Between Blood and Bread (Matt 9-10; Mark 5; Luke 9)

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Thank you so much Rose for putting together this transcript!

Channing: [00:00] Hi, I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminist Podcast. 

Elise: [00:09] We focus on feminist interpretation of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me Manual as a guide for study. We understand that scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain really compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with the Divine, others, and ourselves. We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred text with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture. 

Channing: [00:40] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer couches is our background, we follow our faith in our God on the path of spirituality over institution and connection over condemnation. We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you’ve found yourself feeling a little too faithful for some and not enough for others, welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs.

[01:08] Hi friends. Welcome back to the episode. This week we'll be covering Matthew chapters 9 through 10, Mark chapter 5, and Luke chapter 9 for the dates March 6th through the 12th. We're so glad you're here and we're so glad that we keep getting to talk about Jesus' miracles. I feel like for the last three episodes, we've opened every episode by saying, like, and this week Jesus did more things. And this week is honestly, truly no different. Jesus keeps doing amazing things.

Elise: [01:41] Yes. And we've decided-- so because the miracles kind of jump around this week, we have a few different miracles that we're going to talk about, and we decided that we will move from most upsetting to least upsetting, which is why we're gonna start in Mark chapter 5. And the story we want to focus on here is the story about Jesus casting out a legion of devils.

Channing: [02:05] So we find this story in Mark chapter 5. And in chapter 5 we read that Jesus and the disciples head to the country of the Gadarenes. And then as soon as they step foot off of the ship, they meet a man who has, 

“an unclean spirit. Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not without chains. Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.”

Elise: [02:48] Yeah, so this is a very bleak and sad scene, and honestly, I'm still not really sure how to make sense of demon possession in the Bible with any sort of confidence. Because sure, okay, this man could have been literally possessed with demons. But if that's the reading we offer, then I think that places more distance between us and this story. More distance between us and this man because we can easily say, Well literal demon possession isn't a prominent thing in the 21st century. And as such, this is just an ancient story that requires an exorcism in a type of dramatic horror film way, and it has no implications for my contemporary life.

[03:29] And honestly, I'm not a big fan of this interpretation. And like we even said last week, we don't know what it means to be possessed by devil demons, but we do know the torment, suffering, and mania that comes from mental illness or addiction. And again, we're not saying mental illness or addiction is the same thing as devil possession. We're saying mental illness and addiction and depression are real and devastating and tormenting, and they often lead to self-harm, rejection, and isolation. Thus, I think the question I would rather ask is: How would we be implicated in this story if this was about someone who was suffering from mental illness or addiction? What responsibilities would we have to attend to this man if we were truly trying to be like Jesus?

Channing: [04:14] I really like this interpretation, and I'm interested to see how we move through it as the story unfolds. After Jesus cast the devils out of this man and into a herd of swine, we return to find the man now clothed, calm, and sitting at Jesus' feet. All the while people have been spreading this story and coming to see this previously possessed man and treat him almost like a spectacle and proof of Jesus’ power rather than seeing him as an in-the-process-of-healing man in need of tenderness and support. In fact, Mark chapter 9 verse 15 says that the people were afraid of what they saw. 

Elise: [04:54] I think that for me at least, this story ends quite emotionally because the man starts begging Jesus to stay with him. And in this moment, I imagine the fear this man must have felt when he thought about Jesus leaving him.

[05:07] What do you do when you've spent the majority of your life suffering and in pain, only to finally be seen, cared for, and loved by one person who finally makes you feel whole? I imagine the man saying something like, Can you please stay with me just a little while longer? I'll follow you anywhere; you've saved me. Please don't leave me. I have no one else. To which Jesus ends up responding in the text saying, “go home to thy friends and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee and hath had compassion on thee.” And I think my takeaway from this story is to try to be the friend people can come home to; to be the friend who welcomes with readiness and acceptance, who wants to celebrate a new path for you while also holding space for you to mourn, grieve, and process everything that has happened.

[05:57] I also hope that I would've also been the friend who would've come to visit you at the Gadarenes, the friend who tried to support and love you in your most violent, manic, depressed days. And if I wasn't that friend, if I didn't care for you at your lowest, most tormented, that it may be foolish of me to think that you'd want to come home to a friend like me. Jesus's command to go home to thy friends implies that there are friends to return to, friends who have been worried and working for your wellbeing. And at least for me, I hope that I can be a better friend like that. 

