Wisdom From Wisdom
Preached at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, July 1, 2018
Before we get into the meat of the sermon, I want to say a word about today’s “Old Testament” lesson. I put that in air-quotes for a reason. The book it comes from—the Wisdom of Solomon—isn’t actually included in Protestant Bibles. Blame Martin Luther for that. Instead, the Wisdom of Solomon is part of what we call the Apocrypha. The scholars call them “Deutero-Canonical” works: Bible also-rans.
Here’s how that happened. In Jesus’ time, like today, Jewish people lived around the world. Most lived in Israel, but many were in places like Egypt or modern Turkey. Some lived in Greece or Italy. Others spread out all over the Roman Empire. Most of the Jews who lived at home spoke Aramaic. That’s what Jesus spoke. But many in Israel and abroad spoke and read Greek, as did many pagan converts to Judaism.
In the same way we read the Bible in translation, then, most people in Jesus’ day read it in a Greek translation. That’s called the Septuagint.
Only one problem.
The Septuagint contains several books that aren’t in the Hebrew. When Luther prepared his translation of the Bible, he decided they didn’t belong. So he tossed them out, and Catholic and Protestant Bibles have been different ever since. There are also Orthodox Bibles, and Ethiopian Bibles, and…well, we could be here all day.
To keep things simple, what we know as The Bible isn’t the same for everyone. But the Apocrypha comes in handy sometimes. It’s quoted in the New Testament, for one thing. Sometimes it provides a much shorter reading than the Old Testament lesson. That’s why Dave and I decided to go with it today.
And here I go losing the benefit of the shorter lesson by babbling on about how it came to be.
In any case, the short version is that lots of people in Jesus’ day read scripture in Greek. As it happens, many of those folks found the Christian message appealing. The paradox of the earliest church was that the people Jesus spoke to—Jews—didn’t care for his message. But many people outside the Jewish faith did. After some wrangling and argument, that’s who Jesus’ followers decided to focus on. That’s their target audience, if you will.
We hear echoes of that situation in this morning’s lesson from Mark. The people who wrote the gospels always wanted to show Jesus’ unique power. Very often they also wanted to show how Jesus reached out across social lines.
So we hear two stories today. One is about Jesus’s miraculous ability to heal a woman no doctor could help. The other concerns his power to raise a child from the dead. Both stories involve people most folks wouldn’t expect Jesus to help. Men and women weren’t supposed to talk to one another in public, much less touch. It would have been shocking for a healer like Jesus to lay hands on a woman.
Jairus, meanwhile, is most likely a leader of the faction opposed to Jesus. People Jairus knows are plotting against Jesus. They will get him killed. Yet Jesus hears the daughter needs him, and he is happy to help. In fact, he’s willing to be the butt of some jokes from people who doubt him before he raises the girl.
Both Jairus and the unnamed woman show extraordinary faith in Jesus. Who decides they can get healed if they only touch a little bit of someone’s clothes? Who decides to throw themselves on the mercy of an enemy?
The message couldn’t be clearer to the pagans considering converting to Christianity. These people showed faith in Jesus, and he saved them. He can do the same for you.
The message ought to be pretty clear to us, too.
God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.
Do you hear any exceptions in that statement? I do not. God does not delight in the death of the living, except for those guys? No. It is the living, any of the living.
It is through the devil’s envy that death entered the world, not God. Those who belong to the devil’s company experience death, but God saves those who belong to God. God’s people will have life after death. God’s heals even those who are not entitled to it, as the woman was not, as Jairus and his daughter were not, as we are not.
Lord, I am not worthy to receive thee, but only say the words, and I will be healed.
It is God’s delight to see the living live, to see the broken healed. It is God’s privilege to bring about healing and new life, even when we humans think it should not be.
Martin Luther would no doubt have some caustic words for me for preaching from this text. (He would have anyway: he didn’t like Swiss Protestants like me.) I am willing to buck his memory because the message is so powerful and so necessary. God does not want death, whether literal or the small death of ongoing suffering. For us or for anybody.
I want you know that if you have faith in Jesus, you will receive the gift of his power. Heck, he even helps people who don’t trust in him.
I also want you to know that God will be there for your children. Never fear.
To end, though, I want you to think about the divisions in our own society. Who are the Greeks? Who are the Hebrews? Do they both deserve to hear the good news?
Who are the women? (Well, that one is easy.) Do they deserve the gift of healing given by Jesus? Who are the ones we shut out of healing because of our social rules?
Who are the enemies? Do they deserve God’s gift of life?
Go home and think about those questions. I’m confident that you’ll find God’s answers to them are the same, no matter what language they’re written in.