Behind the miracle stories — Jesus’ truly full humanity
Living into the Gospel, living in Communion:
First Congregational United Church of Christ (Open and Affirming), Santa Rosa, California. Bob Cramer, Leader. Sunday, July 2, 2006.
Mark 5:21-24, 35-43, Scholars Version: When Jesus had again crossed over to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he was beside the sea. And one of the synagogue officials comes, Jairus by name, and as soon as he sees him, he falls at his feet and pleads with him and begs, “My little daughter is on the verge of death, so come and put your hands on her so she may be cured and live!”
And Jesus set out with him. …
While he was still speaking, the synagogue official’s people approach and say, “Your daughter has died; why keep bothering the teacher?”
When Jesus overheard this conversation, he says to the synagogue official, “Don’t be afraid, just have trust!”
And he wouldn’t let anyone follow along with him except Peter and James and John, James’ brother. When they come to the house of the synagogue official, he notices a lot of clamor and people crying and wailing, and he goes in and says to them, “Why are you carrying on like this? The child hasn’t died, she’s sleeping.”
And they started laughing at him. But he runs everyone out and takes the child’s father and her mother and his companions and goes in where the child is. And he takes the child by the hand and says to her, “talitha koum” (which means, “Little girl, get up!” And the little girl got right up and started walking around.
(Incidentally, she was twelve years old.)
And they were downright ecstatic. And he gave them strict orders that no one should learn about this, and he told them to give her something to eat.
Now, a very contemporary gospel story: Last week the progressive leader of the USA National Council of Churches told a convention of “moderate” (meaning centrist or left-of-center) Baptists that if they were to walk in Jesus’ footsteps they should be seen caring about poverty, planet Earth, peace, peoples’ rights and pluralism in the world today.
Bob Edgar—Presbyterian minister, former congressman, and top gun in the 45-million-member NCC—added a “challenge” to Christians to address “fear, fundamentalism, and Fox News.” Fox let its predominantly conservative viewers read the whole text of Edgar’s message, asking for their responses.
Fox shared with the National Council 279 emails, 48 supporting Edgar or criticizing Fox News. In a day or two, FoxNews.com dropped the subject.
I share this because Bob Edgar and the American ecumenical movement were being called misguided and anti-Christian by the majority of respondents. A minority felt exactly the opposite. And this kind of discussion of who Jesus was, and what God wants for humanity—”us and them” name-calling which many people think is what religion is about—is all too prevalent today.
That was also true of Jesus’ day and in the church increasingly since. By the time the gospels were written (and even before that, when Paul wrote), the healing ministries were seen as proof that he was divine, or more than human. That is why he was, and is, worshipped. Moses, Elijah, Mohammed, and the Buddha are not worshipped, but Jesus is because he incarnates God.
As I listen to Christian factions stressing either Christ’s divinity or Jesus’ full expression of human potential, and as I read the healing stories, it seems as if I should decide—are they divine miracles or do they show human compassion and risk-taking at its very highest human level?
But great assemblies of church bigwigs like Bob Edgar and others who carry titles like Bishop and Cardinal from the fourth century onward wrote creeds which say the fully human Jesus also is the fully divine Christ—the first, when on Earth; the other, before and after earthly incarnation. Both, not either.
It is not a question of power. Jesus was powerful indeed, even if that power is not the same as the creator of all things, the master of heaven and earth. The part of today’s scripture we are not reading here this morning—the healing of the woman with perpetual hemorrhage—says Jesus knew she had touched his clothing because he felt his battery drain (so to speak). Some people do have that kind of power. Jesus wanted his disciples to claim it and use it for good.
And I think we could say the story we are reading today is not about some miracle that only divinity of a unique kind could bring off.
A friend of mine, David Shearman, a United Church of Canada minister, focuses on Jesus’ willingness—if he even thought about it at all—to become “impure” according to the entire culture in which he was ministering.
Jesus, according to the story we find not only in Mark but in Matthew and Luke—meaning that it circulated widely as people talked with each other—was begged by a church official to touch a dead person. It was such religious bigwigs who the gospels say taunted Jesus for messing around with worthless and dangerous people. But this one summons Jesus to ritual impurity. Jesus as a fully human being has compassion. To pass the test of compassion he must risk the wrath of the church of his day. He does it and he gets both results! The joy of parents and friends is easier to see than Jesus’ guts wrenching, though.
And for whom does Jesus show such compassion? For the parents, yes, of course; but see also his caring for women who had no societal status in his day, and for a sub-teen girl—a child, and a female—besides. That’s just who Jesus is—inclusive , radically so: concerned, as Bob Edgar said, with peace, with finding solutions for poverty, with care for the planet on which we live, for people’s rights. An email to Fox News, from George, in Tempe, Arizona, put it that way, echoing terms a conservative email writer had used. And George said, Edgar is “misguided? political? anti-Christian? The people who watch Fox scare me.”
Ah, yes, there is passion involved in our involvement with Jesus and the Realm of God. There always has been. I do think it’s almost a miracle that in the same week when we read of Jesus becoming unclean in a ministry of love, we find our own culture divided over a seeming either/or which should not be a choice. Jesus in some way shows divinity in humanity. We can be like that.