Channing: [06:31] Yeah, absolutely. I love that interpretation. And that's such a powerful story. And you're right, it does bring us closer to the text rather than viewing it as this, just like you had said, like a horror-movie-type story where someone's possessed and then they have an exorcism and then everything's fine and well and whatever. But it actually asks us to do something and be someone to somebody, rather than just reading it as like, Oh just yet another miracle that Jesus performed. And I think that transitions us really well into the next story that we wanted to focus on this week. And that story is the woman with the issue of blood.

Elise: [07:15] This story shows up in Mark chapter 5 verse 22, and it says, “behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, (Jairus), and when he saw them, he fell at Jesus’ feet, and besought him greatly, saying, ‘My daughter lieth at the point of death: I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed, and she shall live.’ ” 

And the Matthew chapter 9 account differs a bit here saying that Jairus’s daughter was already dead at the time of Jairus’s plea to Jesus. But Jesus went with him, followed by his disciples and a huge crowd of people. And as Jesus was on his way to raise this man's daughter from the dead, the text says, 

“a certain woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, and had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered but rather grew worse, came behind [Jesus], and touched the hem of his garment. For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole.”

Channing: [08:17] I love this story and I think sometimes there's a temptation to skip over some really important parts of this verse. And those are the issue of blood for 12 years. And just to give a little bit of context for that, I really love how Heather Farrell, the author of Walking with the Women in the New Testament, puts it. She writes, “Under the Mosaic law, an issue of blood referred to menstrual, postpartum, or other vaginal bleeding. She was likely experiencing intense, abnormal vaginal bleeding. Also remember, under the Mosaic law, any woman with an issue of blood was considered tuma, or unclean, and was ‘put apart’ for at least seven days.”

[09:01] So if we remember back to our Hebrew Bible days, talking about the really strict guidelines around uncleanliness and a process to become clean again, anyone who was menstruating would have had to go through a certain isolation period and then a certain period to clean herself in order to reenter society. And during her isolation period, anything that she touched, anything that she sat on was considered unclean, and anyone who touched her or touched her clothes or touched something that she sat on, was also considered unclean, and they had to go do their own cleansing ritual before they could reenter society.

[09:50] And so for a woman who was considered unclean the entire time that she was menstruating, but according to the story was menstruating or having vaginal bleeding nonstop for twelve years, that means that this woman was experiencing social isolation for a twelve year period. That is a very long time to be set apart or separated from one's community to the point where you-- such a person would not be able to have intimate relations with their spouse or partner. They wouldn't have been able to be a fully functioning member of their family. They wouldn't have been able to cook, they wouldn't have been able to clean. And they certainly wouldn't have been able to leave their home and interact with other people. And so I think it's really important to spend time recognizing what a trial and what an issue this woman with the issue of blood would've actually had being a full functioning member of her society. It's not that she was just bleeding on a pad and going through her day, just kind of in a sense of discomfort, like most menstruating people do nowadays, but that she was completely isolated from her community. She was by herself.

[11:10] And as I encountered this story, I really have felt, for a long time actually, a really strong resonance with the story of the woman with the issue of blood. Because I suffer from OCD and I see a lot of connections between her story and my own story. I feel a lot of kinship with her. I can understand what it's like to feel like I'm unclean. I understand that fear-based, self- and community-imposed isolation, and I also know what it is to feel powerless to change it.

[11:43] So as I was preparing for last week's episode, remember when we were talking about the woman with the alabaster jar and Jesus says, “Thy faith hath saved thee.” At that time, I was also thinking ahead to this story, this week. And I was thinking, Oh, it applies that same sentiment: Your faith has saved you applies here too, and this is why: this woman knew that she was considered unclean. She knew because she had spent twelve years of worrying about where to sit, who to touch, and what she could and couldn't do. She knew that breaking the social expectations (that she isolate herself) would have significant consequences, and not just consequences for her, but consequences for anyone else she might touch along the way, and yet she chooses to do what she does anyway.

[12:35] We read in Mark chapter 5 verse 29, that once this woman had touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, “straightway, the fountain of her blood was dried up and she felt in her body that she was healed.” And I love this verse because it was her faith, her trust that in doing just that one simple thing that she wasn't supposed to and wasn't allowed to do, that was what was going to heal her. That's what saved her. In that sense, her faith saved her. If I think about my own experiences with OCD, I remember that OCD operates by maintaining an obsession based in safety. It's safety for myself and for other people. And for me, one of my obsessions is sanitation. It's really important to me that I keep my family safe from germs.

