The Bleeding Woman
BY Nadia Bolz-Weber
There were a lot of things and people in the time of Jesus that were considered unclean. The list is long and found, not surprisingly, in Leviticus. To be unclean means that you are unfit to enter into the temple. To be unclean is to be unholy and therefore unfit to be in the presence of a Holy God. And to even touch someone deemed impure…like a bleeding woman or a corpse is to defile yourself so that you too are now impure. In this system things were clear and everyone had an identity. But Jesus messed the whole thing up. Which…is just like him.
I love that today’ gospel text is about Jesus touching people he shouldn’t be touching. Jesus defiling himself and breaking all society’s rules about purity. Making all the wrong people worth to be in the presence of a Holy God. I love that this text comes to us on this day… the Feast Day of the unclean…otherwise known as Gay Pride Day. It is fitting that we sit here and read this text as the trannys and drag kings and fags and dykes and all the other people who society treats as bleeding women and dead girls walk the streets of Denver. There’ a famous episode of the Simpsons titled “Homer-phobia” where Homer’s wife Marge makes friends with an interior decorator voiced by the very famous and very gay film director John Waters. He and Homer make fast friends until Homer finally suspects his new friend is gay. The John Waters character has been trying to tell Homer that he is gay for most of the episode until finally Waters says “Homer – I’m queer” to which Homer replies “You can’t call YOURSELF queer. That’s our name to make fun of you and we neeeed it”.
We need to have the clean and the unclean. We need it – to know who we are. We need “those people” to point at whoever “those people” are to you: The intolerant conservatives or the immoral liberals. The filthy poor or the filthy rich. The atheists or the Evangelicals.
Last week we read the story of Jesus and the disciples crossing the choppy dangerous fearful sea from the Jewish side to the gentile side. And today in Mark’s gospel we are all of the sudden back at the Jewish side but what we missed in-between is amazing. See, while on the Gentile side of the pond Jesus casts out an entire legion of demons from this crazy homeless dude. Great story. And while you might think that the town would be happy that their crazy homeless dude is now clothed, in his right mind and … you know, eating with utencils and everything. They’re not. They’re fearful and furious. Because as long as he is the town crazy guy they don’t have to look at their own crazy. Jesus disordered this little purity system and they were angry. They neeeed that guy to be what is un-holy so that they can feel right with God. They ran Jesus out of town because he took something precious from them…namely the identity they had in relation to who they deemed unclean.
But Jesus will have none of that. Instead he actually touches everything we deem impure, defiling himself again and again.
But that’s the way this crazy kingdom of God thing happens. It brings healing and a disordering of our identities and our purity systems but the thing is…. Sometimes healing can create it’s own wound. I wonder about our sister the Bleeding woman. I wonder what her life looked like after that moment. I wonder if it hurt to be healed. Like a frostbite patient … when the blood comes back into the extremities it’s incredibly painful. It’s actually more comfortable to allow parts of ourselves to die than to feel them have new life. It’s actually more comfortable to cling to the identity of being unclean because then at least we know where we stand. At least it’s an identity. But while everyone else neeeeded to call her impure, call her unclean, call her un holy,..…he called her daughter. In that one word Jesus tells her who she really is and even if that word caused pain as it surged through the parts of her that had been deprived of love and life– child of God is what she is.
And when it comes down to it, any identity we cling to or insist is primary becomes nothing less that an idol for us to worship and is not IS NOT the word of God. The radical reign of God that Jesus ushers in destroys the systems that say who is clean and who is unclean. In the radical reign of God anything that I use to define who I am… and anything I use to define who everyone else is other than the gospel is going to be taken away and I’m going to hate it and It’s going to hurt. Because what ever it is that you cling to: money, status, education, marginalization, victimhood, political correctness, moral superiority, resentment…what ever it is….it can never love you like your Jesus can. These things we choose to keep us safe and comfortable they will never confirm the only identity that really matters…the only identity that brings us healing, wholeness and salvation. Because when our impurity and isolation touches even the garment of God it all falls away. We no longer remain who we say we are or who society says we are or who our families say we are…because as Paul of Tarsus tells us if anyone is in Christ they are a new creature. A new identity. But then what? To where do the formerly unclean go?
I like to think that maybe the bleeding woman met often with the other lepers and rich young men and prostitutes and tax collectors who had an encounter with Christ. I like to think that they gathered and ate together and sang of God’s salvation and reminded each other that they are a new creature. When they lived in a world that wanted them to remain the identified problem. When they lived in a world that wanted to give them a identity based on something false and small and insignificant to God. In a world where it’s easy and feels safer to cling to marginalization and victimhood like a blanket. When they perhaps felt drawn back every day to being what they had been because it’s familiar and comfortable. I hope they became community. Because it is as the broken and blessed body of Christ that we share the discomfort and joy of healing and remind each other of the Gospel which rings with pain and beauty as it rips away that which we cling to. I hope that the bleeding woman had the other healed freaks over on a regular basis because it is only in this way that we remember who we really are. Not the unclean, or the impure, but beloved children in the presence of a Holy God who has made us so.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a very lucky gal; she gets to be the pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado – a very queer emerging church. She is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury 2008) and of the Sarcastic Lutheran blog. Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way…she’s fine with it. Nadia lives in Denver with her family of 4 where she can be found writing bios in the third person and chasing chickens around the back yard with her kids.