Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Eyes of a Woman

                                                                                  Eyes of a Woman
                                                                                     Mark 5: 24-34

I want to share with you a true story about a woman I know who woke up one morning, looked into the eyes of her husband and heard him shriek in terror. It seems that during the night and without any provocation, her left eye had erupted, leaving the entire white of her eye a blazing, watery, sickening bloody red. Now, you need to know that this was her second day on her new, very important, very hard to get job. Second day! And with an eye even a husband could not stand to look at.
She immediately took herself off to her doctor who shrieked and then sent her to see an ophthalmologist, who shrieked and sent her off to work. Seems nothing was really wrong, these things happen, she was told. No one knows why. You can either go home until the horror of it calms down or .....not.

Well, the woman couldn’t feel any pain and since she couldn’t see her own eye, she decided to go on to the store, pick up a few things and then go on to her new job. She wasn’t in the store very long before she realized this simple plan was not going to work. People were not just staring at her, they were fleeing from her. So she covered her eye with her hand while she finished her shopping. In order to actually go to work, walk into her office and not have everyone screaming and turning away, she smartly kept her sunglasses on sort of hoping no one would notice. But of course they did notice, asked why she was wearing her sunglasses in the building, was she going to leave/stay that sort of thing. She found that some people just had to see her eye (then they would shriek) and others would hurriedly agree that this was not something they wanted to see at all.

At the end of the day, the woman knew a thing or two she did not know the day before. And this is what she told me: “This eye thing taught me a good lesson. How important eye-to-eye contact is. How much is conveyed through the eyes: interest, attention, understanding or lack of it, confusion, pleasure, fear, encouragement, humor....a million little cues into relationship. If you can’t watch and get all those cues it deprives you of relationship. You don’t know when to speak or when to shift gears, so many things. It will make me a much more compassionate person” she finally said. And that all happened in just one short 12 hour day.

Imagine for a moment a day like this that lasts for 12 long years. First, I would like you to remember for a moment: were you ever the only child at the school lunch table, eating alone? Did it ever happen that not only did you not get chosen first for dodge ball, you were chosen nearly last or maybe even last of all? Were you ever with a group of folks who were all invited to join and you were not included somehow? Did you ever know a party was going on and that you were not one of the invited guests? Can you remember the feeling? The sadness? The loneliness and pain of it all? Can you remember how you reacted to this feeling of being excluded? Or maybe, through no fault of your own, you have had to deal with some personal issue or pain, a situation or unpleasentness that made you feel pushed out towards the border of things. In fact, some of you have had to pursue answers to problems that seemed impossible to solve - a child with learning disabilities, a sister who suffers chronic pain, a parent slowly losing the precious ground of the here and now.

Remembering these things, we have a small window into the feeling of the hemorrhagic woman. This woman is someone who has lived every kind of fear, rejection, shame and judgment. She has been hurt, scorned, abused and abandoned. She has been without love, nurture, understanding. No one has wanted to look her eye-to-eye, she has missed the cues. She has been without relationship for twelve very long years. Remember the suffering from a moment at the lunch table? Or the frustration waiting for some kind of help? Multiply that by....gazillions and this is her life. She has lead a life most of us would consider unbearable, utter darkness, hopeless and filled only with despair.

How then does such a woman find herself with the courage, the conviction, the self-esteem to plunge headlong into a dense crowd, shove and nudge, push and crawl her way to get close enough to simply reach out and touch the hem of a garment? What does she posses at her core that allows her to insist on reaching out? What does she have that we would have given anything to have when we were left standing on the sidelines or alone day after day at a bedside?

Reaching out through the legs of strangers, her fingertips search for the one hem she knows, believes, will give her life. The instant she touches, he feels something drain from him. He turns. “Who touched me?”, he asks. “Who touched you? Scores of people touched you, Boss!”, his disciples say. “What do you mean ‘who touched you?” Looking down he sees her face, eye to eye, she tells him her story and he hears her. He understands her and she can see that he does. “Daughter,” he says. Daughter he calls her. Imagine what this must have sounded like in her ears, to her aching, persistent heart. Daughter. In one word she is restored to a family, she is welcomed home, she is loved and included, she has a relationship. “Daughter, your faith has healed you”, he tells her. And it has.

You see, Jesus is naming a truth here. And even though what has happened is a miracle, it is not magic. He is telling her and us, “Your faith healed you. You are alive and living your life. You could have chosen to be a curled up heap on the floor of a hut, but you are out among the living. You are here. You are healed because you reached out and touched into life, over and over and over again. Against every odd, defying all the objections, breaking the rules and shattering the purity codes, you are alive.”

The authorities in her day probably did not want to hear a story about a person restored to wholeness and community without having to jump through some religious hoops. It is disconcerting to hear that she did not have to make some sort of profession of faith or recite a doctrine of belief; she did not have to memorize a creed or perform certain tasks or steps. It is staggeringly uncomfortable for religious types to get their head around this kind of thinking. It's a Jesus way of thinking.

Jesus is always busting the bubble of what has always been done, the way people think is the right and only way. Jesus steps into the truth place where God is always waiting for us. How hard is it to chose the gift of life in the face of despair and failure? How many of us can keep going when we are met with resistance and scorn? I fear we might buckle all too easily and give up on life far too easily. Jesus understands her reach and her touch for what it is: as an act of living and in her living she is returning to God that which God most values - the love of our God-given life. God’s greatest gift to us. Life. The greatest honor we can offer in return is a life lived abundantly. Sounds good and easy, but it is not. Choosing life can be a choice that requires courage and persistence. It may mean defying odds and rules, reaching out and touching into life.

Her story is vital and enlightening for us because.....because, thanks be to God, the chances that we will suffer as she did, for as long as she did, in the way that she did is mighty slim. Our suffering will seem painful and overwhelming at times, certainly and still, compared with hers, well....we count our blessings. Jesus is offering what he always offers – hope. The bare truth is: God wants us in the darkest of times to reach out in faith, to be persistent in hope, to be unwilling to settle for anything less than community. God wants us to have the fullness of creation and relationship. And at times, this will mean choosing life against all odds.

Lent is that time set apart for looking at the places in our lives where we do not chose life, where we make life-taking choices instead. Lent is about admitting where we have not been persistent and hopeful. About the ways we have been both the hemorrhagic woman and those who scorned her. Go eye to eye with yourself this Lenten season. See what you can learn there. Find the core of your faith. Get ready to be called daughter and son, child of mine. Prepare to chose life because at the end of Lent....we are blown away by Easter and the unbelievable truth of God choosing life.