Women’s Issues / Blood Issues

Proper 8B/Ordinary 13B/Pentecost 5
July 1, 2012 

2 Samuel 1:1-27

Psalm 130

Mark 5:21-43

Whenever churches hold women’s retreats, the central text for the retreat always seems to be the story of Martha and Mary.  For those of you unfamiliar with the text (Luke 10:38-42), Martha – a friend of Jesus – asks Him to chide her sister Mary who is being less than helpful with the many duties required of a host.  Instead, Mary is sitting at the Lord’s feet (with the men!), listening to His teaching.  “Martha, Martha,” Jesus chides, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (vv.41-42).  So Martha’s household labors are typically trivialized as the neurotic work of codependency, which would be lifted from her if she just had her priorities in the right order (and sat at the feet of the Lord along with Mary).  This text is nice, safe, and allows us to neatly blame women for their own problems, rather than looking at the systems that created those problems in the first place (such as household divisions of labor that unduly burden women).

A far more daring retreat text would be the Gospel text for this week, which is the dual passage of the Raising of Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman With the Issue of Blood (the passages are typically interpreted together).  The stories begin with Jairus – a member of the local synagogue where Jesus is visiting – begging Jesus to lay hands on his daughter who is “at the point of death”.  As Jesus goes to follow Jairus to his house, a crowd gathers around them, among

Louis Glanzman. “Woman with Hemorrhage.” Contemporary.

which is a woman who has had an “issue of blood” or “hemorrhages” for 12 years.  The modern clinical term for this woman’s condition would be “menorrhagia” – or irregular and heavy menstrual bleeding.  The text says, “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse” (vv.26).  This woman was without a husband or male guardian in the crowd, implying that her disease – which would have made her permanently ritually impure – had left her abandoned by her family.  The woman knows that, in her condition, she would not be permitted to touch Jesus, a Rabbi, in order to be healed (in the picture below, we can even see a man warding her off).  In desperation, she touches his clothes, saying ““If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well” (vv.28).

Alexandre Bida. “A Woman Healed by Touching the Garment of Jesus.” 1874.

The miracle that occurs is very unusual, in that Jesus is completely passive.  The healing is almost stolen from Him by the woman, rather than His bestowing it upon her: “Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.  Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?'” (vv.29-30).  Jesus is taken by surprise!  The woman came to Him “in fear and trembling, fell down before Him and told Him the whole truth” (vv.33).  The woman seems afraid not only of verbal reprimand, but of physical punishment as well.  But Jesus simply says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (vv.34).  Note that Jesus does not take credit here, but credits the woman’s faith.

Wilson J. Ong. “Daughter of Jairus.” Contemporary.

The story then flashes back to the Jairus narrative, as people come from the synagogue leader’s house, informing him that his daughter is dead.  Jesus still goes to Jairus’ house, where there is a commotion and people weeping.  Jesus assures them “The child is not dead but sleeping” (vv.39), at which the relatives laugh.  Jesus puts all of them out but the parents, Peter, James and John, takes the girl by the hand and says “Talitha cum”, meaning “Little girl, get up!”  The girl gets up and begins to walk about (here the text notes “she was twelve years of age”), after which Jesus says to tell no one and to give her something to eat.

Poussin. “Rape of the Sabines.” c. 1630.

What are we to make of these “twin miracles”?  It helps to know the context in which Mark’s Gospel was written – which was either during the build-up to or the immediate aftermath of the Roman invasion of Palestine and the destruction of Jerusalem after Jesus’ death.  The Jews of Palestine were no strangers to Roman invasion, and they were well aware what women and girls could expect at the hands of Roman solders: Brutal rape.  Women were considered the spoils of war, to be enjoyed by the conquerors.  For the listeners to Mark’s Gospel stories – who were likely Jews fleeing Jerusalem into the surrounding countryside – it would be no mystery as to where this woman’s “issue of blood” came from, or how Jairus’ daughter came to be “at the point of death”.  They were innocent victims of Roman aggression against women.

Today, there are still far too many parts of the world where girls’ innocence dies at a young age and where women are left to bleed (emotionally or physically) in silence for the rest of their lives.  In countries with Islamic populations, the perversion of Shari’ah law by male elites allows the frequent practice of marrying off young girls to adult men.  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, rape is routinely practiced as a method a guerilla warfare, leaving hundreds of thousands of women maimed for life (see the HBO documentary “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo”).  In the United States, women are routinely brutalized in the sex industry beginning at a young age – both by johns and pimps – and then written off as willing “whores” and “gold diggers”.  When these women speak out in courage about their experiences, they are subject to cyber-bullying by misogynists and “sex worker rights” groups backed by active pimps (see “How the Sex Industry Threatens Survivors Speaking Out …”).

But like the woman with the “issue of blood”, women are using their votes and their voices to seize their healing and their rights.  In Yemen, women are fiercely protesting the delay of a ban on child marriage.  Sex industry survivors are finding their voices online in spite of indimidation (see “Secret Diary of a Dublin Call Girl,” “9 to 20: A Survivor’s Journey Out of Trafficking“, and “My Body the City: The Secret Life of a Call Girl“).  Women filmmakers and researchers are breaking the silence on rape in the Congo.  The woman with the issue of blood and Jairus’ daughter are, in some ways, the same person.  We cannot “stop the bleeding” of women around the world until we stand together in defense of young girls’ rights to their own bodily integrity.  And we cannot expect young girls to grow up safe in a society where adult women are routinely degraded – in the media and in actuality – as nothing more than whores and rape-objects.  Even though Jesus was “taken by surprise” by the bleeding woman’s healing, He blessed her for doing so – and likewise blesses us in our efforts to stop women’s bleeding around the world.  Women’s issues are blood issues, and until we face that fact, the bleeding will continue.

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