This story of Jesus – it is not one story, but two: there is Jairus, Jairus with his little daughter, lying at death’s door, Jairus who begs Jesus to hurry to her bedside that she might be healed; and there is the woman, the woman with all the life bleeding out of her, the woman who slips through the crowd and stretches out her hand and, in that, somehow, whose suffering ceases. Their two stories come to us threaded together, woven as if into one, so that we cannot but see each by the light of the other. What they have in common, we see, is a desperation that even down the centuries, so many of us know well. We see a parent, worried sick for their child. And we see someone who entrusts themself to the medical establishment, only to end up broke and no better off. We see two people whose need is about to boil over. But they are two very different people, aren’t they? The one is a man, and the other a woman. He is a powerful, prominent personage, a pillar of the synagogue; she is a pariah, who has not stepped foot inside a synagogue since her hemorrhaging started. For she is impure; the chronic flow of blood has fouled her, at least according to ancient religious custom. But he is the guardian of religious customs. He keeps himself ritually clean, kosher, and then some. He is rich. She is poor. He comes up to Jesus in the open, approaches publicly, swaggers up to Jesus showily, but then the healing happens out of sight. She sneaks up to Jesus, slinks to him secretly, but the miracle ends up making a scene. This story of Jesus – it is not one story, but two.
And the ‘two-ness’ of it feels very much of the moment – our moment, I mean. This week, two communities which have known taunting and trauma and terror, vitriol and violence, two communities whose shared inheritance has been oppression and whose birthright has been bloodshed, two communities whose need has been boiling over, two communities rallied; they rallied for healing. And for one of two communities, this week has been a big week, has been a banner week. For one of two communities, this week has brought an extraordinary bestowal of dignity and belonging. For one of two communities, this week has occasioned sighs of relief and shouts of rejoicing. But while my tribe, while my LGBT sisters and brothers, while we outfitted ourselves with cute rainbow swag and got our Lady Gaga on belting out Baby, I was born this way, in the other of two communities, they donned their mourning clothes and they dressed in black. In the other of two communities, they sang Amazing Grace, they sang the souls of still more African-American martyrs home to the other side. For one of two communities, two communities united by a shared desperation, the story of the week is ‘Seismic Shift! Hallelujah!’ and for the other it is ‘More of the Same. Heaven help us.’
This story of Jesus – it is not one story, but two. And the ‘two-ness’ of it feels very much of the moment. For this has been a week of happiness and heartbreak, grief and gladness, a week of complicated, conflicting feelings, a week of festivals and funerals. Some families now live in freedom. Other families now live in fear. Of course, those other families have long lived in fear, whether of being humiliated at the bank or harassed by somebody with a gun and a badge. And the fact that they are still living in fear, some of them, some of you, the fact that some of them, some of you, are still fighting, it … well, let me say it like this: with regard to equal marriage, which I picketed for and I prayed for, but even so – with regard to equal marriage, it seems like a minority of white men, who happen to be gay, but who still are very much white and very much men, it feels like a small number of us, who were otherwise raised to expect and to enjoy the perks of patriarchy and racial privilege, it seems like some of us white men for the first time felt what it is like to not have a seat at the table and, because we are white, and because we are men, we flipped. We flipped out. We freaked out. And we used all the advantages of our whiteness and our maleness to move the dial on this one issue, and, with the access to power and to the purse-strings that you still, sadly, mainly only get if you are a white guy, we did for ourselves in three years what others have been dying for for three-hundred. I can’t but wonder: oh, imagine ‘homosexuality’ was something that happened only to black women – would we be where we are today?
And I do not at all mean to minimize what is truly and unequivocally a miracle, a triumph of justice – only to say that this week, the stories of the LGBT and the African-American communities have come to us almost threaded together, woven as if into one, so that we cannot but see each by the light of the other. And yet, as we sit with these stories, I want to suggest that we should avoid telling them in such a way so as to totally conflate them, or so as to let the former supplant the latter. For there is a way of talking about equality in America that imagines a steady march toward enlightenment and inclusivity, you know: we got there on women’s issues, and we got there on black issues, and now, in what is the new, latest apotheosis of civil rights, we got there on LGBT issues. But of course we have not gotten there on women’s issues, and we certainly have not gotten there on black issues. Talking about equality in America this way implicitly consigns the agonies of the past to the past, and undermines our ability to see and appreciate them as also the agonies of the present. Talking about equality in America this way presents women’s and black and other issues as passé, it coopts the lineage of black struggle to serve the interests of white gay men with money. And it denies what is in reality a halting, in-fits-and-starts, sometimes one-step-forward-two-steps-back lurch toward equality, and so, it distracts us from the work we have left to do. It is fine and well that a majority of our neighbors would welcome in the affable gay to decorate their homes and pick out their drapes, but how many of them, really, would welcome a black family moving in next door?
This story of Jesus – it is not one story, but two: there is Jairus, the privileged, rich, powerful white person whose world is ending, like, right now!, and who forces through, pushes to the front, who commandeers Christ for his own cause. And God bless him, he is doing what any of us would do were we in his shoes; who can blame him? But, but there is also the woman, the destitute, despondent, dejected woman whose desperation Jesus lingers with. It is remarkable, isn’t it?: Jairus’ daughter is actively dying, the sands are slipping through the hourglass for her, time is of the essence, tick-tock, there is not a second to spare, and yet, and yet Jesus and Jairus no less (!) let this other’s, this poor woman’s plight come to light. Jairus totally disappears; huffy Jairus for all his hurry recedes from view and the pain of this poor woman is all there is. The focus shifts to the farthest, farthest margin and the need found there holds our full attention. And we see that, whatever else, this is the story of a privileged person being interrupted in his own pursuits. This is the story of a privileged person who sees someone else down-and-out, someone else whose troubles are every bit as dire, but whose status would otherwise ensure that they be shoved aside. This is the story of a privileged person who stops pushing for self. This is the story of a privileged person who, whilst on his own march for justice, sees that others are being stepped on, are being stepped over. This is the story of a privileged person who puts his own story on pause, who sets his own struggle to the side, a privileged person who bows out on his interests, and places the story and the pain of another first. Friends, especially my LGBT friends, extra-especially my LGBT white friends, this has been a big week, a banner week for us. But I think it’s time to let our story, to let our struggle take the backseat, and to hold the desperation of others up to the light, that the healing we have won may yet be theirs.