The Day Jesus Marched With Women

Mark 5 – A Woman and A Girl

On his way through a town, Jesus is confronted by a man whose daughter is dying. This man pleads with him to heal his daughter, and Jesus agrees. As he is making his way through dense crowds who are pressing in on him from all sides, a woman who has been bleeding for years finds her way through the crowd. She has been ceremonially unclean under Jewish law, separated from society because her condition, but in this moment pushes her way through the town to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, hoping beyond hope that healing could be hers. And her hopes are fulfilled.

Jesus notices that healing power comes out of him, seeks out the one who has touched him, and, upon hearing the woman’s explanation of the moment, blesses her, saying, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go and be freed from your suffering.” (V34)

As he turns to continue to the sick little girl, he and the girl’s father are informed that the girl has died. When he hears this he responds, “Don’t be afraid; just believe,” (V36) and continues towards the home where the girl’s body lies.

When he arrives, he shoos out the mourners, who laugh at his faith in the girl’s ability to be awoken from death. He takes the dead girl by the hand and says, “‘Talitha Koum!’ (Which means ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up.’)” And she immediately stands, raised to life by the encouragement of Jesus to get up.

Jesus breaks a host of societal norms in order to love these two, the woman and the girl:

1. The woman who was bleeding was ceremonially unclean, meaning that nobody wanted to be near her nor touch her, for then they too would become unclean if they made contact with her. Not only did Jesus interact with her, he allowed her to touch him and be healed by their contact, with no reaction as to what their contact would mean for his cleanliness. He cared not.

2. Jesus went in to the room where the little girl was and raised her to life. He does so by taking her hand, and touching a dead body would also make him unclean in traditional Jewish law.

3. He goes in to heal a child. Children were not valued highly in the Ancient Jewish custom, and even the disciples attempted to shoo them away from Jesus on at least one occasion (Luke 18:15-17). Sure children were loved and cared for in the home, but they became important when they started contributing the livelihood of the family through their labor.

4. This is the most important piece for our discussion today. Both the woman who touched his cloak and the little girl have something very important in common: they are women. Like children, women were not valued like men were in ancient societies and were thought to be inferior to their male counterparts, and this included Jewish culture. For Jesus to heal them both meant a major breaking of societal norms.

These two intertwined interactions show the heart of God in an incredibly important way: God is not as concerned with our societal norms or religious cleanliness as he is with our love. Jesus did not come to sit in the temple and lecture. He did not come to eat and drink with his people, Jewish people, only. He did not come to continue the norms in culture that keep people oppressed, marginalized, downtrodden, or devoid of power. He came to march directly to the places of pain and need and raise up the weak, humble the strong, and create a people who would go anywhere at anytime to love anyone.

And I mean that, anywhere, anytime, anyone. God didn’t imagine his people would avoid bars and casinos because they were filled with debaucherous people. He would never want them to avoid genuine friendship and love with another human because of their race, nationality, religion, or sexual or gender associations, fearing what those interactions might mean for their social standing. He didn’t consider that they might stay within church walls in order to avoid the sins of the world. He never intended for his people to be “us” and for the rest of the world to become “them.” And the reason he never thought this way was because he never lived this way on earth. Jesus ate and drank and lived his life with the despised, the rejected, the loathed, the lame, the poor, the confused, the self-righteous, the successful, the liars, the cheats, the lustful, the greedy, the proud, the outsiders, the oppressed, the screw ups, and everyone in between. Christ came to love EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE, and in EVERY PLACE, and to show them a God who loved and valued them all equally.

So today, as feet are marching and voices are raised around the country to speak for women and all those who need a voice, I encourage us to remember that in all of his life, not in just one vignette in the book of Mark, we see Jesus marching into every sector of society and breaking down its norms by intentionally doing what others would not, practically loving those others would not, and insodoing giving voice and power to those in greatest need. He let the impure touch him, the outcast find healing, the dead find life, the children find empowerment, and women know value from God that far surpassed any they had ever experienced from the society around them. Let us do the same.

“Go and be freed from your suffering…”

Compassion Beyond Comprehension

Genesis 50 – Joseph Wept

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.” – Genesis‬ ‭50:15-17‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Recall:

His brothers plotted to kill him. Stripped him and threw him into a pit. Sold him off into slavery in Egypt. Lied to their father by dipping Joseph’s precious robe in animal blood and saying he was dead. In Egypt he serves as a slave and is falsely accused of making advances on his master’s wife. Is thrown into prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Helps another interpret a dream but then is forgotten by that person for several years, left in prison to rot.

