09 Jairus' Daughter & Hemorrhaging Woman - November 5, 2006

Galatians 2:16-20

Luke 8:41-56


We are less than two weeks away from Advent when we prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ in the Winter Feasts of Light: Christmas and Theophany. Early in Advent, we come to the Feast of the Theotokos’ Entry into the temple (Nov 21). The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Lamp who is to bear the Divine Light, enters the place that none may enter to learn its mysteries. Beneath the veil of the temple, she is hidden to the world as she prepares herself to become the Panagia, the holy Mother of God and the pleasing and beautiful dwelling place of Jesus who grants the world great mercy.[1] 

Nature, too, seems to be entering beneath a veil. Outside the shopping malls and the mad rush of the city, a stilled hush is descending to cover the earth. The flowers of the field withdraw somewhere until they are no longer seen. Trees and shrubs let their leaves fall to the ground and retreat, so it seems, into themselves. Animals burrow deeper into their nesting holes. Soon, here in the North Country, the snow will fly and cover the ground with a blanket of white stillness. The hushed stillness of nature stirs in the soul a sense of something wonderful coming. That something is already here. It is veiled in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

Even though darkened by lust for the glitter of worldly mammon, human society is not yet so alienated from its roots in nature that it cannot feel somewhere in the marrow of its bones the tingle of anticipation of Advent. Already, the shopping malls have begun hanging their Christmas decorations of red and green.

But you faithful know that there is another Christmas. O such a Christmas! It bathes the soul with immaterial light and a radiant joy that renews the human spirit with the freshness and vitality of an eternal youth. But this Christmas is hidden from the eyes of the world, even in the fullness of its manifestation. To find this deeper Christmas, you have to go outside the shopping malls, back into nature, and begin making your way to the cave of your heart. The Church is the Mother of this Christmas; it is she who gives birth to it. And for those who desire the Eternal more than the riches of the shopping malls, she, too is already preparing us for it. Even in this last week’s Scripture lessons culminating in this morning’s Gospel, she is showing us the path that would bring us to the cave of her Christmas and to the immeasurable riches of its poverty and humility.

This morning’s Gospel story of the little twelve year old girl who is dying and the hemorrhaging woman is of exquisite beauty and tenderness. It is fast becoming one of my favorite Gospel stories. It really is a beautiful story to prepare us for Advent.

We come to this Gospel story after reading all week in St Luke about Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees. His confrontation begins when a certain Pharisee invites Jesus to his home, and notes that Jesus did not wash for dinner. The Savior answers: “You Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.”

Think of the shopping malls. Think of our homes. Think of ourselves. What is veiled, what is hidden beneath the clean outward appearance of the marketplace, of our homes, of our nice manners? It’s not that the Lord objects to a clean outward appearance or nice manners. He is addressing the greed that lies beneath the veil of the Pharisee’s religious cleanliness. For he says to the Pharisee: “Give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.” Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees comes to a climax when he exposes what they are really doing in their heart, beneath the veil of their religious piety. He says to the Pharisee:

“‘You tithe mint and rue, and pass by justice and the love of God. You are like graves which are not seen, and those who walk over them are not aware of them. You build the tombs of the prophets and your fathers killed them. You have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter in yourselves, and those who were entering in you hindered.’ And as he said these things to them,” St Luke tells us, “the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail him vehemently.”[2] Afterward, Jesus says to his disciples, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.”[3]

Leaven, of course, is hidden beneath the bread. It is what makes the bread rise and gives it life. Hypocrisy is when the outside appearance is different from what lies inside. The leaven, the life, of the Pharisee is a grave; it’s dead because his religious piety is leavened by greed. Outside, he keeps the law,[4] but his heart is not alive in Christ. It is alive in greed and self-righteousness. Already, before they crucify him on the Cross, the Pharisees are proving the truth of the Savior’s indictment of them. For as soon as he lifts the veil of their religious piety to expose the murderous greed that lies in their heart, they turn on him vehemently and begin to assail him, cross-examining him about many things, and seeking to catch him in something he might say that they might accuse him.[5] The Savior at least has succeeded in getting rid of their hypocrisy; for now their words and their outward gestures are faithfully expressing the murderous hatred they have for him, and therefore for God, in their heart.

It is from this confrontation of the Lord with the Pharisees that we come to this morning’s Gospel story. To find the inner beauty of this story, I had to look beneath the veil of my own clean appearance and my nice manners to see what leavens my life. I remembered also what I saw and felt in the Balkans, and I came to the unseen grave, the emptiness, the sadness, the fear that lies beneath the surface of my life and the life of the world, draining us all of joy and vitality, and I found that beneath the surface of this story, we are the little girl and the hemorrhaging woman in this morning’s Gospel.

In their sickness, the two women of this morning’s Gospel are showing us that a grave of emptiness and meaninglessness lies beneath the surface of our clean appearance and our nice manners. Once we see that grave, however, and acknowledge it, we see that this grave of meaninglessness is itself a veil that covers a deeper desire for meaning, for joy, for true life, indeed for the Eternal God. This is what makes what happens in this story between the women and the Lord of such exquisite tenderness and beauty.

