What’s in a Name? 7-30-2017 Mark 5:21-34 The Rev. Kelli Kirksey
She couldn’t tell you when it happened. She didn’t mark it on her calendar or write it down in a book. It was just a day like any other day the sun rose and she woke up. She had breakfast and she went about her life doing her normal chores and work. Life seemed to be running smoothly…nothing off kilter. She went to bed that night not realizing that this was the beginning of the end. Not realizing that in a couple days, weeks, months, years everything would gradually change.
Often life changes start small, don’t they? A normal visit to the doctor. It was just a check-up. A small fight. An unwillingness to compromise. A sad day that turned into a sad week and then a month. A drink after work to calm the nerves of the day. Anger and bitterness that started small but now just won’t seem to go away.
For her it was just a doctor visit trying to figure out why she kept bleeding. Why she was tired all the time. At first, she went to the credible doctors in town but when they couldn’t help she began to look anywhere for answers. She went to doctors who were less than reputable. After many visits, after many doctors, after all the poking and prodding she still had no answers. No way to fix her problem. No one to tell her how to make it stop and she was out of money. You know at first when it all started friends were full of advice and quick to give her tips on how to get better. But as time passed, she didn’t get better and they slowly began to distance themselves. Friends stopped coming by to visit. They never had time to talk when they saw her in the market. Then they began to avoid her all together, making up excuses, always having something more pressing to do. When they saw her coming down the road the suddenly, they needed to duck into a store or turn down a different alley. Too embarrassed by her to even be associated with her. Then it wasn’t just friends but family who began to shy away. Not inviting her to family functions and not wanting to have her around. First, they stopped touching her. She knew why and she didn’t really blame them. She knew the religious code; she was considered unclean, untouchable, dirty. And though she understood why they acted this way, she could not help but be hurt. No handshakes, no hugs, no pats on the back.
Do you know what it is like to never be touched? To never be held? To never have someone pat you on the back and look you in the eye? Then maybe out of pity or discomfort they stopped looking at her. They stopped seeing her. When she walked by, they would look at the ground pretending she didn’t exist. Her very presence made them unbearably uncomfortable. Afraid that they might catch whatever she had they completely ostracized her. Banished, excommunicated, unwelcomed, and unloved she lived in shame. Slowly this disease had taken everything from her gradually eating away at her life until she felt like she no longer existed like the disease was the only thing that remained. She wondered if she would ever be a whole person again.
But that is how it is, isn’t it with chronic illness? With addiction? With severe anxiety? With depression? With the things we cannot control, and even with the things we can control. With lies that seem to grow bigger and bigger and poor choices that we can’t seem to stop making? The things that begin so small gradually take over our lives. Like a cancer slowly eating away at us until we cannot remember where the disease ends and we begin. For the woman in our text today she has been hemorrhaging for 12 years. Twelve years living on the margins of society. She was most likely depressed and she was certainly desperate. She had been pushed to the limit of her humanity.
Then, she heard that there was a man in town who could heal. She knew that if she could just get to him, if she could just touch him, she would be made well. But the crowd that day was so thick. The people were pushing and suddenly a man runs up in a frenzy talking about his daughter dying, begging Jesus to come and follow him. He was begging Jesus to heal his daughter. He was an important man, a leader from the synagogue. Jesus agrees to go with him and as he starts walking away she sees her chance, her only chance for life and healing walking away. So, in a desperate move she shoves forward pushing her way through the crowd ignoring the people’s incredulous stares, the way they cover their faces when she pushes closer. Ignoring all social and religious rules she desperately moves forward reaching for Jesus. Finally, she is so close she can almost touch him and she reaches out just in time to touch the hem of his cloak. She feels it and she’s not sure what has happened No one else seems to have noticed, but she feels something has changed within her.
I am guessing that for the woman in our story, this moment probably felt like hours as the disciples answer confused, “Jesus, look around you. Anyone could have touched you.”
She remains quiet, embarrassed, and ashamed. She knows she has broken all the social norms. She quickly looks to the ground, but she knows he is talking to her. Now everyone is looking around wondering who Jesus is talking about, and the disciples are pushing Jesus, trying to get him to go on but he is insistent. He asks again, “WHO TOUCHED ME?”
And it is interesting here in our text in verse 30 it says that Jesus knew she had touched him because he felt the power go out of him. He felt the power go out of him and into her. Here we see that Jesus has quite literally empowered this woman. He knows it, she knows it, and now he calls her to acknowledge it. When he asks the second time she knows she must answer. But telling her story in front of all these people will mean that they will know that she, an unclean woman, has not only touched many of the people in this crowd but she has had the audacity to reach out and touch the cloak of a Rabbi, a Holy Man. He is asking her to stand up and walk to the front-- Bringing with her all her pain, all her brokenness. Bringing with her all her sadness and disappointment. Bringing all that she is and all that she has been. Admitting in front of all these people that she is in desperate need of a miracle.
