In recent months, I have seen a preponderance of memes on Facebook stating different lives matter. It began soon after the events in Ferguson, Missouri when memes began to reflect the long held feelings of the African American population of not being seen as insignificant. The memes simply stated what racism has denied them, Black Lives Matter.” It wasn’t long before a counter offensive began appearing, “Police Lives Matter.” As I have watched these and other memes pop up, I have had to ask, “What’s the real issue? Of course black lives matter and police lives matter as well. In fact, all lives matter. A basic tenet of Christian faith is the sanctity of human life. It is this one doctrine of the Church which continues to feed the passion of so many around the issues of abortion and birth control. If human life, even at its most rudimentary form is truly sacred, then all lives are sacred and all lives matter. Yes, Black lives matter! And, yes, police lives matter! These are not mutually exclusive statements as some would lead us to believe. Instead, they are an affirmation that all lives matter.
This, however, is not universally understood as yet again we mourn another mass killing. We can argue for hours the pathology which lies behind the cause of these events. But in the end, it has to do with a total disrespect for human life. The lives they take ultimately do not matter. They are seen as less important than whatever cause or hurt they are trying to rectify. We will eventually be told how,in some way, society, however they define it, has disrespected them, made them feel inadequate and the chaos they create brings attention to their emotional pain and suffering. In essence, their life matters more than those they harm.
Last week in South Carolina the naked truth was revealed. When Dylan Roof chose to kill nine people in the midst of Bible study. His motive and reasoning was simple, black lives did not matter. We can easily write this event off as the work of yet another troubled youth and move on. Unfortunately, what he reportedly said, and the symbols he wore that day tell another story. Yes, Dylan Roof is a very troubled young man and most likely acted alone. However, the culture in which he was raised led him to believe the killing of African Americans was justified because; their lives held no value and they have become a threat to a traditional way and understanding of American life.
We are all part of the culture which led to Dylan Roof’s decision to kill nine people. Every time we complain about the world becoming too politically correct or demand that what we want should take precedent over the needs of others, we, in our own tacit way, deem that certain lives matter more than others. Anytime we believe free speech includes the display and glorification of symbols that have a history of representing oppression or choose to use derogatory terms to describe different ethnic groups, we participate in the culture which led Dylan Roof to justify his actions. At the base of Dylan Roof’s actions, at the base of racism, at the base of the issues which plague our cities and our police departments as one African American pastor pointed out is the lack of respect, a lack of respect for the dignity of every human being. The lack of an ability to accept and treat every human being as sacred.
In this morning’s Gospel, Mark is deliberate in how he shares the separate accounts of divine healing. Our reading begins with Jesus moving surrounded by the crowd which seemed to follow him everywhere when out of nowhere Jairus approaches him and begs him to heal his daughter.
Jairus, we are told, was a man of significance. He was a leader among the Israelites. He had clout. He was someone most people would pay attention to and want to appease.
Also woven into the cloth of this story is the healing of the woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. This woman was deemed insignificant, she had no standing in ancient culture or even in the context of her own story. Even though she speaks to Jesus, she remained unnamed. She was a non-person. If being female were not enough, she was also untouchable, banned from being among others because her condition made her unclean. No self-respecting priest, Sadducee or Pharisee would dare to physically touch her for because they would be defiled, made ritually unclean. So this woman seeks healing in the only way she could. She snuck up, literally stole her healing from Jesus.
Equally unclean was Jairus’ daughter. Even before Jesus is able to start his journey towards her a servant announces she has died. Again, the child, a female, has no name, she is no one without her father, and now that she is dead, she is rendered unclean, untouchable according to Ancient Jewish standards because a corpse will defile you.
Neither situation deters Jesus from healing these women. When the woman in the crowd identifies herself he simply declares her faith has made her well. When he learns the child has died, he simply declares her sleeping, enters the death chamber and orders the child to wake up. Jesus heals, Jesus deems as righteous. Jesus makes sacred the lowliest and the most unclean of the ancient world with charity and respect.
Jesus heals by offering agape to those whom his society said did not matter.
Agape begins when we consider the needs of others over our own. In St Paul’s letter to the Roman’s he states,” do not let your good be spoken of as evil. 17For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. 19Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. 20Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; 21it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister* stumble.*”
St. Paul wrote this as a statement to the Roman church to remind them that everyone’s walk with Christ is different. What does not serve as an impediment to one’s relationship with Christ, may cause another to stumble, and is therefore be avoided in the other’s presence. Although Paul is referring to the conflict over whether or not one should adhere to the dietary laws of Torah, his reasoning can be applied to today’s conversation in regards to how language and common symbols can and do convey messages that are contrary to who we are as a people of God. It reminds us that as a people of God, how we speak, how we dress, even how we adorn our homes represents to the world our understanding of who we are as people of God.
This is not to say that I believe simply removing the Confederate Flag from view or being mindful of being politically correct in all we say will solve the problems we face as country or necessarily bring an end to the violence we have endured the past twenty years. It is however a start. It can be and is an affirmation of what we believe. . . that all lives really do matter and are sacred. These are just some of the things we can do to be the healing power of Christ to the women in the crowd and daughters of Jarius who continue to be among us today.