All of the miracle stories are impressive. But if we want to hear what God is saying to us through these stories, we have to go deeper. One way to go deeper is to focus on the surprising details that give each miracle its distinctive character.
In today’s gospel reading, the most surprising detail is Jesus’ own surprise.
A hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ clothes and is healed. So far, so good.
But Jesus did not intend to heal her. Jesus knew power had gone out of him, but Jesus does not seem to have known where the power went. Jesus has to ask, “who touched me?”
What are we to make of power coming out of Jesus that is, apparently, not under his control? What lesson can we learn from a story about power flowing out of Jesus whether he intends it or not?
Start with what this lesson is not. Mark surely does not mean that Jesus was incapable of controlling his own power or that people could effectively manipulate Jesus into healing them against his will.
But then why include this detail?
Often when Jesus says or does odd things, he is showing us something about ourselves, and that is the case here. In this story, Mark is teaching us less about Jesus than about us. And the lesson about us is that we send out power all the time, even when we are unaware of it.
An easy example is prayer. I pray every day for the people on our prayer list. I hope many of you do the same. Our prayers are God’s power going out of us into the crowd of people we pray for. We know that much. But who is touched on any given day? We have no idea.
That is a little like Jesus in today’s reading.
But in our story, Jesus is not praying. Jesus is not thinking about the hemorrhaging woman at all. Power goes forth from Jesus to the hemorrhaging woman while Jesus goes about other business.
And that is true for us, too. For good and for ill, we unconsciously touch people all the time.
Think about the way other people touch you. Pretend for a minute that you are in a store. Two people are in the next aisle talking to each other. You do not know them, and they do not even know you are there. Still, their interaction will touch you.
If the two burst out laughing, you will probably smile even though you are not in on the joke. If they start to argue angrily, the odds are good that your stress level will go up even though you are not involved in any way. If one starts to cry, you would likely feel some combination of sadness and sympathy.
The point is simple. Human beings touch each other all the time. Our emotions—positive and negative—are infectious.
The same is true for our character as a whole. We probably all know people who suck the life and the joy out of a room because they are so consistently negative.
And we all know people who light up a room, people who exude joy and love, people who make everyone’s life a little better just by being part of it, even if their own lives are not going all that well.
Like emotions, character is catching. Mean and nasty people drag us down. People who live lives of Christian faith, hope, and love inspire us to do the same.
I think again about the people of Emmanuel AME Church, the Church in Charleston that was attacked last week. They have demonstrated remarkable forbearance, forgiveness, faith, and love.
And they are having an incredible impact on our country.
You can see the impact in the changing attitudes towards the Confederate Battle Flag. For people in Massachusetts, it may be hard to understand how big a deal this is. But it is a big deal.
The Georgia state flag used to include a miniature version of the Confederate flag. In the 1990s, the governor proposed removing it, and there was a huge push-back. Lots of people insisted that the Confederate flag was “heritage, not hate.” You could see the Confederate flag on bumper stickers and baseball caps and tee shorts and hanging from flag poles at people’s houses. For a decade, it was a hot political issue in Georgia, and passions ran high.
Most of the people who defended the Confederate flag were good people. But they were wrong. The sad fact is, and I say this as a southerner, racists successfully co-opted the Confederate flag. It has become a racist symbol. And still, people defended it.
But now that is changing. Major chains have decided not to sell anything with the Confederate battle flag on it. Southern states are talking about removing the Confederate flag from all public grounds. If they really do what they are saying they will do, we are witnessing a major cultural shift, as white people of good will abandon a racist symbol many have treasured.
And the people of Emmanuel AME Church deserve the credit for the change.
Here is a thought experiment.
Assume for a minute that a group of family members tracked down the shooter and killed him. Would you blame them?
I do not condone revenge killing. But I understand why someone might do it. And in this case, I would be pretty sympathetic. I suspect that many people would be.
But if family members had in fact killed the murderer, this whole story would have played out differently. There would be less soul-searching on the part of white America. There would be much less pressure on stores and states to get rid of the Confederate flag.
Thankfully Church members have acted with restraint and with incredible faith and courage. Several have publicly forgiven the shooter.
The members of Emmanuel AME Church are not out to make a statement or to bring about social change. They are just doing God’s will as they understand it. But by simply doing God’s will, they are making an inspiring statement that is bringing about social change.
The contrast between the shooter’s racist violence and the Church members’ Christian love could not be any clearer. God’s love and God’s power are flowing into the members of Emmanuel AME Church and then overflowing to touch the rest of us too. I hope they know how much God’s power is going forth from them.
Probably none of us will ever receive the national attention the Emmanuel AME Church has right now. We will never have that burden.
But on our smaller scale, we too touch the lives of the people around us. Like Jesus, like the people of Emmanuel AME Church, like other, less benign examples, we may not know exactly where the power is going or what kind of impact it is having.
But the impact is real. We have the capacity to serve as channels of God’s love and power to a hurting world, or else to stand in the way.
My prayer for us is that we can open ourselves up more and more to God’s love, that we can let God’s love flow through us, that the people around us can be touched by God at work in our lives.
In the name of Christ, the source of power in us. Amen.