Twelve Years: Pointing to the Fullness of God

Mark 5:21-43

There is so much richness in the stories before us now.

There is courage and fear, despair and hope.

There is power and generosity and joy in the healing we witness.

And there is, as always, our wonderment at all of its meaning for us.

I found myself returning again and again to what these two stories hold in common:

The determination and hope which compelled a father for the sake of his daughter and a woman for her own sake, yes, but by extension for the sake of all whom she loved, all who loved her, to seek the One who could bring wholeness.

The courage and faith it took for each of them to step out of their prescribed roles in that time and place and reach for life itself.

And of course, Jesus at the center of it all. Jesus, the very ‘fullness of God’ who is always moving toward us bringing healing, even before we think to move towards him. As he was for that little girl and her desperate father. As he was for a woman whose touch would have remained anonymous had he not been so clearly in tune with the ‘suffering ones’ for whom he was always present, always moving towards.

Indeed, as I understand it, that ‘fullness of God,’ given, received and experienced, is more than hinted at when we hear that the woman who pushed her way through the crowd had been hemorrhaging for twelve years.  That ‘fullness of God’ was more than hinted at when we hear that the child who was ‘not dead but sleeping’ was twelve years old. Even you and I, most of whom may not be deeply familiar with Jewish tradition, recognize that something more is going on here, for twelve is one of those numbers which shows up often enough that we know that something powerful is being revealed.

We remember, for instance:

  • That there were twelve tribes of Israel.
  • That Jesus chose twelve (at least named) disciples.
  • That when Jesus fed the vast crowds, there were twelve baskets left over.
  • That Jesus himself was twelve when Joseph and Mary went back to find him in the temple with the learned ones.

So apparently, in Jewish tradition, the number twelve means something. Indeed, in all these cases (and many more), it points to ‘the fullness God:’ “totality, wholeness, and the completion of God’s purpose.”

And while surely that ‘fullness of God,’ the ‘totality, wholeness and completion of God’s purpose’ are powerfully experienced in a woman’s suffering brought to an end and in her restoration to the larger community, and in a little girl who has died now alive again, I cannot help but wonder if that ‘fullness of God’ isn’t already being revealed, or at least pointed to even before the wondrous healings we witness now have been received and celebrated.

For isn’t there already something about the ‘fullness of God’ reflected in a father who who places the love of a daughter first, pursuing every last hope to bring life to her once more?

Isn’t there already something about the ‘fullness of God’ in a woman who has lost everything trying to regain her life, pushing through the crowd in order to get just close enough to Jesus to reach for one last chance at a life restored?

And isn’t that precisely where we begin to witness the ‘fullness of God’ in our lives today? In the healing, surely, but also in the even very human love and sacrifice which accompanies us toward the possibility of healing itself?

I have surely known this to be so. Indeed, I have seen the ‘fullness of God’ pointed to more than once in these last weeks:

I saw it, for instance, in an unexpected moment in a funeral I officiated at not long ago.

As is often the case, I did not know the one who had died and so, as I always do, I sat down with his son and daughter-in-law a few days before their beloved one’s memorial service.  Amidst the joyful distraction of their two small daughters running around between us, they offered what they knew of him: who he was, what and who he loved, what he gave his life to. In their sharing, they told me he was a veteran and that the cancer which took his life likely was a result of Agent Orange, to which he had been exposed as a young Marine in Viet Nam. They knew only this awful end result of that time at the end of his life though.  He had said little else of that pivotal time in his life as a young man.

It was agreed that some who knew him well would speak at his funeral. As is often the case, I entered that hour not really knowing what would be shared.

And so it was that one who spoke was a long time friend: a fellow Marine.

It turns out he had promised his friend that at his funeral he would speak the truth about those horrors which had so shaped him.

And he did, offering us all a glimpse of debilitating sacrifice which while it left his body intact, left gaping wounds even so.

  • Oh, wasn’t the beginning of the ‘fullness of God’ known in that hour in the love of a friend who necessarily stepped into his own pain so as to help others understand the horrific forces  which had so shaped a friend? As Jesus did?
  • And wasn’t the beginning of the ‘fullness of God’ received in that hour as understanding and empathy deepened, as children came to understand their father all the more?

And I saw it, too, as I often do, in one caring for another in the face of serious illness. In this case it is a spouse, whose every other priority has now been set aside in order to give her beloved what he needs to have a chance at health again.  When I arrived the other day she had been chopping garlic, trying to make him something tasty to eat even though his tumor impedes his swallowing, hoping to build nutrition back into his diet so that he might have all he needs to face what is before him now.

  • Surely, isn’t the ‘fullness of God’ also pointed to in this: not in full healing, not yet at least, but in the love of one for another in such tangible ways?

And I saw it in this in these last weeks.  I saw the ‘fullness of God’ being revealed in a group of folks who traveled far to witness what they did not have to witness as they went to places and heard the stories of the unspeakable brutality we too often visit upon one another. Or if we do not perpetrate it, we too much, too often stand idly by, looking away, keeping silent in our fear or our indifference.  We traveled to Birmingham, to Montgomery, to Selma. Our bus took us to Jackson and to the rural counties of Mississippi where a boy named Emmet Till brutally lost his life at the hands of unspeakable hatred (and countless others, too, who are still and always named in the heart of God, even if their bodies were never recovered or identified), and Memphis.

I saw the ‘fullness of God’ in the willingness to not look away and in the willingness to be changed by this: not only by the horror of it, but also in the openness to wonder at its meaning for us in the world now.

And I saw it, I heard this ‘fullness of God right here: in one among us who returned and in the briefest telling of what she had witnessed to others in her care, stood still and received their sharing as they made new connections with their own family stories as the old reasons for fleeing such places, during a time we know now as the Great Migration, took on new and deeper and perhaps even truer meaning given the chance to speak it out loud in a prayer time among trusted ones.

  • Oh, isn’t the ‘fullness of God,’ the first hints of healing known there, too? In the giving and the receiving, in the speaking the truth as we are able to know it and in those who make such growing possible?

Surely we know, receive, experience this wondrous ‘fullness of God’ whenever healing comes at God’s hand.

  • But don’t we know it, too, in those who are willing to go deep into their own suffering for the sake of others?
  • Don’t we know at least the start of it wherever we witness such willing love who would bear the breaking, broken hearts of others to the very heart of God?
  • Doesn’t all of this (and so much more) point to the very ‘fullness of God’ even now as we move toward Jesus and realize Jesus is already moving toward us in our deepest suffering, restoring hope and wholeness?

May you, too, get glimpses of this ‘fullness of God’ as you move about your days this week.  May it come to you ever new, meant for you. Indeed, may this ‘fullness of God’ be yours as well. May you know it as you move toward Jesus, recognizing that Jesus is already moving toward you.

2 comments

  1. Beth Olson says:

    Pr Janet, I’d been contemplating the themes of hurt, hope and healing regarding these texts and how the purposeful pairing asks us to wonder about what they are saying to us. The “fullness of God” brings it home this week. Thank you for your reflections and the labor of love that they are. Blessings!

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