[13:24] So for times-- I'm just laughing remembering, because I am going through typing this up and I'm like, Oh my gosh this really is actually really difficult. When my OCD is untreated, I become really obsessed with washing my hands. I will wash my hands in the hottest water possible, and then I'll have finished completely washing my hands, but then I realize, Oh my gosh I have to touch the sink. I have to touch the handle to turn the sink off. And I bet the handles are not clean. So I'll wash my hands and then I'll rinse them, and then I'll wash the sink handle with soap, and then I'll try to rinse that off. And then I'll have to wash my hands again [laughs] because the sink handle's dirty. And so I go through this whole process of washing my hands three times before I really feel like my hands are clean. And that causes problems, right? It takes up a ton of time. And also when you're washing your hands in really hot water all the time, your hands get really, really dry.

[14:23] And so thinking about this story in context of OCD, I also remember that the primary treatment for OCD is exposure therapy. This approach relies on doing or not doing the exact opposite thing of a compulsion. If we take my hand washing example, it would look like washing my hands once instead of three times, and that's it. But it causes a problem at some point because the panic sets in. I ask myself, Did I get all the germs off? Will I die? Will I pass germs on to my family and every person and everything that I touch until I wash my hands again? And then I have to sit with that anxiety and I have to practice telling myself that it's okay to just wash my hands once. Until I get enough practice that I can resist the obsession and resist the compulsion until it calms down. And I don't know if I'm communicating it very well or if it's easy to see, but I can't emphasize any more than to say that this process requires so much bravery. It means looking the fear of dying in the face and saying, I'm gonna wash my hands just one time and it's gonna have to be enough. And just suffer that really temporary discomfort for a sense of long-term relief.

[15:41] And so for me, this thought of - if I'm relating to this woman with the issue of blood - the thought of ever touching Jesus with my only-washed-one-time-but-had-to-retouch-the-handle hands is to put it: terrifying. The kind of courage that it took for this woman to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus's garment is not like, Oh, let me just poke this random stranger on the shoulder. No, it's more like, this is the exact opposite of everything that I feel like is safe, healthy, and good. But I know this is my only way out, and if I don't take it, I'm going to die. And for this woman, it really was for her a life or death matter. That was the courage that it took for her. That's what I mean by her faith is what saved her.

Elise: [16:29] And so when the woman finally touches Jesus's hem, the scripture says that “Jesus immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, asked Who touched my clothes?” And we want to make an important distinction here around the word virtue. It comes from the Greek word vinamis which means ‘strength power.’ And so the way that we are interpreting this verse-- if the virtue is going out of Jesus or this strength-power going out of Jesus, I think we could surely read that as the miracle-strength-working power is working in this relationship between Jesus and this woman. And I don't think that the word virtue here means like, The purity or integrity went out from Jesus, as if this woman was sinful and stole his virtue from him. 

Channing: [17:18] Right, right. Yes. Thank you so much for sharing that with us. So in response to this question, Who touched my clothes? Where did my power go?, the scriptures tell us, “But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before Jesus and told him all the truth.” So this woman knew that she had made a gigantic social transgression. I imagine that really, actually, she was afraid. I imagine she was terrified to tell Jesus that she had touched him with her uncleanliness and not just possibly exposed him to her illness, but more likely to the same social stigma, shame, and consequences that comes with the proximity to illness. But just like the Samaritan woman at the well, she couldn't keep the good news of what had happened to her a secret. So she told Jesus; she's like, I got healed cuz I touched the hem of your garment. And what I love here is that Jesus noticed and when he found her, he said, “Daughter, be of good comfort. Thy faith has made thee whole. And the woman was whole from that hour”. So notice that Jesus didn't say, How dare you touch me, you unclean woman. He said, Be of good comfort. Go home. Your once washed hands are enough and they will be now, from now on. You are lovable and you are loved. Your faith has made you whole. Your faith has saved you.

