Scripture: Mark 5:24b-34
By Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
September 6, 2015
There have been two callings in my life: to be a minister and to be a mother. (And motherhood / parenthood is a calling.) A few years ago, I gave up on the call / the dream to be a mother. For one reason or another — including borderline ovarian cancer, motherhood never happened for me. I grieved the dream of being a mother and decided I would focus solely on my call to be a minister. And then, when I least expected it, a baby fell into my lap. It happened this way: A little over a year ago, a stork — a real live stork came and perched on our patio. I have lived in this particular house in Talmadge for 15 years. I have never seen a stork. Karen videotaped the stork and then posted the video on Facebook with the question, “Who is having a baby?” Little did we know at the time, we were having a baby.
In September, my brother called to share that his son, my nephew, Chris, and Chris’ girlfriend had a baby. Chris and his girlfriend have their own personal challenges in life and could not / cannot take care of a baby. My brother shared that they would be giving up the baby for adoption. I got off the phone with my brother and shared the news with Karen. Karen has never wanted to be a mother. But she said this, “Tell your brother that we will take the baby.” I could hardly believe my ears. Karen went on to say, “You have always wanted to be a mother. Now is your chance. This baby has fallen right into your lap.”
As a side note, let me say, that Karen, who has never wanted to be a mother is absolutely the very best mother. These two are crazy about each other, over the moon for each other. I asked Karen, “Why did you not want to be a mother? You are so good at it.” Karen shared that with children she gives 120% of herself (she saw it with her nieces and nephews) and that she would run herself ragged with a child and she never wanted to be that exhausted. And Karen does give so much of herself to Daniella.
Daniella is biologically my great niece. And I admit that I feel a bit like Sarah. Do you know the story of Sarah and Abraham? Abraham is 100 years old. Sarah is 90 years old. God tells them that they are going to have a baby. Sarah laughs because she has been barren her entire life. Sarah laughs because she has one foot in the grave and now God tells her that she has the other foot in the maternity ward. Sarah laughs because the angel tells Abraham that they better start dipping into their old age pension to build a nursery. Sarah laughs because it suddenly dawns on her that her wildest dreams were not half wild enough. Sarah laughs and the angel says, “Is anything too hard for The Lord?” I, too, find myself laughing and crying tears of joy and asking, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” No, my wildest dreams have not been half wild enough. I still get giddy that I get to call Daniella “daughter”.
There is one in scripture whom Jesus calls –daughter. It is the only time anywhere that Jesus calls a person –daughter. First, some background on the hemorraging woman. She bled for 12 years. She “suffered” much; she spent all of her money; and she was “getting worse”. She was frail, emaciated, anemic. Such a condition would be challenging to any woman of any era, but for a Jew in that day and age, nothing could be worse. Every part of her life was affected.
Sexually…she could not touch her husband. No hugging, no kissing, no type of intimacy. In fact, her husband most likely divorced her because she was seen as “unfit for cohabitation”.
Maternally…she could not bear children.
Spiritually…she was not allowed to enter the court of women in the temple. It had been 12 years since she had enjoyed Passover or Sabbath services.
She was physically exhausted and socially ostracized (Max Lucado, He Still Moves Stones, pg. 56).
Scripture says that she sought help “under the care of many doctors” (v 26). The Talmud gives 11 cures for such a disease. Some of these “medical” treatments include: Take three pints of Persian onions; boil them in wine; give this to her to drink and say, “Arise from thy flux.” If that does not cure her, have her hold a glass of wine in her right hand and let someone come behind her and frighten her and say, “Arise from thy flux.” If that still does not work, have her carry the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag in summer and a cotton bag in winter. Other remedies included eating grasshopper eggs or carrying around the tooth of a fox or a corn cob from the dung of a white female donkey. None of these “cures” worked for her.
“She spent all she had and instead of getting better she grew worse” (v.26) The day we encounter her, she is down to her last prayer. Jesus, surrounded by a crowd, passes by. And she has this crazy hunch and high hope that this Jesus can help her. She says “If I may but touch his garment, I shall be made whole!” It’s a risky decision — to touch the garment of Jesus, she will inevitably touch others because he is surrounded by a crowd. If she touches others, they will now be unclean and will turn on her. But she is down to her last prayer — to this crazy hunch and high hope that Jesus can help.
In one desperate lunge, she reached out her bony, near lifeless hand and touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. Even though there is a multitude of people crowding in on Jesus, he asks, “Who touched me?” This woman who had been cowering and emaciated suddenly stands tall and she confesses to Jesus what she has done. Jesus could get angry with her; he could rebuke her — he had every right to do so for now he is considered unclean. But instead Jesus affirms this woman’s hope, he calls her daughter. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
It’s the only time Jesus calls any woman anywhere daughter. Imagine how that made her feel. She could not remember the last time she received a term of affection. She could not remember the last time when kind eyes met hers…To the love-starved, a word of affection can be a feast. And Jesus gave this woman a banquet…Tradition holds that she never forgot what Jesus did. Legend states that she stayed with Jesus and followed him as he carried his cross up Calvary. Some believe she was Veronica, the woman who walked the road to the cross with him. And when the sweat and blood were stinging his eyes, she wiped his forehead. She, at an hour of great need, received his touch — and he, at an hour of pain, received hers (Lucado, p. 60).
