Wisdom of Solomon 1:1-15, 2:23-24 Psalm 30 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Mark 5:21-43
Today’s lesson from the Wisdom of Solomon contradicts what we teach. We teach that God is the creator of all that is, seen and unseen, but this lesson tells us that God did not make death, instead it was “through the devil’s envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.” Of course, it only contradicts our teaching if you read the Bible literally. We say that in death life is changed, not ended, so here the death spoken of relates to the good in us that dies when we sin.
Also, believing in the resurrection means that we can still be redeemed -we have been redeemed through Christ. So, the love of God is more powerful than death. In the Episcopal Church we don’t often talk about the devil mentioned in the scriptures. It, too, is a concept that seems to challenge our belief that God, who is the source of all love, who created all that is, would create evil. Why would God create the devil?
Many theologians would, I believe, suggest that God created humankind and gave us free choice. God did not create the devil, we did! We were given the ability to choose to have a relationship with God, or not. Another way of seeing this is to ask who we choose to put first – ourselves or others. It is our choice. We are all tempted to put ourselves first, our desires and wants, and give what is leftover to others.
This self-centered approach to life leads to evil. It creates the haves and have nots. And, it leads to emptiness and death. The devil is none other than our selfish desires personified.
The belief by some that the devil is a fallen angel fits well with this concept of free choose and bad decisions. Regardless, though, of how we choose to explain the existence of the devil, we all know of the temptation to put ourselves first. I know I often yield to this temptation. Surprising though, when I put others first, I tend to be much happier. And this is the message I will take away from today’s scriptures. God is calling me to put others first.
In 2nd Corinthians, Paul writes, “For you know the generous act of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” He then goes on to talk about fairness and 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.” He is, I believe, saying that the needs of others are OUR needs.
When I was in seminary, Bishop Desmund Tutu came and spoke. It has been a while, so I can’t quote him directly, but he answered the question he has been asked about the famine that was taking place in Africa, “Why does God allow people to starve?” His response, God has provided us with food in abundance, there is more than enough food to feed the world; it is up to us to share what we have.
It is about balancing our abundance with the needs of others. Over the years I have found that when the first check I write after I get paid is my pledge, I don’t miss it. When I pay other bills first, I worry about having enough. Same amount, different priorities. When it is the last check I write, it is as if I am putting myself first and giving to the church my leftovers.
I will say, however, that Mark’s lesson today demonstrates the challenge of putting others first. Jesus gets out of the boat and is immediately called upon to go to the house of one of the leaders of the synagogue. His daughter is dying. A crowd swamps him as he is going and a woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years, touches his cloak. Jesus feels his power going from him and asks who touched his clothes.
Based on my trip to Israel, I am relatively sure that this took place in Capernaum. It is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and had a synagogue. Jesus spent a great deal of time there. The ruins indicate homes that were very close together placing a lot of people is a relatively small space – as was the case with towns and villages then – and now in Israel. So the walk from the shore to the Jairus’ home would not have been far. Word that Jesus had returned, could spread quickly and a crowd could almost immediately gather around him.
Jesus would have known, then, this would happen when he arrived. He would have known that people who needed help would come to him. What was amazing to the disciples, though, was that with every one crowding around him, he asked, “who touched my clothing?” I imagine that it was difficult to walk through the crowd.
Jesus knew, though, he knew because helping others requires us to give ourselves. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of it, others times we are acutely aware of the energy it takes to be present to others in need. Jesus comes ashore knowing that others need him and before he can tend to the child who is dying, someone else reaches out to him in need. It takes something from him, he doesn’t mind, he simply wants to know who.
To give from our abundance isn’t necessarily easy, but we are called to give, nonetheless. This passage doesn’t include any mention of Jesus taking time for himself, away from the crowds, to pray and to be renewed, but he did do this. That was, I suspect, one the reasons he was in the boat prior to coming ashore. If he had walked, which he often did, the crowds would likely have found him as they did when he would go out into the countryside to be alone and pray. Still, he managed to find enough time to balance his needs with the needs of others.
We need to balance the needs of others with our own needs. Putting others first is not the same as giving all that we have. Instead, it is about understanding our interconnectedness. Rather than see the needs in the world as my needs and their needs, we need to see the needs of the world as our needs.
We are all part of God’s creation and it is, as Bishop Tutu said, up to us to feed the hunger. Whether it is a hunger for food, or a hunger for a relationship with others who truly love and care for them – people all around us are hungry and God is calling us to feed them – to give of ourselves that we all might be one.
Let us pray.
Loving and Gracious God, thank you the abundance of your gifts to us. Help us to share what we have with other. We pray that you will fill us with your Spirit, that we might reveal your love to others. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.