A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
By The Rev. Christopher Hall
My family went to Kong Kong before I was thought of. There was then little or no social contact between the British and the Chinese, even between Christians. At the weekends my parents used to hold tea parties at our home in the New Territories, to which they invited Europeans and Asians. For many that was their first social contact. My own baptism was part of this policy. It was described in the local newspaper as "a Unique Ceremony - English Baby Baptised by Chinese Bishop." I was given four Godparents - two English and two Chinese. At my Baptism my Chinese godfather gave me: The Life of Jesus of Nazareth, with illustrations by William Hole.
At our family breakfast each morning we used to read a gospel story from it. The story of Jairus' daughter was in two parts, and so it was read on successive mornings. I remember as a child getting very impatient with Jesus. ''Get a move on Jesus - there's a girl dying and you're wasting time with this woman.'' I identified with the girl of my age, not with the chronically sick woman. I have since learnt to see much more in the story, and to see how the two halves fit together.
There are several contrasts in the story. The girl was 12 years old. The woman had been ill for 12 years. The girl was on the edge of puberty. The woman had a menstrual haemorrhage. There is no record of the name of the woman; the name of Jairus the man is on record. He was well-known. She is unknown. He was a religious dignitary; her issue of blood made her unclean, so she was banned from entering religious premises. She had no rights, she asks for nothing, she says nothing, she had no voice; he assumes the right to speak out, to ask Jesus to come to heal his child. He clearly has money, she has spent all she had, and to no purpose. She seeks healing and receives it publicly. He wants private medicine, and is given it. Notice what Jesus does: he attends to both - he brings healing to both of them, but the poor get priority over the rich, who are made to wait. He meets the needs of the impoverished first. He meets the needs of the haves as well, but only on the other side of meeting the needs of the have-nots.
This morning I wondered whether I should use the words 'menstrual haemorrhage', and how some of you might react. Yet that is the major point of today's gospel story. Old translations delicately called it her 'issue of blood' so that generations missed the point. That was why she was excluded from the synagogue. Synagogue means 'where people come together'. She was excluded from the gathering of her community for no fault of her own, and it would have been Jairus as the ruler of the synagogue who would have excluded her.
The history of the church has been that of the struggle to be more inclusive. Christianity grew out of the Old Covenant, symbolised by the layout of the Temple with its separate Courts for Gentiles, for Women, for Israelites (men only), the Sanctuary for Priests, and the Holy of Holies for God. The inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church of the New Covenant meant that it separated from Judaism, but racial inclusion still needed to happen. In Hong Kong there were still separate churches and congregations for English and Chinese. My father lost his temper when an English churchgoer was dismissive of the Chinese church.
Women for centuries were excluded from the sanctuary because like the woman with the haemorrhage they were considered unclean, and they still are by some parishes and churches. The opposition to women bishops stems from the belief that those they ordain will somehow be tainted. Some dioceses in the States are wanting to opt out from the presidency of a woman.
I don't believe that opting out is what Jesus wants. It was not how he acted. The excluded woman reached out to him, and he accepted her. The ruler of the synagogue who excluded her also wanted his attention. Jesus accepted first the one and went on to accept the other. He was inclusive, and surely wants his church today to be equally inclusive.
What is true of the inclusion of women is now as fiercely debated over the inclusion of homosexuals. Both have been or are excluded on the grounds of uncleanness. Both, like the unnamed woman, reach out to him from their experience of exclusion. Should we not believe that Jesus wants his church to include them, and go on to include also those who would exclude them?
Archbishop Rowan is placed in an impossible role. He is suggesting that there should in future be two classes of Anglicans. One would be those who covenant together to stay with inherited interpretations of scripture. Others could have associate status. It is not clear to which class the Church of England would belong. When the Gentiles were included in the Church of the New Covenant, it left behind those of the Old Covenant who wanted them excluded. Is Christian history to be repeated?
The disciples also were impatient with Jesus, as I was, when he stopped to include the unknown sick woman. He patiently met her need and then patiently met the need of the dying girl and her family. I pray that by his grace Christians today may be granted the patience to include all those who reach out to him for his unconditional love.
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