Equality Ride at OBU: Day Two
Newsweek Story on Equality Ride and OBU

The Ones Not Afraid

The Ones Not Afraid
Mark 5:21-43
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
4th Sunday in Lent
26 March 2006

The other day Paula was telling me a story. One Easter Sunday she was on duty and observed a suspicious vehicle. One of the windows was broken, so she ran the plates and, sure enough, the car was stolen. She took chase. For forty-five minutes she chased this vehicle. The thief was banging into other cars and wreaking havoc. It dragged on and on. Finally he was headed down a road that dead-ended. Paula pulled back to await the crash. And that’s what happened; he crashed the car. Then the guy took out running. Paula chased him down, jumped a fence, and tackled the guy. While looking through his wallet she noticed pictures of the Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart. She said, “Do you know what day this is?” The man muttered, “yes.” Paula then yelled at him, “Did you go to church?” “No,” the man said. Then Paula bellowed, “You should have gone to church!” Though with an expletive thrown in that isn’t really appropriate for a sermon. She said all the other cops laughed. Here’s this guy who stolen a car, given the police a forty-five minute chase, wrecked and damaged various vehicles, and Paula yelled at him for not going to church on Easter Sunday.

There’s something that happens to me as a pretty common occurrence. For instance, imagine me out with Christa some Saturday night at Partners, and we are both having a cocktail. I meet some new person, and we are chatting and soon that person uses a cuss word. Then they look at me with a look of guilt or shame and say, “Oops, I shouldn’t talk like that in front of a minister.” This has now happened often enough that I have a routine response. I say something like the following. First, I’m drinking. Second, I’m in a bar. Third, it is a gay bar. Fourth, I’m gay. Pretty sure cussing isn’t a big deal. That’s entry-level sin.

It is funny how we make distinctions in our society, particularly what we judge to be sin and what we don’t. These are a couple of humourous episodes, but they are reflective of conservative upbringings that would have considered it quite serious not to be in church on Easter or to use a profanity in front of a minister. They reveal how a concept of purity that makes sharp distinctions underlies much of our thinking about morality and sin. These episodes reveal that sometimes our priorities about what is right and wrong and how we make those distinctions can get out of whack.

Simone de Beauvoir wrote about how societies set themselves up as “One” and define those that are different as “other.” We might do it in harmless ways, such as Sooners v. Cowboys. And quickly there becomes a Sooner orthodoxy and if you vary from it, then you aren’t a real fan.

Unfortunately, individuals and societies make these distinctions all the time in ways that are not humourous. An out of whack desire to maintain moral purity leads to Sally Kern’s library bill. Or to Jim Crow. Or to Apartheid. Or to ethnic cleansing. Humans can’t seem to resist making such sharp distinctions and creating dualisms – men v. women, rich v. poor, white v. black, straight v. gay. We then use these distinctions to exclude people from our way of life.

In Jesus’ day Judaism had developed a series of sharp distinctions surrounding the religious practices of the temple. It was a very clear purity code based upon some Old Testament scriptures and a developing rabbinical literature. There were sharp distinctions between Jews and Gentiles, between those who were disabled and those who weren’t, between men and women, and between the clean and the unclean. To maintain one’s righteousness, a person had to build sharp barriers between themselves and anything that might defile them. You didn’t eat certain foods, you only did work on certain days, you could only marry someone of a specific social class, and you couldn’t come into contact with anyone or anything that was unclean.

In such a society, everything has its place and is supposed to remain there. Everyone has their duty they are fulfill and not step outside their role. Now those who transgress such barriers, in any society, become suspect and derided. When a woman gets ahead in business, you still occasionally hear someone say, “Whom did she sleep with to get ahead?”

Often those who transgress boundaries are persecuted. Sometimes they are killed. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right wing Jew because Rabin had violated what that young man took to be the purity code for maintaining Jewish righteousness. Trying to engage in peace with Palestinians transgressed boundaries. Transgressing boundaries got Anwar Sadat killed, and Martin Luther King, Jr., and Harvey Milk.

And it’s why Jesus was killed.

