June 27, 2021

The not so Famous Five

Passage: 2 Corinthians 8:7–15, Mark 5:21–43

When I was a child in England, I discovered reading. According to mother, she didn’t even know I could read until one day I brought home the book Peter Pan and read the whole thing.

There are still books that stick out in my mind, which I read in the mid-sixties. One of them is 101 Dalmatians. And one of the other sets of books I read in England was a series of books about the Famous Five. They were written by Enid Blyton a very prolific English children’s writer.

The first book in the series was Five on a Treasure Island. I mean treasure Island…. What’s more exciting than that to a child. I was hooked from the start.

The five were three children from the same family Julian, Dick and Anne. And the other two were their cousin Georgina, a tomboy who refused to be called anything else but George, and George’s dog, Timmy a large brown mongrel, or as we often say in Canada today, a mixed breed.

The books were written in the nineteen fourties and fifties and reflect a different day and age when children often went off to play and explore without much parental supervision. I myself remember a childhood where we were all over town on our bikes, and my mother probably had no idea where we were. There were no cellphones. Just had to be home for suppertime.

Well, that was the first Famous Five I knew about.

But there is another Famous Five and there are known as the Alberta Five, or the Valiant Five. They are a group of women who were prominent Canadian suffragists who advocated for woman and children.

They each were individual and championed for different things.

Emily Murphy was the first magistrate in the British Empire. She championed the rights of wives to share ownership in their husband’s property.

Louise McKinney was a lifelong organizer and supporter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and sought to protect women and children from the destructive consequence of the abuse of alcohol. She was elected to the Alberta legislature in 1917.

Nellie McClung, an author, was a Liberal MLA in Edmonton and was the only woman representative at the League of Nations when it first started. Her efforts led to Manitoba being the first province to grant women the right to vote and run for office in 1916.

Henrietta Muir Edwards was an artist and legal expert and helped found the National Council of Women in Canada, and the Victorian Order of Nurses.

Irene Parlby was an aristocratic English woman who married a Canadian Farmer. She organized and became the first President of the United Farm Worker’s Woman’s Association. She was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 1921 and was the first female cabinet minister in Alberta and indeed the second cabinet minister in the entire British Empire.

In 1927 they petitioned the federal government and that petition became the foundation of the Persons Case which was allowing women to be Senators in Canada. The real issue behind that question was whether the word “persons” referred to men only, or to women as well.
So, when the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court in the British Empire, decided in their favor, women were now “persons,” and it had far reaching implications for the rights of women.

We still have a way to go in equality and justice for women, but we have come and long way and Albertans in particular can be proud of the history of these Albertan women in paving the way for rights for women and children.  They are commemorated on a wall mural just three blocks east of First Presbyterian Church

But I want to take us back to a long time ago to another time and place where the rights of women and children were nothing like they are today, and yet Jesus in the gospels, very much was a leading figure in his day to champion their rights.

At the time of Jesus, women did not hold property, were not supposed to speak to men in public, not even their husbands.

A man’s testimony counted as much as two women’s testimony in a court of law and lots of times women weren’t allowed to testify.

A man could unilaterally divorce his wife for as little burning the soup, or really for no reason.

And if a woman was divorced it was almost a life of begging and death, or prostitution, if her father did not take her back with her so-called shame.

Women were not allowed into full worship in the temple and most were not even allowed to be educated

Jewish women did not have choices about whom they married. They didn’t fall in love and live happily ever after. Their fathers picked their husband while they were still children, and they were often married not long after when they were able to have children, around the age of 13.

And yet the gospel records many interactions of Jesus with woman.

We talked about the famous five, courageous woman in Alberta who championed the rights of women and children…

and there are five not so famous women in Mark’s gospel. Five women who are not named, but who interacted with Jesus.

Unnoticeable women, inconspicuous, silent sufferers, who would have blended into the background and existed on the fringes, but Jesus notices them.

