is well-respected, he has a wonderful family. He has it all – until, of course, his daughter becomes very ill and then this good and godly man, this important member of the community becomes just like the rest of the crowd – afraid, sad, and in need of help. All his stature and his social connections are meaningless in saving his daughter. So, while he would probably never have imagined doing this just a few months before, Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet and repeatedly and indecorously begs Jesus to come and lay his hands on his daughter so that she might live. Jesus hears him and consents to go with him.

But there are a lot of people in need, and the crowd continues to grow larger and larger every one of them wanting Jesus’ attention, healing, and time. But Jesus continues to make his way through the crowd until suddenly, without any warning, he stops right where he is and asks who had touched his clothes. In the midst of the crowd nudging them on all sides, the disciples think to themselves, “Jesus you gotta be kidding right?” It was harder say who wasn’t touching Jesus than who was. But Jesus wasn’t referring just to those who touched his clothes but to one who touched him and was healed without feeling the need to even ask.

And a woman – a woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years—she comes forward in great fear and trembling and tells Jesus what Mark refers to as “the whole truth,” She had touched him, and Jesus confirms the healing that she had believed would come if she could just touch his clothes – a healing that she felt within her and tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” But before we can even fully take this miracle in, we find out that while Jairus and Jesus have been making through the crowd to his home, Jairus’ daughter has died.

Those who have been at the house tell Jairus, there is no need to bother the teacher any further, but Jesus presses on toward their destination telling Jairus this: “Do not fear, only believe.” As they arrive, he tells the mourners, who scoff at him, that Jairus’ daughter is not dead but rather sleeping, and the he tells her to rise up and she does. Another miracle done.

These two stories, written as they are, make it a little more difficult to really take in both of the miraculous things that have happened but –think about this – a woman who has been suffering for twelve years with an ailment that no doctors could cure has been instantly healed. AND, within a short period of time, another young woman, twelve years of age, who was dead is literally brought back to life. The stories of these two women have been sandwiched together in such a way that we, who like one thing at a time, can find a little distracting. But Mark has purposefully told this story this way. Using intercalation, that is inserting one story in the middle of another, he forces us to interpret both of them together. With intercalation, you cannot isolate one story from the other because they depend on each other for their meaning and one cannot be properly understood without the other. So, while we might find the story of the woman with a hemorrhage an interruption of the story of Jairus’ daughter, both stories here inform one another.

So what do these stories tell us? Could it be that we are being asked again to re-define what it means to be blessed and to re-think who is worthy of blessing?

In the last few weeks we have been thinking about what it means to be a family in Christ. What it means to love one another and how God makes manifest through Jesus Christ-God’s love for us. Last week I started by recalling Jesus’ words about how anyone who does the will of God is his mother, his brothers, and sisters. In today’s gospel, we are told the story of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with hemorrhages whom Jesus refers to as his daughter. Jesus, in Mark’s gospel, calls someone his child in two places. First in Mark 2:5, the paralytic who because of the crowds preventing him from approaching Jesus, has himself lowered through the roof of the house. We are told: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” And today when Jesus says to the woman with the hemorrhages: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” Only in these two stories in the Bible does Jesus call another human being his child.

Both stories in today’s gospel are about daughters – one is the daughter of the respected leader Jairus and another, whom Jesus refers to as his daughter – is one who would, because of her medical condition, would have been ostracized for as long as the other young woman had been alive. But both are beloved daughters. And both are blessed with a new life by Jesus.

But that new life comes in different ways. For one it was a restoration of her physical life. But for the woman Jesus called daughter – her life and her position as a child of God was restored by Jesus’ love, and her faith when there seemed to be none—her audacity of hope. Her new life – her blessed status came through her persistence when those around her deemed her God-forsaken and unclean. And both of their blessings of new life came through Jesus Christ who was willing to suffer the earthly ignominy of both for all of us.

Lately, there seems to be a lot of talk about who is worthy and who is not – who we should love and who we should fear. And there also seems to be a lot of hand-wringing and despair that seems to be okay with settling for our evermore limited social definition of blessed.

But the Bible has something else to say about what blessed looks like – and the world’s story is intercalated within it. Both stories must be told together. And it our job as Christians to serve as intercalators. We have allowed social media and the principalities and powers of this world to define who is blessed for too long. But Jesus has another definition entirely. He says this
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

For Jesus all of God’s children, all who do the will of God, are blessed. For those of us whom God loves—that is all of us—it turns out that being blessed means clothing our hearts with God’s love and then wandering over to SAM or meandering down to Pike Street Market and blessing the whole world with it. Children of God you are blessed – go forth and tell your story.