Years and years of misery and suffering because of what his brothers did, yet when he discovers his brothers fear that he might take their lives (and rightfully so), JOSEPH weeps. He weeps over the anguish his brothers are experiencing, for the years of regret they lived through, for the fear they were now paralyzed by. He weeps not for himself and his misery, but theirs.

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”” – ‭‭John‬ ‭11:32-36‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Recall:

It was humans who sinned, who chose not to love God, to mistrust him and do what they felt best. It was humans who rejected the Father’s love over and over again as he endlessly loved them. It was humans who ignored the son of God when he came offering a relationship with God and a life of love, joy, peace, kindness, and gentleness. It was humans who would falsely accuse him and put him in chains. It was humans who would ridicule, mock, and beat him. It was humans who would nail him to the cross and end his life.

Years and years of pain and sorrow because of sin and rejection of God by humans, yet when he discovers that just one has died and sees the pain of the broken-hearted, JESUS weeps. He weeps over the lost and hurting sheep, the pain they experience in life, and the fear they have in this broken world. He weeps not for himself and his misery, but ours.

When The Light Shines Brightly

Psalm 16 // A miktam of David

Katie is a nurse!!! She begins her career at Sharp Mary Birch this week, and I could not be more proud of her. I can say with certainty that she is going to make an incredible nurse, because if she puts half of the effort and love into her job that she pours into our marriage and home she will be fantastic.

Today is a joyful celebration, one of those days where it is easy to say with David:

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Yet this moment comes at the end of a long and difficult season in the Ward household: the season of schooling. Granted, Katie and I made the decision to continue schooling after college, so our misery was self-imposed, but at times it was misery nonetheless. We both enjoyed our respective educations tremendously, but they did put an incredible amount of strain on our lives.

Between Katie spending 60-70 hours a week on her program, and me taking a double full-time course load and working four jobs, we were running on fumes for the first two years of our marriage. We experienced exhaustion, irritability, frustration, sorrow, mental breakdown, anxiety, panic attacks, and more. It was a season where it took all we had to say with David:

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

Francis Bacon said, “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.” We understand David’s progression of thought because we too have walked through a season of stress and struggle, but have walked through it into light as witnesses that God does not abandon his people. This light is only a season, just as it was dark only for a time, but we will rejoice in the light as long as it is here, and celebrate all that God has done and the accomplishments we have achieved by his strength.

KATIE’S A NURSE!!!

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful[b] one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

 

The Noble Conviction of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“We are called to be people of conviction, not conformity; of moral nobility, not social respectability.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Conviction is defined as “a firmly held belief or opinion,” and the legacy of Dr. King is an incredible testimony to the power of conviction in the hands of a man devoted to representing God on earth. The man who became the voice of the Civil Rights Movement witnessed a world that was deeply divided by ugly convictions, ones that did not allow love to be the primary mode of interaction between humans. Yet instead of letting his convictions be things that divided him from others and created boundary markers around himself, creating “us-es” and “thems,” he used his God-given human agency to break down walls and fight for justice, unity, and peace.

Dr. King made his conviction love, when around him he saw a conformity to hate.

Dr. King made his conviction unity, when around him he saw a conformity to division.

Dr. King made his conviction justice for ALL people, when around him he saw a conformity to committing and accepting injustice.

Dr. King made his pursuit the moral nobility he experienced in the life of Jesus, nailing any social respectability he might lose to the cross.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a moral nobility which was driven by a conviction, a conviction that the heart of God was love, and that that love was not to be reserved only from some nor held at arms length from others. God’s heart of love was meant to be actively pursuing righteousness and justice for everyone, picking up the downtrodden and caring for the least of these, and Dr. King devoted his life to showing the world what the heart of God could do if men and women decided to turn their convictions from worldly hate, division, and injustice, to God-like love, unity, and justice.

I wish Dr. King were alive on earth today, much as I wish Jesus Christ were alive on earth today. I believe they would be good friends, and in some ways to know one would be to know the other, because Dr. King let his life be conformed so fully to the life of his Savior. I pray that that would be true for all of us, that to know us would be to know the heart of love that God has for his creation. ALL of his creation.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Wrestling That God Delights In Part 2 – Trust

Psalm 13 – A Psalm of David

David understood what it looked like to wrestle with God. He understood sleepless nights, bouts with anxiety, and immense sorrow. In fact, the life of David looked like one marked regularly by suffering, some of which was caused by his own actions, some of which was not. This suffering can be seen in the life of King David as recorded in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel, but it is in the Psalms that we see the heart of David, which, even in the midst of suffering, is ultimately said to be like God’s (Acts 22).