And not only does Jesus notice them, Mark the gospel writer, notices Jesus noticing them, and puts them in his gospel.

There are other women, named women, that are important, such as Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene… who play larger roles in the gospel

But I am going to mention 5 unnamed women in Mark’s gospel.

The woman who touched Jesus’ garment

The Daughter of Jairus

The Syrophoenician woman

The Poor widow and her two mites

And the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany with expensive perfume.

Jesus stood up for them, He spoke to them or he pointed them out.  Some of them he touched, or they touched him. Unheard of…Radical…Crazy...

Or at least it was in his day.

He treated them as equals, those who were not considered equals.

And our gospel lesson today is about two of these not so famous five.

Jesus has returned from the Gentile territory and he is back in Jewish territory.

He has returned from ministering to the unclean and yet encounters the unclean in the midst of the Jews.

The scriptures say that the crowds gathered around him so close that Jesus could hardly move and Jesus is approached by a synagogue ruler who is beside himself because his daughter is so sick. He throws himself at Jesus feet

“Please come and put your hands on her, so that she will get better…so she won’t die…”

And our hearts go out to this man. What a nightmare to have a child so sick that death is the most likely outcome…

And as Jesus is going there is another woman. A woman nobody sees. A woman who is hemorrhaging. She’s been sick 12 years and the doctors can’ help and she is run out of money and is poor and desperate.

It would be highly inappropriate to touch a bleeding woman or have a bleeding woman touch you. Unclean. Strict purity laws.

But in secret she reaches out and touches just the hem of his garment. And she touches and feels the power of healing rush into her.

And Jesus stops. “Who touched me?”

And the disciples say “Who touched you? Everybody is touching you Jesus. You are in the middle of a big crowd.”

And I am sure that the rich synagogue leader is wondering what the problem is… Doesn’t Jesus know there is a dying girl.

But Jesus is talking about the woman who touched the hem of his garment and he looks around. She knowing what she has done kneels at his feet and tells him the whole truth.

And we can see the contrast.

Jairus is rich and a man. He approaches Jesus directly face to face as an equal. He pays Jesus respect and bows down to him.

The woman comes from behind anonymously.

Jairus is the head of his family, the head of the synagogue. He has status and position.

The woman is nameless and alone

But when the woman touches Jesus, the power dynamics change.

Instead of Jesus becoming unclean by the touch, the power flows into her and she becomes clean.

And Jesus seeks to know the face of this poor woman and calls her daughter.

Do you get it. Jesus is going to the home of a rich daughter, but puts the poor woman in the same status using the same title: Daughter. She has a rightful place in the nation of Israel as a daughter:

“Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

But wait a minute. What about the original daughter? Messengers come from the house saying that she has died, and why bother Jesus any more. It is too late.

Jesus was too late.

But Jesus isn’t too late and goes to the house and says she is sleeping.

Maybe you remember that later Jesus will warn people not to be asleep when the master comes, or maybe you remember that the disciples will fall asleep when Jesus is praying at Gethsemane.

Sleeping is a metaphor for lack of faith.

She is sleeping is a sign that they lack faith in Jesus. And Jesus raises her to life.

She becomes the daughter again only after the poor woman has her own resurrection and is raised to the status of daughter.

Mark crafts the narrative carefully. The woman was sick twelve years. The girl is twelve years old.

Jairus falls at Jesus feet and so does the sick woman after she is healed.

One is rich, the other is poor. One is approaching the time to have children, the other is unable to have children.

12 represents the nation of Israel, the twelve tribes. For the nation of Israel to be healed, all have to have status as daughters, or children of God.

The message is not just about Jesus’ ability to heal, but Jesus’ ability to heal the division within Judaism, and indeed within society between rich and poor.

And if that division isn’t healed, the whole of society hemorrhages like the woman. If that division isn’t healed the whole of society is on the verge of death like the girl.

