Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
II Corinthians 8:7-15
St. Mark 5:21-43
Background: Anointing of the Sick
Each Sunday at Saint Mark’s Church in Berkeley, and at Trinity Church in San Francisco, people gather at a prayer desk on the side of the congregation to receive prayer for healing, anointing with oil, and the laying on of hands for healing. Where did the practice come from? The biblical warrant for this practice comes from James 5:14-15,
“Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint [him] with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.”
The 1549 Version of the Book of Common Prayer included an order for the anointing of the sick. In 1552, that order was eliminated from the BCP. Most 20th century versions of the BCP now include such an order, as does the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (p. 453 – Ministration to the Sick). At the Chrism Mass on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the bishop blesses oils that are to be used to anoint the sick. These anointings can take place in the service, or at the bedside as well. At Saint Mark’s we owe a great deal of thanks to Fr. Scott Sinclair, and Fr. Joe Pummill who are available at the healing station Sunday after Sunday.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.
In this book of Wisdom, a common-sense commentary on life, known to most of the cultures of the ancient near east, the author wants to discuss death. Our question must be, however, what kind of death. Is the author speaking of the cessation of bodily life, or of something else? Verse 16 of the same chapter can give us some clues:
“It was the wicked who with hands and words invited death, considered it a friend, and pined for it, and made a covenant with it, because they deserve to be allied with it.”
This verse seems to indicate that the author is speaking of spiritual death – a separation from God. With this in mind, he then goes on to comment on the theme that there can be no such death for the righteous, for it is God’s will that we not experience such. The communion with God that lasts an eternity is the “envy” of the Evil One who so much wants us to be in thrall with death. A note: The “Hades” of the text attempts to describe the Hebrew notion of “Sheol” the place of the dead. It was neither hell nor purgatory, but simply a place of the shades. It is clear that the book was originally Greek, probably written in Alexandria, Egypt, in the first half of the first century BCE. It is the last of the Hebrew Scriptures to be written. Its purpose was to connect the Alexandrian Jews to the faith of their forebears, hence its commentary on the “wicked”, read pagans.
Breaking open Wisdom:
- What do you understand by the term “spiritual death”.
- What are your personal beliefs about hell?
- Do you fear death? What aspects of death?
The Response - Lamentations 3:21-33
This I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
"The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for one to bear
the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence
when the Lord has imposed it,
to put one's mouth to the dust
(there may yet be hope),
to give one's cheek to the smiter,
and be filled with insults.
For the Lord will not
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
or grieve anyone.
The book of Lamentations is a lament, a dirge, over the fate of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 597. The loss of kingship, worship in the temple, and in 587 the demolition of the temple itself form the background to the authors tears and thoughts. The third chapter contains a poem, a psalm that allows for the possibility of hope. As the author sees it, the present situation is a time for waiting and patience, of searching for God, and of acceptance of defeat and suffering. The hope that beckons him is in the reality that God has allowed this great suffering for a purpose, and that even with their mouths “to the dust” in total defeat, “there may yet be hope.” And later, “For the Lord will not reject forever.” It is an adventide for Israel – a waiting upon the Lord’s good pleasure.
Breaking open Lamentations
- Have you ever lost a significant community in your life? Which community?
- Do you still grieve its loss?
- How did God figure into this loss?
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
As you excel in everything-- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you-- so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.
I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something-- now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has-- not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,
"The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little."
Paul wishes to speak to the Corinthians about Christian charity. There was a reason for such an address, namely the collection of monies and resources for the Jerusalem Church. And Paul offers a bit of a challenge, lifting up the example of the Macedonian churches that were meeting the test. But it is more than a human community that Paul uses as an example. He points to the Lord Jesus, himself, in the passage, “for your sakes he became poor.” In his sermon to the people of St. Mark’s Church on The Nativity of St. John the Baptist, Bishop Marc Handley Andrus unraveled the themes of increase and decrease, or rather one becoming less so that another might become more. So it is with the example of Jesus who gave up so that we might be saved. Now it is Paul who wants the Corinthians to give up of their abundance so that others might have some.
Breaking open II Corinthians:
- What kind of abundance do you have? Of what?
- How do you share your abundance?
- How does your sharing figure into your life in Christ?
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, "My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." He went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'" He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
These are the last of the miracles that follow Jesus’ teaching in parables. Jesus is attempting to get away from the crowds, to be in the wilderness for some kind of spiritual refreshment. This pericope contains two separate types of healing, one which comes as a supplication from a grieving parent, asking Jesus for help, and the other from a woman of great faith, who does not ask, but touches the limit of Jesus’ presence, the hem of his garment. There is a level of excitement in the reading. First we are introduced to Jairus and the urgent situation of his daughter. Jesus is moved and begins to follow him, but that action is interrupted by the temerity of the woman who has her own difficulties. She represents the “least of these.” She is a woman, she is old and ill, and she is suffering a hemorrhage – all ritual purity issues for the Jews. Her courage is doubled, and she receives the reward from Jesus.
Meanwhile, back at Jairus, we quickly understand that all is lost. The daughter has died. Here the healing story poses Jesus in much the same way as the Creator is posed in Genesis. Death must be overcome – and it will be overcome with a word. Thus the world came into being, and thus this young girl is given life again. Youth and old age both must bow at the shadow of death - but here it is Jesus who banishes it.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- Are you insistent in prayer?
- Have you ever done anything risky in your prayer life?
- Do you know how to ask for yourself?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.