When we last left Jesus, he was asked to leave the land of the Gerasenes. So, he and the disciples cross back over the Sea of Galilee to the western side, where most of Jesus’ ministry has occurred. First Jesus encounters Jairus. Unlike most of the minor characters in the Gospel of Mark, Jairus is an authority. He is a leader of the synagogue, a prominent man. William Barclay, the Scottish scholar, writes the following about Jairus:

He was the president of the board of elders who were responsible for the good management of the Synagogue. He was responsible for the conduct of the services. . . . The Ruler of the Synagogue was one of the most important and the most respected men in the community.

Jairus clearly is a member of the “in” crowd. He is one of those set apart and protected by the barriers of the purity system. Jairus himself becomes a transgressor of boundaries; his actions in this story reveal his courage.

For example, Jesus has been taking on the religious authorities. He has broken the religious rules and has argued with Pharisees, scribes, and elders. So, it initially seems strange that a prominent member of the religious system would come to Jesus for help. But not only does Jairus come to Jesus asking for help, he falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him, repeatedly.

Here is a man who is in a desperate situation – his daughter is dying. Instead of despairing, Jairus musters his faith and comes to Jesus. Jairus musters faith despite the purity code boundaries that would separate him from Jesus. He comes to Jesus despite his dignity, despite his pride, despite disagreement, and despite any prejudices he might have. Barclay gives an insightful analysis along these lines. Jairus must overcome the prejudice that the religious leaders had against Jesus. He must overcome his own pride and dignity to come and throw himself at Jesus’ feet. Here is a prominent man begging the assistance of an iterant peasant. And from the rest of the story, it appears that Jairus’ friends and household did not support his decision to go to Jesus. Yet, despite all of this, Jairus musters his faith and goes boldly to Jesus.

Inserted into the middle of Jairus’ story is that of the bleeding woman. I always found the name given to her in the King James Bible to be funny – she is the “woman with issue.” Mark has crafted an interesting literary specimen with these stories. Sharyn Dowd of Baylor University points out that we must look at how the bleeding woman was similar to Jairus’ daughter, while at the same time she was different from Jairus himself:

Both the woman and Jairus’ daughter are female, and both are nameless in the narrative. . . . The bleeding woman has been dying as long as the child has been living – twelve years. Both are “daughters.” Although it is clear that the girl has a caring father, it would appear that the woman has no one. However, Jesus calls her “daughter;” she is not alone after all.
Both women are ritually impure when Jesus encounters them. According to Torah, vaginal bleeding rendered a woman unclean and all corpses were unclean.

Dowd continues by reaffirming that Jairus is a leader who has the right to directly speak to Jesus and seek his help.

The bleeding woman, by contrast, has been a religious and social outsider for twelve years, experiencing neither the worship of God nor human embrace. She has no right to be brushing up against people in the crowd and no right to jeopardize Jesus’ ritual status by touching him.

The woman, unlike Jairus, is one of those excluded by the purity code. She is outside the boundaries. She is dirty, polluted, and unholy. She is labeled unclean by virtue of her disease. In Leviticus 19 there is a long and extensive purity code related to bleeding women. Some excerpts:

When a woman has a discharge of blood that is her regular discharge from her body, she shall be in her impurity for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean until the evening. Everything upon which she lies during her impurity shall be unclean; everything also upon which she sits shall be unclean.
If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness.
If she is cleansed of her discharge . . . the priest shall offer a sin offering and a burnt offering; and the priest shall make atonement on her behalf before the Lord for her unclean discharge.
Thus you shall keep the people of Israel separate from their uncleanness, so that they do not die in their uncleanness by defiling my tabernacle that is in their midst.

To be unclean was not simply a matter of health or sanitation. It was a religious and moral judgment. The unclean one could not participate in worship. And because of these strict rules, they were not welcome to wander around the town and participate in normal everyday functions. And, as you can see, a sin offering was necessary to atone for the sin of the discharge. Bleeding due to disease was something that needed a sacrifice in order to get back into right relationship with God!

Why would such a code exist? Despite its location within the Old Testament canon, Leviticus is actually compiled rather late in the history of Israel. Though there are elements of it that must have been handed down through the centuries, the book only took final form in the period after the exile.