You see for Jesus, that last will be first. For Jesus the least will be greatest. The great are those who are servants of the least.

This is a story of that principle at work. It is indeed a social principle as well as a spiritual one.

I think there are different levels at which this story can be appropriated.

At a personal level, you can ask yourself where you are hemorrhaging…?  where are you bleeding…?

Where are you hurting… ?

Where are you on the outside…?

What is your poverty?
Where are you excluded?

All of us experience pain. Some of us have deep wounds from out pasts. Some of us have troubled relationships that never seem to heal.

Some of us experience mistreatment, alienation, or even bullying at the hands of others.

Some of us are very lonely…

Some of us have interior struggles.

There are those of us who have addiction issues

Whatever your need…

Can you imagine reaching out to Jesus to touch him. To touch unconditional love. To touch someone who will see you, know you, understand you, feel you, listen to you…

Can you feel his power flowing in you? Can you feel his truth causing you to speak your truth and understand your own story..

Can you feel his compassion and mercy letting you know whatever you have done, whatever you have done wrong, whomever you have hurt, God still loves you, God forgives you?

Can you feel his healing, restoring you as a person of worth, easing the turmoil in your minds, putting salve on old wounds, relieving the ache of those who have harmed you.

Trust in Jesus. Reach out. Touch him and let him turn to you and say. “You are a child of God and I love you.”

We can also access this story through the stories of women who have been treated like dirt.

Susan was abused by stepfather, who also abused Susan’s mother. Then her mother took out her frustration also on Susan whom she blamed for her own abuse.

At the age of seven was the first time Susan tried to commit suicide.

Anxious to leave home as soon as she could she moved in with her boyfriend and found that she had moved into another abusive relationship; but by this time she was pregnant. She stuck it out for the baby’s sake and because she didn’t have financial resources, but the abuse increased and finally she left, when she realized it was either leave or try suicide again.

She found a woman’s shelter, and got out of the relationship. She spent a year homeless and couch surfing between friends and cousins’ homes, until one day she was able to get a grant from a charitable organization that enabled her to get some education and have an apartment.

A couple of years later she is a single mother, with a job and an apartment, and makes enough to pay the bills.

That is a success story, but there are hundreds if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of stories of women who were sexually abused or harassed, who suffered emotional and/or physical violence in the home, who were passed over for the job because of their gender, who live in poverty because they are a single mother with children, or because they are an elderly widow.

These are all daughters of God, daughters of Canada, our neighbours, friends and family.

Stories of women and being on the margins are legion. Look up the horrible statistics of poverty for women, of abuse and violence against women. Read about murdered and missing aboriginal women.

Even in some of our great Canadian Institutions, such as the Armed Forces or the RCMP the stories of injustices against women are mind-numbing and it seems that talk of change has been mostly just that, talk.

Get involved with a group that helps women. Donate. Volunteer.

These are our daughters… God’s daughters…

So, we can appropriate this story personally, and from the perspective or women.

And we can access this story in a larger Canadian Context. Where is Canada bleeding?

We as a nation though we don’t like to think so still have our own kind of purity codes. They are the structures and belief systems that create “insiders”and “outsiders.”

Why are over ten percent of Canadians and 15 percent of Canadian children living in poverty?

Why is it that if you make $100 million dollars a year there are ways to avoid paying taxes that means the ultra-wealthy often pay lower tax rates than middle-class people?

Why are there so many homeless?

I can go on and on with Racism, Sexism, Aboriginal Issues. Gun Violence.

So, ask yourselves. Where is Canada hemorrhaging? Get involved. Volunteer. Educate yourself. Make a difference.

Because Jesus is not the only healer in this world. You can heal.

By listening, by learning, by being there for someone, by befriending someone in the margins, by forgiving, by giving, by helping, by crying with someone, by appropriate touching like a hug, by kind words, by praying

Go, child of God, be a healer, for your faith not only makes you whole, it helps heal others.