“For Heaven’s Sake! Jesus is breaking all the rules again!”
Luke 4:36-39, 8:40-56, 13:10-17 (Unsung Sheroes, part 2)
Guest Preacher: Rev. Jon R. Powers
Thank you, dear clergy colleague Beth,
for your most gracious invitation to participate in this profound
collection of reflections about Unsung Sheroes who hung out with Jesus.
I am humbled to be in the pulpit from which such a long legacy of great preaching has occurred.
I loved Bertie Dell, who was among the first folks the greet me here 33 years ago
and Jon Peterson, my partner in crime;we did some Good Trouble in this town!
And I deeply admire Pastor Beth as someone whom I consider to be a solid match
for my dear friend and colleague, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine.
It is by common social consent that we tend to consider preaching a tolerable medium;
because when it’s well done, it’s rare.
Well, Pastor Beth’s preaching is consistently well done, and that, indeed, is rare!
As for me, I have a confession:
I have flushed the toilet,
and flushed the toilet
and flushed the toilet,
but that does not make me a plumber.
I have delivered sermons,
and delivered sermons,
and delivered sermons,
but that does not make me a preacher.
I am, rather, just a delivery boy;
an old white male, Swedish farm boy, at that.
I try to deliver whatever I am asked to deliver
on behalf of the man Pastor Beth and I seek to serve,
the one whom Amy-Jill Levine describes
from her lifetime of Jewish-Christian scholarship
as that 5’4”
who died to take away our sins,
not our minds.
So it is a serious incongruty that I am he who is supposed to follow-up
on Pastor Beth’s profound teachings of last Sunday,
but I have been called by her to do so,
and I pray that, by God’s Grace, I might deliver a message
about our beloved Rabbi Jesus’ relationship
with a few of the women
who had been assigned a physical disability
by their culture and kin-folk.
I pray that you might accept my delivery as best you can.
So, fasten your spiritual seat-belts;
here we go!
and a young 5’4”
Palestinian Jew boy
whom some folks called a Rabbi,
and other folks called a Blasphemous Heretic.
A scholarly Greek doctor named Luke somebody
wrote down what happened as best he could,
and that is about the only historical record we have to go on, so here it is:
1. Luke 4:36-39, The Message.
(Jesus was down in Capernaum in Galilee territory,
and was said to be calling demons out of people.)
That set everyone back on their heels, whispering and wondering,
“What’s going on here?
Someone whose words
make things happen?
Someone who orders demonic spirits
to get out and they go?”
Jesus was the talk of the town.
He left the meeting place and went to Simon’s house.
Simon’s mother-in-law was running a high fever
and they asked him to do something for her.
He stood over her, told the fever to leave – and it left.
Before they knew it, she was up getting dinner for them.
2. Luke 8:37, 40-56, The Message:
(Jesus had sailed over to the the country of the Gerasenes, across the lake from Galilee,
dealing with a herd of pigs and other such things).
Later (that day), a great many people from the Gerasene countryside
got together and asked Jesus to leave –
too much change!
and they were scared!
So Jesus got back in the boat and set off. (…)
On his return (to Galilee), Jesus was welcomed by a crowd.
They were all there expecting him.
A man came up, Jairus by name.
He was president of the meeting place.
He fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come to his house because
his twelve-year-old daughter, his only child, was dying.
Jesus went with him, making his way through the pushing, jostling crowd.
In the crowd that day , there was a woman
who for twelve years had been afflicted with homorrhages.
She had spent every penny she had on doctors, but no one had been able to help her.
She slipped in from behind, and touched the edge of Jesus’ robe.
At that very moment, her hemorrhaging stopped.
Jesus said, “Who touched me?”
When no one stepped forward,
Peter said, “But, Master, we’ve got crowds of people on our hands here.
Dozens have touched you.”
Jesus insisted. “Someone touched me. I felt power discharging from me.”
When the woman realized that she couldn’t remain hidden, she knelt trembling before him.
In front of all the people, she blurted out her story –
and why she touched him
and how at that same moment she was healed.
Jesus said, “Daughter, you took a risk trusting me,
and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, lived blessed!”
While he was still talking, someone from the leader’s house came up and told him,
“Your daughter died. No need now to bother the Teacher.”
Jesus overheard and said, “Don’t be upset. Just trust me, and everything will be all right.”
Going into the house, he wouldn’t let anyone enter with him
except Peter, John, James, and the child’s parents.
Everyone was crying and carrying on over her.
Jesus said, “Don’t cry.
She didn’t die; she’s sleeping.”
They laughed at him.
They knew she was dead.
Then Jesus, gripping her hand, called.
“My dear child, get up.”
She was up in an instant, up and breathing again!
He told them to give her something to eat.
Her parents were ecstatic, but Jesus warned them to keep quiet.
“Don’t tell a soul what happened in this room.”
3. Luke 13:10-17, The Message.
He was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath.
There was a woman present
so twisted and bent over with arthristis that she couldn’t even look up.
She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years.
When Jesus saw her, he called her over.
“Woman, you’re free!”
He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing
straight and tall,
giving glory to God.
The meeting place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation,
“Six days have been defined as work days.
Come on one of the six days if you want to be healed,
but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.”
But Jesus shot back,
Each Sabbath every one of you
regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall,
leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it.
So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham
and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”
When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced.
The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.
The Word of God for the People of God. Blessed be.
I have about three days worth of study notes
to go over with you about these passages.
How many hours do you have today to sort all this out with me?
Five more minutes?!
Okay, let’s do it!
2. Blood flow!
Well, maybe a couple more thoughts, just for good measure today…
These three passages are a symphonic fugue, choked full of
and cultural nuance.
