I knocked on the hospital door. It was my first month as a chaplain intern at UCSF Medical Center in San Francisco and I was absolutely terrified. The nurses had asked me to visit this patient because he was, to put it delicately, not the nicest person they had ever met. So: send in the chaplain! He was older, had been living with homelessness. He was alone. He was an alcoholic. And, he was dying.
I knocked on the door – this big bundle of positive chaplain energy: “Hi, I’m Kevin one of the chaplains. I’m here if you want to talk!” I was very nervous. I didn’t get a welcoming reception. He had flair for profanity and used it. He called me names. Finally, I said “Ok, we don’t even have to talk about God. We can just talk.” And so we did. I pulled up a chair, and we talked.
I didn’t know it at the time, but what he did – asking me to sit down and chat – was very risky for him. It took courage and faith. I was reminded of this encounter by our gospel today. Jairus, a very important man socially and religiously–a leader of the synagogue–comes to Jesus and falls at his feet, begging for Jesus to come help his daughter, who is dying. “… so that she may be well, and live” as the gospel says (Mark 5:23).
Jesus goes with him. The crowds press in. And on the way to Jairus’ house, a woman who had been suffering hemorrhages comes to him. Now she couldn’t have been more different than Jairus.
Due to her illness she was always ritually unclean. Untouchable. She was poor. She was a woman. She touches Jesus’ clothes and her illness was healed. She falls at Jesus’ feet, just like Jairus. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease,” Jesus says (Mark 5:34).
Yet during this interlude Jairus’ daughter had died. What was the use anymore they thought? Don’t trouble the teacher any further. Jesus’ response: “Do not fear, only believe”(Mark: 5:36). He took his closest friends and went to Jairus’ home. “Do not fear, only believe.”
There is so much fear in both of these stories. I imagine that Jairus was taking a big risk. A risk by associating with a poor, itinerant preacher and healer.
A risk to his reputation.
And most of all a risk to hope that his daughter might be made well, and live.
The woman with the hemorrhage was also taking a risk: for someone of such low circumstances to approach a man and to hope for a cure for a chronic, unclean illness.
I think both Jairus and the woman (I wish we knew her name too), risked being vulnerable. They risked being vulnerable to Jesus in their own ways in deep hope that they might have a share of God’s abundant life. In each of their approaches to Jesus, Jairus and the woman show us another glimpse of the Kingdom. Another way of being.
In God’s Kingdom:
Vulnerability is not weakness, but is strength.
Vulnerability is a path to deeper relationship, and
Vulnerability leads to healing and wholeness.
And it’s sometimes so difficult to be open, to be vulnerable and to allow ourselves to be embrace abundant life. There must have been something about Jesus that let people know they could let down their guard, maybe just a little bit, to take that risk: to be open to God’s power working for their deepest needs and to heal their deepest wounds.
Jairus risked ridicule and position for his love for his daughter. Jesus’ invitation to us is to put aside the fear that our deepest longing have for us, and believe. Sometimes our own healing truly begins when we are vulnerable and understand that we can’t do it all ourselves. Sometimes our own healing can begin when we share our deepest fears with God and with those who love us.
I think Jairus reminds us not to discount our pain, not to diminish it, because nothing is outside of the experience or the love of God.
The woman’s vulnerability is even more apparent. I’m sure she felt shame: society called her unclean, she was poor, she had suffered for twelve years with what may thought to be a shameful disease. Psychologist Brené Brown has written and lectured about the deeply corrosive effects of shame in our society. Guilt, she says, is the feeling that we have done something wrong and we are sorry. Shame, in the other hand, is the feeling that we ourselves are wrong or damaged. And I know that the woman understood the feeling that there was something deeply wrong and unclean about herself.
Yet, she reaches out amidst her shame to touch the master’s clothes. And she is healed.
There may be places in our lives where we think of ourselves as deeply and elementally flawed. We don’t have to be ritually unclean to perceive at times that there is something bad about us. We do know shame. Jesus’ invitation to her and to us is to know that we are loved beyond all of our understanding, beyond all of our own constructions about our self-worth.
I was writing this sermon on Friday morning. I took a short break only to find that my Facebook feed was overwhelmed with joy about the Supreme Court decision on equal marriage. For so many people, for such a long time, being LGBT was shameful. It took the courage of so many people to be vulnerable enough to be honest and to share their own deep experience with those they loved. So may people risked so much for all of these gains. And I know that the world is a much better place for it. Being vulnerable can lead us to abundant life.
Jesus invites us to be vulnerable, to be open to the possibility of healing and abundant life even those places in our lives which are deeply uncomfortable and shameful to us. In Jesus’ Kingdom we know that power comes not by might, but in weakness; not by anything we do, but by what God does!
That’s grace and it’s amazing.
The patient I saw on my first week at the hospital did die, and quite soon after we shared our talk. We never did really talk about the “God stuff.” But he did open up to me about his pain and his deepest wounds. I think there was real healing. My understanding was that God was there in our relationship: helping to heal and to make whole.
“Do not fear, only believe.” AMEN.