“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although He was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich. “
Simultaneously, as the story goes, President Mahmoud Admadinejad is also praying to God, asking when Iran will repay her national debt. God says to the Iranian President, “in 1000 years time the Iranian national debt will be repaid”. President Admadinejad begins to cry, and God asks him “why are you crying, my son.” He says, “because I won’t live to see it“, and God says, “No, my son, but the Iranian people will live to see it.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd is also praying, and he prays, “Lord, tell me when Australian will repay her national debt?” And God begins to cry …
As I say, I thought it was about time I started a sermon with a joke for, I must admit, that most Bible passages I prepare for week by week don’t easily lend themselves to jokes, but not so today’s passage, which is all about money, and there are never any shortage of jokes about money, for indeed our society is obsessed with money and we talk all the time about money, and so we joke all the time about money.
And for the same reason, I must confess that when I first hear these wonderful words from St Paul – that “Although [Jesus] was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich“ – my knee-jerk reaction is to want to say that Paul is surely talking about a lot more here than just money.
Admittedly, the statement is made in the context of St Paul’s appeal to the church at Corinth that they might cough up more coin to support the aid work that was going on in Jerusalem, and yet the statement is about a lot more than just money
I’m not saying that that’s not a part of what is on view – that Jesus gave up his real job as a respectable middle-class tradesman in order to wander the hills as a penniless preacher, but that’s not all that is on view. For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that makes us rich is something more than His change in career path. That, in itself, doesn’t do a lot for us beyond setting us a great example.
The voluntary poverty of Jesus that makes us rich is something more than economic. It’s a voluntary impoverishment of person, whereby God reaches down to us and comes down to us and dwells alongside side us, and suffers and dies for us in order to lift us up to something better.
It’s a pattern of downward mobility, where the Lord Jesus empties Himself for us so that we might be filled, and it’s a downwards mobility that was illustrated for us beautifully in today’s Gospel reading.
Our Gospel reading from Mark chapter 5 was the story of two ‘healings’ (of sorts) – the healing of the woman suffering from a haemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from death, which is a rather extreme form of healing!
It starts out as a story about one healing – that of the little girl – but then the older woman intrudes into the narrative, touching Jesus’ cloak as He presses His way through the crowd towards Jairus‘ house.
It’s a bizarre scene, in case you’re not familiar with it, as Jesus has a large crowd moving with him as He tries to get to the house of Jairus, and he’s being constantly jostled by those around Him, and so the disciples find it somewhat absurd when Jesus suddenly stops and asks out loud, “who touched me”?
I envisage it something like one of those scenes of a pop star trying to get through a crowd of fans, or the newly elected President trying to get to the podium through a crowd of supporters, with everyone having their arms outstretched towards him, hoping to shake his hand or at least touch his clothing.
It seems ridiculous that in such a context Jesus could stop and ask, “who touched me?”, but, of course, some touches are more significant than others, and this touch evidently makes contact with something deep in Jesus that actually draws something out of Him! And so when He asks the question, this woman knows exactly who He is talking to, and she comes forward trembling, only to find that Jesus isn’t wanting to rebuker her, but only to make real contact with her.
This woman, as I say, intrudes her way into the greater story of Jairus’ daughter, with whom we might think she otherwise has nothing in common. And yet they are both females, which in itself is instructive when we consider who Jesus structured His time around. And the period of 12 years is significant to them both.
The little girl, we are told, was twelve years old, while the woman had been suffering from her gynaecological disorder for 12 years, and while twelve years might not be long to be alive, it’s an awfully long time to be suffering from a seemingly incurable disease! And they’re both unclean of course (in the religious sense) – that’s the other thing these two have in common.
Dead bodies were always unclean by definition. You couldn’t touch a dead body without being unclean for seven days (according to Numbers chapter 19), which is presumably why the crowd around Jairus’ house tell Jesus not to go into the house, as they don’t want to see Jesus excluded from the community for a week.
Of course what the crowd probably didn’t realise was that Jesus was already technically unclean by this stage, as he’d just had physical contact with the woman who couldn’t stop bleeding, which mean that both she and Jesus were already in the ‘untouchable’ class.
In case you’re not familiar with what uncleanness is all about, in a practical sense it meant that you couldn’t go to church, you couldn’t go shopping alongside everybody else, you couldn’t mix with your community as a normal person.
The woman, as we know, had been isolated from her community in this way for 12 years already, and Jesus, as a good God-fearing, law-abiding Jew should have voluntarily excluded Himself from the community (for seven days at least) and then put Himself through a series of rituals to be re-admitted to society, except that, of course, Jesus had scant regard for these traditional laws and seemed to be totally uninterested in who was clean and who was unclean.
Now we could continue here to discuss the minutiae of these healings but the big picture is that what we have here is Jesus coming down to our level – dealing with people whom society considers insignificant.
These were not ‘important’ people, from a worldly point of view. In neither case do we even know their names. We know Jairus’ name because he was an important person, but his daughter will forever only be known as ‘Jairus’ daughter’.
Likewise this woman, who emerges anonymously out of the crowd, goes on to sink back into the crowd and so remains in obscurity. We don’t know what happened to her, and there is no indication that she was particularly deserving of the healing or that Jesus saw potential in her, such that her healing might free her to accomplish some great work.
Jesus did not heal her so that she could go on and become the President of the United States. Jesus healed her, it seems, simply because He cared and because He was willing to come down and to stay down with the most ordinary and insignificant of people because this is the sort of person who Jesus is.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although he was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich. “
And, as I say, this is not just about money, which is why it is so bizarre than when St Paul makes this great statement, what he is talking about is just about money!
In this excerpt from this letter of St Paul to the Corinthians, Paul is not talking about ministry to the less significant people of our world. He is not exhorting the congregation at Corinth to get over their prejudices towards the poor, the despised and the socially marginalised – not here at any rate. Rather Paul here is simply trying to raise money for those who are suffering in poverty and hunger in Jerusalem, which is his way of reminding us, I think, that sharing your money with the poor is never just about money.
Coughing up coin for the poor is never just about money. Sharing your money is never just about money. Giving of your financial resources and lowering your bank balance for the sake of raising somebody else’s far smaller balance, is never just about money and bank balances. It’s about following Jesus on the path of downward mobility. It’s about making others rich by making yourself poor.
And it’s not the only way to follow Jesus on the downward path. And it doesn’t detract from the importance of opening our hearts and our homes to the despised and the marginalised, but it does remind us that every act of sharing and every act of personal impoverishment is something that we do in union with Christ, who although he was rich, for our sakes became poor, so that we, through his poverty, might become rich.
First preached by Father Dave at Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill, June 2009.