Sunday, 27 June 2021

How do women who are
forced to the margins hear
the Gospel as good news?

‘The Daughter of Jairus’ by James Tissot (1836-1902)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 27 June 2021

The Fourth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity IV)


The Readings: II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27; Psalm 130; Mark 5: 21-43

9.30 a.m. Castletown Church, Morning Prayer

11.30 a.m. Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion II)

There is a link to the readings HERE.

‘When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him’ (Mark 5: 21) … a boat in the South Harbour on Cape Clear Island off the coast of Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

Our Gospel reading this morning (Mark 5: 21-43) tells the stories of how Christ responds to the plight of two very different people: a young girl who is on her deathbed, and a woman who has been suffering for the previous 12 years, as long as the young girl has lived.

The women in this reading remain unnamed, like so many women in the New Testament: three women in all, the dying girl, the older woman, and the girl’s mother.

The young girl who is on her deathbed and her mother are from a religious family; the older woman who interrupts this story, and who disrupts Jesus and intrudes on the crowd, has endured a lifetime of suffering. The two principal women in this story both suffer and are marginalised, are seen as not worth bothering about, because of their gender and because of their age.

This morning’s readings remind us that Christ calls the unnamed, the marginalised, and the long-suffering from the outside into the community. They call out, just as the psalmist cries out, ‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord’ (Psalm 130: 1).

This Psalm (Psalm 130), known as De Profundis, is a prayer for deliverance from personal trouble, but it ends with a message of hope for all people.

God is attentive to our pleas, despite everything that has gone wrong. God forgives, God is merciful, God offers unfailing love and freedom.

The psalmist makes the powerful and paradoxical point that God is to be held in awe not because he punishes but because he forgives.

God’s love for us surpasses the love of any father or mother for their children.

In the Gospel reading, one of the key people is the daughter of a leading member of the local synagogue. But religious position and social status are of little value when a small girl is struck with a death-threatening illness or disease.

In both cases these women are ritually unclean … a bleeding woman, a dying or dead women. Jesus should not touch them. Yet their plight touches his heart, and he reaches out to them with a healing touch.

One young woman is restored to her place in her family and in her community. One older woman, who has lost everything, who is at risk of being marginalised, even by the Disciples, is offered the hope of her proper place.

In the Gospel reading, the crowd who gather around Jesus by the lake becomes a large crowd pressing in on him.

Too often in a crowd, it is those who get to the front first, who have the loudest voices, who are heard, whose demands are met.

But in this case, it is not the loud and the proud, the rich or the famous, who grab the attention of Christ – it is a weak, timid, neglected impoverished, exploited and sick woman. All her money has gone on quacks, and she has no man to speak up for her.

But look at what Christ does for her. Without knowing it, he heals her. And when he realises what has happened, he calls her ‘Daughter.’

In a society where men had the only voices, where to have a full place in society was to be known as a Son of Israel, she is called ‘Daughter.’ She too has a full and equal place in society, in the world, and before God.

It is shocking that when the unnamed girl dies the first reaction of some key local figures is to upbraid her father for seeking help, and not to offer him comfort and sympathy.

Their lack of compassion and sympathy contrasts sharply with the compassion Christ shows for both the older and the younger woman.

Until last week, I was still hoping to take part in the annual conference of the Anglican mission agency USPG (the United Society Partners in the Gospel) next month. However, the impact of the Delta Variant means the conference has been replaced by a virtual event.

Some years ago, at the USPG conference, I heard powerful and engaging stories of how projects supported by USPG are empowering women around the world.

Canon Delene Mark from South Africa gave harrowing accounts of gender-based violence, people trafficking, child murder and forced prostitution.

Sheba Sultan from the Church of Pakistan reminded us that women in Pakistan cannot achieve anything without tackling bigotry and intolerance.

We heard from India where the Delhi Brotherhood is challenging gender-based violence, including rape and murder.

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes talked about gender justice, which is much more than ending gender-based violence. She shared a vision of equality for men and women created equally in the image and likeness of God, made one in Christ, called and equipped by the Holy Spirit, and living with the promise of abundant life for all.

We were challenged each day to ask ourselves: how is the Gospel good news for women?

Speaker after speaker insisted the Gospel is Good News – but only if we read it, accept its consequences for us, and then live it out.

The Gospel is Good News for women like the two women in the Gospel story and for the women I heard about at that USPG conference. But … only if we read it and if we put it into practice.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him’ (Mark 5: 21) … a crowded boat in the Mediterranean (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 5: 21-43 (NRSVA):

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

‘Christ raises the daughter of Jairus’ (left), in the Hardman window by JH Powell at the west end of the nave in Saint Nicholas Church, Adare, Co Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Liturgical Colour: Green

The Collect of the Day (Trinity IV):

O God, the protector of all who trust in you,
without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy:
Increase and multiply upon us your mercy;
that with you as our ruler and guide,
we may so pass through things temporal
that we finally lose not the things eternal:
Grant this, heavenly Father,
for Jesus Christ’s sake, our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us at the table of life and hope.
Teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Old newspaper cuttings … when and how is the Gospel good news for people on the margins?

Hymns:

211, Immortal love for ever full (CD 13)
592, O Love that wilt not let me go (CD 34)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



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