Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Bacon and Shrimp, and Power over unclean things

Today's Old Testament reading includes some of the dietary laws:
“‘[T]he pig, though it has a split hoof completely divided, does not chew the cud; it is unclean for you. You must not eat their meat or touch their carcasses; they are unclean for you.

“‘Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales. But all creatures in the seas or streams that do not have fins and scales--whether among all the swarming things or among all the other living creatures in the water--you are to detest. And since you are to detest them, you must not eat their meat and you must detest their carcasses. Anything living in the water that does not have fins and scales is to be detestable to you.
Leviticus 11.7-12
Reading that, I'm glad that we are no longer subject to those dietary laws: crab, lobster, bacon, shrimp, pork ribs, scallops, pigs' feet, oysters, catfish would all be off limits! But though the list of forbidden foods is rather broad, one might be better off avoiding some of those items. Shrimp and other filter animals tend to accumulate bad stuff from the water, and pork is not on your cardiologist's list of healthy foods. That was no doubt one reason God forbade those animals, but probably not the only reason. In any case, God declared these items "unclean" from the time of Moses.

Today's New Testament reading shows Jesus, not eating pork, but coming into contact with an "unclean" person -- and ignoring her uncleanness. He's just returned from the land of the Gerasenes and a large crowd gathers.
Then one of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, "My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live." So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed."

Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
Mark 5.22-29
This is different from what we've seen before with Jesus. In earlier encounters, Jesus commands something and it happens; here, someone just touches him.

And not just anyone -- it's a woman subject to bleeding for twelve years -- a long time. Because of her condition, she has been locked out of participation in the religious community; she wasn't allowed into the temple, couldn't participate in the feasts and celebrations. She may have had to eat alone. If she was married, she would not have had intimate contact with her husband for those twelve years because of her condition.

Now she just touches Jesus's cloak, and she's healed. This is more than authority; it's power that's almost magical. He can tell something's happened:
At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?"

"You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?' "

But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering."
Mark 5.30-34
She tells her story, and notice, Jesus doesn't say, "Ewww, unclean!" He responds with compassion.

Jesus doesn't nullify the dietary laws - that's not until later. But he doesn't care about being made "unclean" by touching a bleeding woman.

If you've read the story before, you know what comes next. He's still talking with this woman, and Jairus gets the news that his daughter has already died. Jesus goes to Jairus's house anyway, throws out the mourners,
and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum!" (which means, "Little girl, I say to you, get up!"). Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old).
from Mark 5.40-42
Jesus doesn't seem afraid to touch a dead person, either. It's as if he ordered a shrimp appetizer and a pork-rib dinner!

And so he is with you and me. Regardless of what others might think about us, regardless of the sins we've committed in the past, the Lord welcomes all who seek him.

Which is both something to take comfort in, and an attitude to emulate.

No comments: