Jesus deals with two kinds of disorder in today’s Gospel readings––death and intractable illness––and he defeats them both.
In this intertwining, the evangelist has skillfully connected issues of clean and unclean, in and out, life and death and, most significantly, makes the connection between Jesus’ acts of power and the recipients’ faith. In both instances, Jesus heals first, and faith (or unfaith) follows.
Of even greater importance is the reaction of the disciples (us) to these events. It is their witness of these mighty acts and their response (faith or unfaith) that is the purpose, not merely the events themselves. Their incredulity at Jesus’ question, “Who touched my clothes?” and their (Peter, James, and John alone this time) response to the little girl’s rising—“they were immediately overcome with amazement”—is not the same thing as a response of faith.
The response of faith, in fact, never really happens in Mark’s Gospel except at the cross from the attending Roman centurion. It is important to remind the assembly of that critical point lest they are hung up on the relation of faith and healing. – Amandus J. Derr
We might ask, as well, what the shape of faith is in these stories. Jairus is in a panic and the woman who bleeds is at the end of hope. They approach Jesus out of their need. Can we say that faith has its source in desperation? How are faith and despair related in these stories and in our own lives?
Lamentations is helpful with this question because it strives to define faith as coming from hope born of affliction and homelessness (vs. 19).
To set the context for what is affirmed in this reading, Lamentations 3:20-21 sums up a personal cry (“My soul… is bowed down”) that engenders a move toward faith (“… and therefore I have hope”). What follows, then, is a psalm, a song, of thanks and rejoicing that sounds a lot like a statement of faith: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases…” (vs. 22)
Trusting in God’s steadfast love is the psalmist’s source for hope and therefore healing.
Trusting in God’s care opens up ever-deepening opportunities to let go of our possessions and give for the sake of others. Paul addresses this, again allowing these readings to resonate together so that what we finally see on this day is that our need generates compassion.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
It seems even during the halcyon days of the early church, when folks were still basking in the wonder of firsthand accounts about Jesus, money was an issue. Here is Paul, like a good stewardship committee chairperson, reminding people to fill out their pledge cards and support the church budget for the upcoming year. Like a tired congregation, the people of Corinth are distracted by other uses for their money because the novelty for their humanitarian projects has worn off.
At first glance we might think Paul is overplaying the guilt card: the Macedonians gave a lot and so can you; you’re good at everything else, now show me how good you are at giving; and the trump card, Jesus was rich but became poor for your sake—implication: you owe him.
Upon closer inspection, however, we realize Paul is not playing the guilt card; he is playing the gift card. Even though he very much wants this fundraiser for the Jerusalem poor to succeed for both symbolic and tangible reasons, he only wants the Corinthians to give their money willingly—eagerly, to use his language. Paul cares less about raising money and more about changing attitudes. When people understand themselves as recipients of grace and not stockpilers of wealth, they know that what they give is only a return of resources to the source. – Jennifer Copeland
Even on this day which is not “Stewardship Sunday,” the sermon can speak of giving. It is a thanks-giving rather than a proving-I-am-faithful giving or a buying-God-off giving. It is a giving of our need, our despair, our yearning, and it takes us to a place where we rest only in the one who gives what we cannot. What we have, we offer. And what we give is a healing for ourselves in turn.
Jesus responds to the pure and impure, the central and marginalized, the wealthy and poor, with equal concern for their wholeness and salvation—when they come in faith. What healing do we seek from him? What do we hear in his invitation to us? – E. Byron (Ron) Anderson
E. Byron (Ron) Anderson is the Ernest and Bernice Styberg Professor of Worship and the Director of the Nellie B. Ebersole Program in Music Ministry at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.
Jennifer Copeland has served as the United Methodist campus minister and executive director of the Wesley Fellowship at Duke University since 1999. She will begin serving as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Council of Churches in the summer of 2015.
Amandus J. Derr is senior pastor of St. Peter Lutheran Church (ELCA), New York City.
Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 48-58.