That is an incredible story in and of itself. But wait there’s even more to the story!
She said to herself, “If I can but touch the hem of his garment, I shall be made whole!” I always thought that she had touched the broad band at the bottom of his robe. But no, the Greek word for hem is “the fringe of a garment; a tassel”. In other words, scholars believe that this woman touched the tassel hanging from Jesus prayer shawl.
The Jewish people, including Jesus, wore a tallit or prayer shawl. TAL means “tent” and ITH means “little”. A tallit is a little tent, a personal space for prayer. Hanging from the tallit were tassels called “tzitzit”. Each of the fringes contain 8 threads. Why 8? Seven is the number of completeness — as in 7 days in a week. The number 8 symbolizes new beginning. Each one of the tzitzit contain 8 threads. And each tzitzit has 5 knots representing the 5 Books of Moses, the 5 books of the Torah. Interestingly, the numerical value of the word tzitzit is 600. Eight plus five equals 13. Therefore, the tzitzit corresponds to the 613 Jewish commandments that Jews followed.
The tallit is white and blue. White stands for purity, for light. Blue stands for the sea, the sky, the royalty of God. When one prayed with the tallit, they were reminded that they were a royal priesthood. Interestingly, the stole that pastor’s wear is said to come directly from the tallit. Some stoles have fringes hanging from them like tzitzits.
There is a blessing on the neck of the tallit. And as a person would put on the tallit, that person would, hold all four corners of the tzitzits in their hand. (And there were four corners of the tallit to remember the four corners of the earth and the four directions. For the Psalmist declares, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” A person would kiss the tzitzits and hold all four corners in their hand, and pray the Shema — “Hear, O Israel, The Lord is our God. The Lord is One.” The person wearing the tallit is covered with the promises of God. He or she is winged by merely raising his / her arms. It is a powerful imagery of a mother hen taking chicks under her wings. By wrapping oneself in a tallit, one places oneself under the sheltering love of God.
Today when a Jewish wedding takes place,the ceremony is generally performed under a canopy which is often comprised of a tallit held by four men. It represents God’s protection in marriage.
The tallit plays a prominent role in the Hebrew Scriptures. Joseph’s coat of many colors was a tallit of many colors. David wore the tallit on the day he fought Goliath. Daniel wore the tallit when he went into the Lion’s Den. Elijah fled from Jezebel, went to the entrance of the cave and wrapped his face in his mantle, in his tallit. Jesus wore the tallit when he went to dark Gethsemane. Joseph of Arimathea wrapped Jesus in the tallit before placing him in the tomb. And on the day of the resurrection, it was the tallit — the linen cloth that was folded neatly beside the tomb. The tallit is a symbol of hope, of new life, of resurrection. And the woman in today’s passage reaches for the tzitzits of the tallit. That is she reaches for the promises of God. And God does not let her down. (The Hem of His Garment by John D. Garr).
There was a time that I reached for the hem of Jesus’ garment. The tzit tzits of the tallit. For Daniella was born 3 months premature. She weighed only two pounds. She was not breathing when she was born. The doctors spent the first ten minutes of her earthly life trying to intubate her — it took them four attempts to put a breathing tube down her throat. She had a hole in her heart and so had heart surgery immediately. And these are just a few of the health issues she faced. It was not certain whether she would survive or not. Daniella spent three months in the NIC Unit at Loma Linda Medical Center. We would drive the two hours to Loma Linda from San Diego the nights I did not have church meetings. And we would hold her, lay our hands upon her (sending God’s divine healing to her), pray, and sing to her, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so…Little ones to him belong. They are weak (yes, Daniella was so weak), but he is strong.” The hospital became a sanctuary for us.
Miracle of miracles, she not only survived, but now she thrives. She is no longer on a breathing tube or on a feeding tube. And yesterday she just celebrated her one year birthday! And what a celebration it was!
I know that prayer does not always work the way we would like for it to work. I certainly don’t pretend to understand the mystery of prayer. But I do know that there are times when prayer is answered beyond our wildest expectations. I don’t know what it is you are going through – but I encourage you to take it to God in prayer and reach for the tzit tzits of the tallit. What are the promises?
The apostle Paul puts it this ways, “We may be afflicted, but not crushed. We may be perplexed but not in despair.” The author of Genesis writes, Is anything too hard for God? And Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, for lo, I am with you always.” Yes, reach, reach, reach for the hem of Jesus’ garment, the tzitzits of the tallit and hold on to the promises of God. Amen.