Can you picture her? Humiliated she comes forward and looks into the eyes of Jesus. Our text says it was with fear and trembling the words begin to come. They pour out of her--the story of her miserable life--like a broken slide show, one after the other.
And when it is over she prepares her heart for the inevitable rejection. She has stolen a miracle from a Holy Man and now she must prepare herself for whatever comes next. As she stood there she must have been playing over and over in her mind all the names she has been called her whole life, “Unclean, Unworthy, Dirty, Hopeless, Nobody.” And Jesus slowly leans down over this broken woman, over this broken life, and he looks into her eyes, giving her the dignity she deserves and the first word out of his mouth is “daughter.” Not woman, not Friend, not Follower, but Daughter.
We know from our text that she has no one because she comes into the crowd alone. In the ancient world, a woman would never speak to a man alone. She should have had a male to speak on her behalf, a husband, brother, or father. But she has no one. There are no friends to lower her down through the roof. Not even a sister to hold her hand on this journey. And Jesus looks into her eyes and claims her as his own with a term of endearment and respect. She becomes a family member of Christ invited into community Jesus. William Shakespeare famously wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell just ask sweet.” But what if that rose has no name? What then? If you hadn’t noticed today throughout our whole text this woman has been given no name. And this story is repeated in both Matthew and Luke, but still she is given no name.
When Will and I had our first child we named her Alaithea Grace Kirksey. The word Alaithea means truth in Greek. I remember when I told my brother about our plans he responded, “Wow you must have big plans for her. That is a pretty weighty name for such a little girl.” I had never really considered the impact her name might have on her future or the weight it might carry, but my brother made a good point. Our names are the first thing we are given. It is the first thing we own. Legally it must be written on our birth certificate before we leave the hospital. And it will travel with us for the rest of our lives unless we choose to go through the lengthy process of getting it changed on driver’s license, credit cards, and social security cards. In fact, one study they found that you can be at a party with everyone talking and if someone across the room says your name, you are more likely to hear your name than any other word because your mind identifies so distinctly with it.
Names have power. They define us. In the book of Genesis as God creates the world, Adam’s first job is to name the animals--To give each creature an identity. So why then, if names are so important, do the authors of the gospels leave out the name of this woman? In fact, if you have titles in your Bible you may see her referred to simply as the “hemorrhaging woman.” She is defined solely by her disease because she seemingly has no identity.So much of our identity lies in our name. It lets the world know where we come from and to whom we belong.
This woman has no family and no belonging. The world has marked her a nobody. And the Gospel writer recognizes this. BUT because she is no one she is also everyone. Her story, even though it is just a few verses. Even though it is just an interruption to the larger narrative of the chapter. Even though it is just a single moment in a crowd. Her story is our story. It is my story. It is your story. Her name is Kelli, Linda, Sarah. It is Bill, John, Thomas. When Jesus leans over her, when Jesus gives her back her dignity by looking into her eyes, when Jesus touches her and calls her daughter—He calls to each of us. He calls us daughters. He calls us sons. He gives us a name. He claims us as his own.
Professor Fred Craddock tells the story of a time when he and his wife went on a vacation to Gatlinburg, TN. While they were waiting for their meal they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn’t come over here." He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table.
"Where you folks from?" he asked amicably.
"Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?”
"I teach homiletics at the graduate seminary of Phillips University."
"Oh, so you teach preachers, do you. Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you." And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly.
The man pointed out the window toward the mountains and said, “There was a boy born not far from here across the mountains. His mother wasn’t married. When he started to school his classmates taunted him and he was no stranger to fights. He would sit by himself at lunch and play alone at recess because the taunts of his playmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going to church Sunday morning and feeling every eye. When he was about 12 years old a new preacher came to our church. The boy would always go in late and slip out early trying to hide from the crowd. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. He got to the door just in time to feel a big hand on his shoulder. He looked up and the preacher was looking right at him.
"Who are you, son? Whose boy are you?’
He felt the old weight come on him. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting him down. But as he looked down, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. "Wait a minute," he said, "I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God."
With that he slapped me on the back and said, "Boy you’ve got a great inheritance. Go and claim it."
The old man looked across the table at Fred Craddock and said, "Who knows what I would have become if that preacher hadn’t said that to me." With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends.
When the waitress came back Fred Craddock asked, “Do you know who that is?” She answered, “Of course, we all know him. He is the former governor of Tennessee.” When my husband and I chose the names of our children we debated and considered all the options. Family names, trendy names, names with great meaning. But in the end the only name that really matters is the one Christ gives to each of us--Daughter, Son, Child of God. When we reach out to God our hands are never pushed away. Instead God looks us in the eye and reminds us who we are--Daughters, Sons, Children of God. Today as we go from this place may we remember that we each have been given a new name. May we have the courage to live out our inheritance.