Psalm 13 records David in the throws of anguish and turmoil, asking God repeatedly, “How long?”

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

Look on me and answer, Lord my God
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

This is the type of wrestling that God delights in, and I think many of us know it well. But it is what follows that I believe qualified David to be called a man after God’s own heart. As he pens his account of crushing sorrow, David chooses to recall the goodness of God, and resolves to love his God and trust him forever. And he does this over and over again in his psalms, pleading with God to help, crying out in confusion, frustration, and anger, and then resolving to love God and trust in his ways.

As we wrestle with God, never forget he is worthy of our love and adoration, even when we hurt. Remember that this world is broken, and God does not delight in that. Remember that he created the earth and the humans therein to be in good and intimate relationship with him, unseparated from him by sin and pain and sickness and death. Remember that he is trustworthy and that his word is true. Remember that he proved that by sending Jesus to reunite us with God by paying the debt that we owed and the penalty for our sin. Remember that even when you know these things with your head but can’t seem to believe them with your heart, he is worthy of our worship. And remember that worship can look like tears and pain, confusion and depression, questioning and sorrow, a wrestling match, as long as we are in the arms of our God and trusting in him above ourselves.

But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing the Lord’s praise,
    for he has been good to me.

I Amost Wasn’t Christopher

Genesis 35 – The Naming of Benjamin

My parents, Mike and Jen, already had a daughter, an adorable little carrot-top named Amanda who liked to explore and spread the contents of the fridge to more shareable places, like an entire bottle of ketchup emptied onto herself and the kitchen floor. So when they found out they were having a boy they were excited for double the fun, but ran into a speed bump they weren’t expecting. The name Amanda had been obvious and easy to agree on from the start, but a little boy’s name was proving much more difficult to figure out.

When it came time for me to make my triumphant (read noisy and messy) entry into this world, they had several names swirling around in their heads. “He could be Matthew, that’s a good solid name.” “Or how about Justin, I’ve always kind of liked that one.” They didn’t have much to draw on either; no family names were feeling obligatory to pass onto the next generation, and they didn’t go to church, so the vast recesses of scriptural names reaching all the way to Ehud and Jalam weren’t on the table for consideration. There were certainly ideas, but nothing stuck.

As Jacob anticipated the birth of their son, as told in Genesis 35, it became clear that his wife Rachel was not doing well, and probably would not survive this childbirth. As soon as he was born, before Rachel lost her life, she said the name of her son would be Ben-Oni, which means “son of my trouble.” Imagine living you entire life with the name “Son of my trouble” hanging around your neck. Apparently Jacob could picture it, and quickly intervened to name the boy Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” Not only is it a better alternative to “son of my trouble,” but this name, this primary marker of one’s identity in the world, also gave this boy a sense of belonging. He belonged at the right hand of his father.

My mom didn’t have the trouble in childbirth that Rachel did, it all went smoothly actually, but they did provide my first ever identity crisis, though I had no idea it was happening. She held me in her arms for the first time and none of the names seemed to fit. “None of them are his name,” and my dad agreed. And then there was a moment where, in her words, it was like I “told her my name,” and she knew instantly it was right. She looked at my dad and said, “What about Christopher?” They hadn’t talked about it, never even considered this name, but he looked at me and my dad said, “That’s it. Christopher.”

I wasn’t at risk of a name like “son of my trouble,” but the story of the naming of Benjamin reminds me of my naming story, because just as Jacob stepped in on behalf of his son, so too I believe my Father in heaven stepped in on my behalf and marked me as a “son of his right hand.” The name Christopher means “bearer of Christ,” and in a family that doesn’t yet have a relationship with the God who loves them, God marked me as the one who would bear his name, his life, his love, and his very Spirit in this world and family. And sure enough, 14 years after being given the name, I embraced the identity.

God names us. He names us “son” and “daughter,” and that name can’t be taken away. It can be rejected. It can be ignored. It can be ridiculed and despised. But a good and loving Father created each of us, and no matter how deep into our sin we go, or how far away we try to run, he does not stop loving us, his own. Jesus already died for our sins, that can’t be taken back. But we do have to make a choice to embrace the name of “son of God” or “daughter of God” and all that comes with it. I was unknowingly marked for it by my parents, specifically chosen for it by my Father, and am so happy I have been lead to embrace it for myself.