Falling Down Faith
This week’s gospel reading is perfect for people who don’t have it all together. And according to our theology, that’s all of us. None of us have it all together. Most of us don’t like to admit it. No one I know wants the world to expose their weakness.
No, the message we hear is “be in control.” Given the right set of circumstances… a good job, good health, healthy family, enough exercise and the right fruits and vegetables… you can have it all. Except that life doesn’t work that way.
A picture from the recent storms and flooding in Texas says it all. A large, two-story ranch house with one garage and three dormer windows, once perfectly manicured and gated, flooded up to the second story windows. How easily pictures of having it all together become showcases for disaster.
But also more recently, for our culture, as a white terrorist’s violence lifted up a mirror to reflect the racism that permeates our society and seeps into our hearts. A happier image for me, for our church this week, as of the Supreme Court steps after decision that gay marriage is legal, was still colored by my seven-year-old’s comment: “That should have happened a long time ago.” Even as our nation becomes a more free and fair place for all, we still do not have it all together.
The scripture passage this morning, on one level is about physical healing. But there are all kinds of sickness. Sickness can be a way of talking about what happens when things fall apart, when the storm clouds roll in, or the pink slip arrives, or the lump refuses to disappear from the sonogram. The –isms that pervade our culture may also be sicknesses, as they get inside us, as easily as a virus in the air we breathe, perhaps remaining dormant until something triggers a symptom. We don’t even know we’re sick, until our path crosses the path of another, who aggravates the sore. Or we’ve lived with the sickness for so long that we’ve accommodated to it, and we don’t see it any more.
Assuming that none of us have it all together, that at some level we are all sin-sick, how do we get well?
In the story the first person to come seeking healing was Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, the person who was supposed to have it all together. Even if he wasn’t a wealthy Roman, his place in his community was secure. His support network among Jewish families guaranteed as much if not more than any health insurance policy of his day. Jairus was powerful enough to send someone else to get Jesus when his daughter was dying, but he comes running himself. In a posture that tells us all we need to know, Jairus falls down before Jesus. Life found his weak spot – his child, the one he adores – and Jairus has lost his mind. Jairus is falling, falling apart.
Almost breaking into Jairus’s story comes a nameless woman, a woman whose physical condition made her unclean, thus removing her from the community, perhaps ironically, because of the very scriptures taught in the synagogue Jairus leads. Scripture says she is “hemorrhaging,” but that’s a nice way of saying vaginal bleeding. (Yes, I said “vaginal.”) Not only was the nameless woman ritually unclean, cast out of the Jewish community, but she couldn’t have children, the closest thing to insurance for women of her time. This is no sudden disaster, either – for twelve years it’s been like this. While Jairus could at least look like he had it all together, the consequences of this nameless woman’s condition have been very public – everyone knows she’s been falling apart. Weak to the point that when she touches Jesus’s garment, he feels power flow to her, as water flows downhill.
Here’s what I find so amazing: before Jesus, these two people – Jairus, a leader who has it all together, who has a large community as a large safety net, and a nameless woman, falling apart, all alone with no insurance – both of these people are in the same position. Both fall before Jesus.
Their posture shows Jesus’s unique power. But I don’t think the only point is to make Jesus look so great. Rather, to show the crowd, and we are part of that crowd, what happens when we are brought to our knees, no matter how much insurance we think we have, when we realize the devastating power of whatever sickness plagues us or those we love.
Jesus is not performing magic here, after all, but demonstrating a deeper power, the kind that can bring wholeness, if not a cure. For the woman, her faith saves her; Jesus’s invitation is not so much “be cured”, but be made whole. Have a full life.
Be very careful what you hear me say. It’s not that Jesus will cure you if you just have enough faith, although given some of the strange things I’ve seen happen, I won’t write it off. That’s not the promise here, though.
The promise here is about faith when we are brought to our knees, falling down because we have no other hope, when we realize we have nothing to lose because either we’re at risk of losing what is most important, or because we already have.
The promise here is for those who can admit or who know personally the deathly power of sickness. Whether you are someone who thought you had it all together, only to be devastated when life finds your weakness, or you are someone who has been told in some way that you are less worthy because of some aspect of who you are, or if you are someone who keeps acting out of some sickness you may not even realize, there is a promise here about faith.
It’s good news, no matter how much insurance you have. A message “do not be afraid; have faith” – because people who are afraid tend to look for more insurance, stray toward false promises, tend to see the world in terms of what they can get rather than what they can give. Communities built on insurance tend to include those who have it, and exclude those who don’t, because for those who have it, the constant human reminders that one day you might not – those folks are just too scary.
Maybe there’s some message here for our nation in the face of another of this week’s Supreme Court decisions. While affordable health care is essential, I have always been wary of the Affordable Health Care Act’s focus on insurance. What I know is that as we celebrate our nation, our strength – our salvation, will come in knowing that no matter how much insurance we have or don’t have, we are all ultimately in the same position. No one has it all together. We are all touched by the sicknesses among us, – the physical, the psychological, the cultural; they are all at some level spiritual. For the church, for people who are trying to follow Jesus, that means modeling a falling-down faith, realizing that at some point, insurance ultimately fails us, and we have to learn as Jairus and the nameless woman, to fall down in the face of what, of who, is ultimately good and just and loving, because that is when we have faith. Recognizing that we are all have this same vulnerable condition called humanity, prone to weakness and stereotypes and thoughtlessness, we may hear Jesus’s words, too: “Do not be afraid; have faith.”
What if Jairus took Jesus’s advice? What might it have meant to have faith and not be afraid, as he looked toward his own future, to how he led in the synagogue, that he and this nameless woman were ultimately in the same boat? What kind of community would he have wanted to lead? How might he have helped others to have falling down faith, the kind that helps you learn to understand all kinds of situations, that makes you reflect on how your community may have deemed another unworthy, another who may be the one who shows you how not to be afraid? Because in the end we are all vulnerable?
I know that can be hard news, but friends, it’s the truth. Before we can be made whole, we have to know we are sick. We have to realize that we do not, that we cannot, have it all together. Not by ourselves, not on our own. It’s the truth that the nameless woman showed to the whole crowd that day. It’s the truth that will allow us to move forward having faith in a deeper power, in something much stronger than anything our Supreme Court upholds, much more compassionate than anything our health care system guarantees, more trustworthy than any image of having it all together. In that truth, may you discover the gift of a falling down faith.