When Judah was defeated in the year 586 Before the Common Era, the people were taken captive into Babylon. It was during this period that Judaism really took shape. As is often the case, a minority subculture must work hard to define itself as separate from the surrounding culture. This is especially true of an exiled community. Without access to the temple and other sacred places, the rules and regulations that would set the Jews apart from the Gentiles became even more important. The entire tradition of the people was re-interpreted during this period. In fact, most of the Old Testament took its final shape during and after the Exile. If you read the Book of Ezra, for example, you will see how after the Exile there was a stronger emphasis on purity and difference. This tradition of Judaism became known as the Priestly Tradition. It has important differences with other traditions within Judaism.

Toward the end of Leviticus we can see the weight that was placed upon observance of these laws:

If you follow my statues and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. . . . I will grant peace in the land. . . . I will look with favor upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you.
But if you will not obey me, and do not observe all these commandments, if you spurn my statues, and abhor my ordinances, so that you will not observe all my commandments, and you break my covenant, I in turn will do this to you: I will bring terror on you; consumption and fever that waste the eyes and cause life to pine away.

In fact, if you look in Leviticus 26 you’ll see that the warnings of punishment are more descriptive and grotesque and go on for far longer than the list of blessings.

But this tradition within Judaism does not stand alone; there are other traditions. Where the Priestly tradition tried to create orderly boundaries, others were not as concerned with that. There were elements of Judaism that welcomed the Gentiles, and these elements gave rise to the Books of Ruth and Jonah. The historians of the Deuteronomic tradition were concerned about obedience, but more about how it connected with justice and faith than how it connected with purity and boundaries.

The sharpest difference with the Priestly tradition is found in the Prophetic tradition. Keep in mind that many of the prophetic works actually pre-date a book like Leviticus, even if they come later in the volumes we possess. Though there are many passages in the prophets that would illustrate how they reflected differently upon the faith than did the Priestly tradition, maybe the most known comes from Amos:

I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not
accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon.
Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of
your harps.
But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing

Jesus stands firmly within this prophetic tradition of Judaism. So when the woman with issue touches him, Jesus is not concerned with being defiled or made unclean. Instead, he makes her clean. He restores her and includes her. For Jesus this woman is displaying true righteousness, because she has faith.

Notice that she is afraid. But it is not the paralyzing sort of fear that we discussed last week. No, this woman is still courageous. She is breaking all sorts of rules by wondering into this crowd and touching this man. And she is even bold enough to speak to him.

And just so we understand the points here, the Jairus episode continues. The daughter has died and Jesus comes and restores her to life. Notice the words of Jesus to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”

It is belief, faith that has allowed Jairus to transgress boundaries and seek healing for his daughter. It is faith that has compelled the woman to transgress boundaries and seek healing from Jesus. And Jesus rewards both of them and acknowledges that they are examples of how to resist the power of fear and live as people of courage.

It takes courage to break down barriers and turn a process of exclusion into one of inclusion. This week as I worked on this sermon I read enough material to begin writing a thesis. There is much more to be said about the Purity Code, its origins, it application, and the criticism of it by Jesus and the prophets. A lot of that reading entered into my thoughts tonight. But what also entered into my thinking were the events of the week and the many conversations that I’ve had surrounding the visit of the Equality Ride to Oklahoma City and Shawnee.

There is a religious sensibility that seeks purity, that sets up boundaries, that excludes, and that ultimately can end in violence. I believe that it is a religious sensibility filled with fear.

Then there is a religious sensibility that seeks justice. That acknowledges the role and power of sin, but that ultimately works to find healing and inclusion.

Though the first sensibility has basis in scripture, I believe it is outweighed by the second sensibility. And this is where I take my stand.

My God hears the laments of a people in slavery and liberates them. My God is reflected in the words of the prophets who denounce injustice and call for shalom. My God pours out the Spirit upon all flesh. To my God there isn’t Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free. My God is revealed in Jesus Christ. The same Jesus who died because he transgressed boundaries to bring healing and wholeness.

The “ones not afraid” are those who have this sort of faith.


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