St Luke tells us that the crowds were pressing upon the Savior. Reading this, one thinks of the crowds at the shopping malls. And yet, when the woman came from behind and touched his garment, he whirls around and says, “Who touched me?” Obviously, this woman’s touch was of a different kind than that of the crowds. Her touch was intentioned; it was charged with longing for healing. It was the touch of a seeker who had discovered beneath the veil of her sadness the leaven of a desire for the Eternal more than for the riches of the shopping malls.

But I think there is an even deeper reason why St Luke records this incident in his Gospel. St John ends his Gospel saying that there were many other things that Jesus did in the presence of his disciples as signs, which he did not write down in his Gospel. But what he did write down was so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God, so that we might have life in his name.[6] In other words, because Jesus is the incarnate Word of God in whom all things came to be, everything he did in the flesh was filled with cosmic meaning; specifically, as St John says, the meaning of imparting to those who receive him his own divine life.

In our confession of Jesus as the Son of God,[7] then, we read the Gospel records of his life in the flesh theologically. We look beneath the veil of the letter for its spiritual meaning. That means we are looking for Christ; for the Lord is the Spirit, says St Paul,[8] and the Lord is the one about whom Moses and the prophets speak.[9] When one turns to the Lord, St Paul says, the veil is lifted to reveal in the reading of Moses and the prophets the Lord of the Gospels standing there as their inner meaning, wearing their words as his garment.[10] 

We read this Gospel story, then, as itself a veil hiding the bible’s deeper story. In light of this deeper biblical story, we see the Lord Jesus as the Bridegroom and the hemorrhaging woman as Adam and Eve, Israel or the human soul, which Moses and the prophets describe as the bride of God. But Israel, the human soul, has played the harlot. We have given ourselves to other lovers, worshipping other gods such as money, turning to them as this woman had turned to many physicians looking for healing of our soul and body. But none of them, as Ezekiel says, can give us the happiness, the love or the life that we desire.[11] None of the physicians to whom this woman had turned were able to heal her.

Beneath the veil of this particular Gospel story, we find ourselves in the Garden of Eden once again. The woman with the flow of blood is Eve, the Mother of all living, but whose children are always dying. Only now, as the hemorrhaging woman, Eve is reaching out not to take the serpent’s fruit, but to touch the hem of the Lord’s garment. She is the human soul turning away from the serpent’s tree of good and evil, leaving the emptiness of her false lovers and reaching for her heavenly Bridegroom, the cluster of grapes full of life carried on the Tree of Life, the Cross. The scriptures say that the Lord clothes himself with light as with a garment; and that his commandments are a light on the earth. When the woman reaches out to touch the hem of the Lord’s garment, she is therefore, on the level of the Spirit, coming to the Lord as he commands when he says: “Come to me that you might have life.”[12] When she touches him and he whirls around to say: “Who touched me?” we see God coming to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they had eaten the forbidden fruit and saying: “Where are you?”[13] When St Luke says that the woman saw that she was not hidden and came, trembling, and falling down before the Lord, and confessing to him what she had done and how she was healed immediately, we see Adam and Eve removing the fig leaves from their bodies, with which they had sought to hide from God. We see them coming out of the darkness and into the light, as St Paul says,[14] and confessing to God what they had done and finding healing and life. And when we hear the Lord say, “Daughter, be of good cheer. Your faith has made you well. Go in peace,” we hear him calling out to us who were dead in our trespasses as he called to us at our baptism and as he says this morning to the little girl who was dead: “Little girl, arise!” Come to the Church’s Christmas and to the Cave of Bethlehem; come to Theophany and to the waters of the Jordan where the veils will be lifted and “the mystery hidden before the ages is now revealed to the saints,”[15] to all those who have received him who comes in the Name of the Lord.

Give her to eat, he says to the parents of the little girl. At the Forefeast of Christ’s Nativity, our Mother the Church will sing out: “By thy coming in the flesh, O Christ, the flaming sword now gives way before all who approach. And I partake in faith of the life-giving tree in Eden.”[16] He is saying to our Mother, the Church: give to your children to partake of the Tree of Life in Holy Eucharist, the medicine of immortality, in the joy of Christmas. For on Christmas Day, we will hear our Mother the Church singing out: “Bethlehem has opened Eden. Come, and let us see. We have found joy in secret. Come, and let us take possession of the Paradise that is within the cave. There the unwatered Root has appeared, from which forgiveness flowers forth.”[17]

May God raise us with the little girl from the grave of our heart. And, may he bring us with the hemorrhaging woman beneath the veil of hypocrisy to our heart within. May he lead us beneath the veil of our heart and to the Cave of Bethlehem where the heavenly Bridegroom grows from the soil of our inmost heart like a precious rose. In the spirit of the hemorrhaging woman, let us begin to make our way to the Cave of Bethlehem and the waters of the Jordan to touch the joy of the real Christmas and to hear the Christ who comes in the Name of the Lord saying to us as he said to her: “Go in peace. Your faith has made you well.”

[1] Festal Menaion p. 171.

[2] Lk 11:42-53

[3] Lk 12:1

[4] Cf. Gal 2:16-20

[5] Lk 11:53-54.

[6] Jn 20:30-31

[7] Lk 12:8 (read on Friday last).

[8] 2 Cor 3:17a

[9] Jn 5:39

[10] Cf 2 Cor 3:16 (read yesterday)

[11] Eze 16

[12] Jn 5:40

[13] Gn 3:9

[14] Col 1:13

[15] Col 1:26 (read on Thursday)

[16] Ibid, p. 207

[17] Ibid, p. 278