[18:46] And in many ways this story of the woman with the issue of blood and the daughter of Jairus, which we'll talk about in just a minute, is a diptych. It is a two part portion of this huge story arc that we see happening across the New Testament of rebirth. I was telling Elise, on the phone call earlier that we had about, you know, what do we wanna say for this episode? And I was telling her, It actually never occurred to me until reading the New Testament this year that Lazarus wasn't the only person that Jesus raised from the dead. Like not even close. We've now encountered four stories of this exact thing happening. So we had a mother and son from last week, also the centurion and the servant from the week before that, and then this week we have the daughter of Jairus, and the woman with the issue of blood. And if you're thinking, Wait a second, the woman with the issue of blood is not a comeback story, I understand why you might think that but I respectfully disagree. Someone's disappearance from their relationships and community is a death unto itself. Illness is a death unto itself. Being made whole from an experience like that isn't just healing. It's a resurrection. And it's really exciting to see this continual pattern of Jesus bringing people back from the dead, over and over and over again. 

[20:07] And another pattern that I'm noticing here too, both in the story about the man being healed from the demons and also the woman being healed from the issue of blood, is Jesus is like, Go home. Go home to the people who love you and the people who will take care of you and the people who are going to be here for the long term. And I think that that's really important actually to note: that the healing isn't just a one part, like, I've touched Jesus and now everything is done and over with. There's still more work to do and the community is the other second half that supports the ongoing, continued healing process.

Jesus starts it, but the community sees it all the way through and I think that that's really meaningful.

Elise: [20:57] Yeah, I'm so glad. That's such a great connection; I hadn't noticed that before. That's wonderful. Next, if we move over to the story of Jairus’s daughter that shows up in Mark chapter 5, and then also in Matthew chapter 9, the verses say that “While [Jesus] yet spake [to the healed woman,]” he received word that Jairus’ daughter had died. But before Jairus could respond, Jesus said ‘Be not afraid, only believe.’ ” Looking at the account in Matthew, Jesus arrives to the home of the daughter who had died, and upon his arrival announced, “The maid is not dead, but sleepeth.” The people seeing her body with their very own eyes, “laughed him to scorn.” But when Jesus went in with her mother and father and took her by the hand and said, “Damsel, I say unto thee arise,” Mark chapter 5 verse 42 says, “And straightaway the damsel arose and walked, for she was of age of twelve and they were astonished with a great astonishment. Jesus charged them straitly that no man should know it; and commanded that something should be given her to eat.”

Channing: [22:02] I was like, Oh my gosh Elise, look, they were astonished with a great astonishment!

Elise: [22:07] Everyone was astonished by Jesus's miracles! Honestly, same.

Channing:[22:09] I know. And also I do think the repetition of the astonishment is meaningful. Like, you can't even come up with another word, you're just so freaking astonished about what is happening here [laughs]. As I encountered this story this week, I couldn't help but be reminded of the similarities between the story of Jairus's daughter and and the Hebrew Bible story of the daughter of Jephthah, in Judges. If you don't remember the story, we encourage you to listen to the episode that we did for this story. It's titled “In Memory and Mystery for the Book of Judges.” And just as a really quick review, the daughter of Jephthah was willingly sacrificed by her father based on an oath he made in exchange for victory in battle. Feminist theologian Phyllis Trible names the story of the daughter of Jephthah as a text of terror, or a story of exceptional violence against women.

[23:07] The similarities and differences between the daughter of Jephthah and the daughter of Jairus are subtle, but they're meaningful. Both daughters are around the same age when they die. We don't know either of their names, but where Jephthah decides that faith means killing his daughter in the name of love for God, Jairus feels differently. Jairus decides that love means seeking out faith in the name of his daughter.

[23:33] Remember that saying: The last shall be first and the first shall be last? I like to think that Jesus remembered Jephthah’s daughter at the bedside of another twelve year old girl. I like to think that he knew Jephthah’s daughter was last: last in love, last in consideration, last in safety and protection. And in honor of her memory, he put the resurrection of a young girl first this time. I like to picture him saying, I don't want Jephthah’s faith; I want Jairus’s love. I like to picture him saying that over and over again. I don't want faith, especially if your faith is the kind that requires sacrificing other people to make a show of it. I want your love: your love of queer folks, of trans folks, of black folks, your love of immigrants and refugees. I want your love of the poor, the schizophrenics, the addicts, the felons, and I want your love of the kid next door that taught the F-word to your six-year-old. Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 4 tells us that there is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance. Jephthah did the weeping in the morning and he had his reward. Did his faith make him whole? I think that's worth considering. And here now in Matthew chapter 9, in Mark chapter 5, we see that, Behold: Jesus was with Jairus laughing and dancing, his daughter alive again. 

Elise: [24:59] Some really good connection between Jephthah’s daughter and Jairus’s daughter. 

Channing: [25:04] I thought so too. I was like, Oh that's really tender actually. And I am in love with that.