We can’t go there in five minutes,
but I would be glad to chat with any of you later
about all the fine-print Rabbinic points in these passages;
every one of them is a delight!
So instead, just for today.
let’s just ask this core question:
What connects these three events together?
One sad thing!
Every one of these four women were living in the bind
of being assigned by society to a specific disability
that became their singular sign of
and their ultimate worth.
In that culture,
at that time,
women were already considered
not just secondary, but invisible;
essentially, women were worthless!
But to have been assigned a designated disability was even WORSE than worthless;
those women were a burden on society;
And if you were a man, (Jesus, listen up now!) you had NO BUSINESS
acknowledging any such women,
much less touching them,
or speaking to them, even.
In heaven’s name!
Jesus was breaking every rule in the book!
Jesus was lifting up the marginalized and placing them, POW!,
right at the center of Divine Action, Divine Empancipation!
Truth be praised!
Jesus did not do that in just these three brief passages,
he did it everyday,
in every way,
with every woman he met.
But wait! There’s more!
There is also in these passages
an overarching theme going on here that, I suspect,
is at the core of ALL of Jesus’ teaching
and very Being:
These stories about so-called “women with disabilities”
and how Jesus dealth with them
is proof positive
that one of the most common mottos of our Christian culture today
is actually a gross error that blatantly contradicts Gospel truth.
Have you ever had someone say to you,
“God won’t give you more than you can handle”?!
That sentiment is an idolatry of self sufficiency
hiding behind spiritual cloud of cotton candy.
Can you imagine Jesus saying,
“Oh, you have a fever?
You’ve been bleeding for twleve years?
You’re dying at twelve years of age?
You’ve been bent over for eighteen years?
Oh, just perk up now!
God never gives you more than you can handle!”
The Gospel truth is that people are dealing with more than they can handle
all over the world,
and have been ever since God threw Adam and Eve in the back of his Toyota truck
and drove them out of the Garden of Eden!
That is why God has given us
the likes of Jesus,
and the likes of each other.
Let’s FACE that!
Let’s FAITH that!
Let’s FULFILL that!
This is the message of our beloved Jesus that I humbly deliver to you today.
I pray you might receive it as best you are able.
+ + +
Here are a few informal Bibliographical Notes from my preparation for this homily that some of you may want to check into for further study and reflection:
1. Primary Sources:
Alice Bach, ed. WOMEN in the HEBREW BIBLE, A Reader, NY: Routledge, 1999, especially:
· Section on Roundtable Discussion, “Women and Disabilities – A Challenge to Feminist Theology”, facilitated by Elly Elshout, (p. 429ff.)
Some of my other favorites from this same book:
· Esther Fuchs (p. 127ff), The Literary Characterization of Mothers and Sexual Politics in the Hebrew Bible”
· Carole R. Fontaine (p. 159ff), “On Goddesses and the Status of Women in the Ancient Near East”
· Reuven Kimelman (p. 241ff), “The Seduction of Eve and the Exegetical Politics of Gender”
· Tikva Frymer Kenset (p. 292ff), Law and Philosophy: The Case of Sex in the Bible”
· Alice Bach (p. 351ff), Signs of the Flesh: Observations and Characterizations in the Bible”
· Judith Plaskow (p. 403ff), Transforming the Nature of Community: Toward a Feminist People of Israel”
Caryn Rivadeneira, “GRIT and GRACE: Heroic Women of the Bible” Minneapolis: SparkHouseFamily, 2017, especially Chapter 14, The Bleeding Woman, (p. 107ff.)
Amy-Jill Levine, SHORT STORIES by JESUS: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, NY: HarperOne, 2015. Especially:
· “Introduction: How We Domesticate Jesus’s Provocative Stories” (p. 1ff)
· “Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son” (p. 27ff)
· “The Widow and the Judge” (p. 239ff)
Amy-Jill Levine, Ed. With Marianne Blickenstaff, A FEMINIST COMPANION TO PAUL, Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 2004. Especially:
· Diana Swanscutt, “Sexy Stories and the Rereading of Romans 1:18-2:16” (p. 42ff)
· Richard B. Hays, “Paul on the Relation between Men and Women” (p. 137ff)
· Margaret Y. MacDonald, “Virgins, Widows, and Wives: The Women of 1 Corinthians 7” (p. 148ff)
· Luise Schottroff, “’Law-Free Gentile Christianity’ – What about the Women? Feminist Analysis and Alternatives” (p. 183ff)
2. Secondary Sources:
HISTORICAL SKETCHES of WOMAN’S MISSIONARY SOCIETIES in AMERICAN and ENGLAND, Boston:Mrs. L.H. Daggett, 1879.
Megan McKenna, NOT COUNTING WOMEN AND CHILDREN: Neglected Stories from the Bible, Maryknoll:Orbis, 1994
Frederick C. Tiffany and Sharon H. Ringe, BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: A Roadmap, Nashville, Abington, 1996. – ALL sections of worthy of your time, especially if you are in a serious Bible study group!
Miroslav Volf and Dorothy C. Bass, eds. “PRACTICAL THEOLOGY: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life,” Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 2002, especially
· Amy Plantinga Pauw, “Attending to the Gaps between Beliefs and Practices”, (p. 33ff.)
· Serene Jones, “Grace Practices: Excellence and Freedom in the Christian Life,” (p. 51ff.)
· Tammy R. Williams, “Is There a Doctor in the House? Reflections on Healing in African American Churches,” (p. 94ff.)
· Miroslav Volf, “Theology for a Way of Life,” (p. 245ff.)