Elise: [25:11] I think the last story that we wanna talk about on the episode, it shows up in Luke chapter 9, which is the classic story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes. Now a little bit of a summary: Jesus takes his disciples into a private desert to escape Herod's curiosity about who this Jesus person is. But when the townspeople find out where Jesus and the disciples are going, 5,000 of them follow Jesus into this private desert place. And Jesus being Jesus receives and welcomes them, preaches about the kingdom of God, and then heals anyone who needs healing.

Channing: [25:48] As night falls, the twelve disciples come to Jesus and ask him to send the crowd away. Perhaps they want a little one-on-one chill time with Jesus and honestly [I] can't blame them. Perhaps they're being good friends and they know that Jesus needs some time alone. Or perhaps they know that the crowd is getting restless and they're unsure of what to do. When Jesus doesn't send the crowd away, but instead tells the disciples to feed everyone, it's no wonder the disciples are shocked and in disbelief. We can imagine them saying, But Jesus, we don't have anything more than five loaves of bread and two fishes. There's no way we can do this. Then Jesus tells the disciples to group everyone together into camps of 50 people, and then Jesus blesses the bread and the fish. Finally, Jesus commands the disciples to be the ones to distribute the food to the crowd. 

Elise: [26:41] And for me, a few things come to mind when reading this story. I guess this is my kind of recurring theme. I don't know. It's not that I'm skeptical of Jesus' miracles, I just think that the miraculous magic of it distances us from any type of personal responsibility. So yes, of course, this could absolutely be a wonderful, miraculous story about Jesus using his Godly powers to literally multiply all the bread and fish for everyone. In the past this reading has been really wonderful for me because it allowed me to view Jesus as magical and doing the impossible. But this year, like I said, these magical, miraculous readings feel less important to me than other interpretations about the miracles that come from people in community.

[27:30] In this story, it's clear the disciples worry that what they have brought to the desert is not enough for the entire crowd. Perhaps they're feeling inadequate and embarrassed about their individual offerings and skills. But what if this miracle was about the abundance that comes from God blessing our efforts and how they are magnified in community with other people? Because look, if a crowd of 5,000 people travel into the desert, surely they each brought some snacks. I always bring snacks. [Channing laughs] So surely these people traveling in the desert brought some snacks. And I think it's really safe to assume that there were both rich people and poor people there, especially because some of these people were also followers of John the Baptist. Which means that the snacks varied from like fifty-cent Top Ramen to maybe full, luxurious picnic baskets full of fancy charcuterie board spreads. Thus, what if the miracle is more about the crowd seeing Jesus and the disciples sharing their limited goods and then feeling compelled to do the same? What if this miracle is less about a divine appearance of 5,000 loaves and fishes from the sky, and more about a community's obligation to one another to share resources, and take it upon themselves to make sure everyone gets what they need and no one goes hungry.

Channing: [28:51] If this is the reading, it seems there could be a few different takeaways. First, there's enough for everyone if we share what we have. Secondly, what you have is enough because it's never all there is, which I think comes as a nice bit of healing balm to the disciples in this moment. It's a gentle reminder to us that our feelings of inadequacy and not-enoughness can be calmed if we stop believing that we, individually, are responsible for attending to, caring for, and feeding an entire community with our limited individual resources, time, and talents. That's not what God asks for, and it's not what God expects of us. And third, finally, a takeaway might be that for God to be a god of abundance, it requires people in community to organize and multiply their efforts. I love this interpretation. This is so cool. I had never thought about it this way before. 

Elise: [29:47] Thank you. Yes, I can definitely tell that this year I'm far more interested in the readings that concern what does it actually mean to follow Jesus if everyday people can't do these big, magical miracles? What am I still supposed to take from these stories if I don't have the power to literally bring 5,000 loaves of bread from the sky? What I do have the power to do though, is show up in community, try and organize and share what I have, and to remind myself that it's not my solo, individual responsibility to try and do all of the things. And I think that just like you said, we can feel really inadequate and we can feel like we're not enough when we look down at our two fish, but all of these needy people out there. But I think at least the message and balm from this story is that there's goodness in people, and that when we organize and come together, there's a lot of magic and miracles that can happen between people in community

Elise: [30:50] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminists Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we're grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you showed your support by sharing the podcast, leaving us a loving rating on iTunes, or connect with us on Instagram as TheFaithfulFeminists.


Channing: [31:10] We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so, so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

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