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Genesis 12:1-9
Psalm 33:1-12
Romans 4:13-25
Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26


As many of you know, I’ve been rehabbing my knee after surgery, and the one
exercise I can most safely do is ride my stationary bike, which is incredibly boring.
So I’ve been listening to podcasts, and I’ve heard some recently from Ezra Klein of
the New York Times. Maybe because he’s a parent of young children, he’s been
asking questions lately that I’m thinking about myself – about the burden of
caring for children and the elderly, and who is doing that; about the plague of
loneliness in our culture; about our isolation from one another in this country.
And although he’s a journalist, raised as a secular Jew, he is curious enough about
organized religion to note when it offers something that we humans need – the
practice of Sabbath and rest, for example; and the connections with other people,
the structure of meaning beyond our own daily lives. In a recent edition, he
interviewed the author of a book about intentional communities, tracing through
history different experiments human beings have made with living in extended
communities of support beyond the nuclear family. I won’t go into the whole
conversation, but I found it interesting that they pointed out that although these
experiments are often seen as radical, in our culture we in fact all tend to live in
such communities at two distinct times in our lives: young adulthood, in college
dorms and first apartments; and old age, in retirement and assisted living
facilities. But in the long stretch in between those two phases of life, when many
are working in their careers, raising kids, taking care of aging parents, juggling all
the combined social and financial pressures of life, we tend to live in the most
isolated way possible: the single-family home, the house surrounded by the fence
with the garage door down. Not everyone in this country can or does live this
way, but it is the prevailing image in our media of normal American life. And with
that image, the message we hear is that when you’re a real adult and you’ve
really made it, you go it alone. You close yourself off from other people, and you
do your life, complicated though it may be. And we’re all supposed to be able to
do that, as grownups.
But all the evidence of social sciences lately shows us that a lot of people in this
country are exhausted, depressed, physically unhealthy, in broken relationships,
in debt, and overusing alcohol as they try to live out this American dream. The
intense pressures combined with the isolation are damaging so many of us. Yet
still we persist in dreaming that dream, and thinking that it’s somehow the right
way to be. Do it all, keep it going, don’t drop out, and don’t ask for help. Because
how embarrassing if you can’t manage it – if you ‘fail to launch’ at the beginning,
or if you lose your job or your marriage ends or you somehow just can’t handle it

all later…what shame. You’re supposed to manage, especially if you’re what our
world thinks of as a grownup.
That image, those specific pressures, are distinctly American. But it’s not a new
phenomenon, putting such expectations on ourselves and each other. People in
many cultures have an image of success that’s not really attainable. In the gospel
we just heard, the Pharisees, Jesus’ favorite critics, give voice to this very thing.
Jesus calls Matthew the tax collector to be one of his disciples, and then joins
Matthew and all of his deadbeat sinner friends for dinner. And right away, here
come the Pharisees. Hmph, they say: look at the people he’s keeping company
with. All the people whom we try to avoid; all the people who have totally messed
up in life, and he’s hanging out with them, as if they’re worth it. And in response,
Jesus says to them, People who are well don’t need a physician – people who are
doing just fine don’t need the healing I’m here to bring. Only those who are sick
and in need, need God’s healing. The messed-up ones need me. And right on cue,
someone comes up and asks for his healing – and it isn’t who you’d expect to hear
it from at all.
A highly placed official of the synagogue, Jairus, comes right in to that place
where Jesus is eating with all the messed-up people and begs Jesus to heal his 12-year-old daughter, who is at the point of death. This is all in Capernaum, Jesus’
hometown, so Jairus and Jesus must know each other well, and perhaps Jesus
knows this girl too, for he gets up and goes at once to Jairus’ house. And whatever
assumptions we have about male-female relationships in patriarchal cultures, this
child is loved; this father is distraught, he dearly loves this girl, no expense has
been spared in trying to treat her. But before Jesus can get to the house, he is
interrupted by someone else, an older woman who needs her own healing, and
who reaches out to take hold of Jesus’ garments as he goes by. She has needed
this healing for 12 years, as long as the girl has been alive. All this time she has
been an unclean pariah of the community, on her own, making her own
desperate way on the margins. Who knows what people like the Pharisees have
said about her all those years. (There’s an amazing painting of this moment in a
church in Magdala, by the Sea of Galilee, a painting of men’s feet and the hems of
their robes, and one lone elderly hand reaching to touch the robe of the figure at
the center.) The woman gets her healing, but not without stopping Jesus in his
tracks, his urgent mission to the young girl derailed by this old woman’s need. But
Jesus turns, and says to the woman: Daughter, your faith has made you well. And

then he proceeds to the house, to restore the other daughter in the story to life
and to restore the father in his terror over his child. All three of these people
receive Jesus’ healing. There’s enough to go around.
My mom told me she used to hate this story of the dying 12-year-old girl, because
my sister was 12 when she was diagnosed with leukemia. Mom would pray and
pray for Liz to be healed, and the last thing she wanted was for Jesus to get
interrupted on his way by some old lady with problems. My sister was healed by a
transplant that gave her 39 more years of life, but only years later when Mom was
an old woman herself did she come to have compassion for that woman in her
need. God’s grace and healing are not limited in scope – Jesus, in fact, has time
for everyone that needs him.
And the thing is, everyone needs him. The well-protected young girl of privilege,
the lonely old woman shunned by society, the prominent leader of the
synagogue, all need him. Three different generations of people, three people with
widely varying degrees of power in their culture, not one of them is able to go it
alone and do it all themselves. They need help. And Jesus gives it to them.
No amount of wealth and prestige, no amount of go-it-alone resourcefulness nor
of loving care from others, keeps us from needing that healing God has to offer.
No matter what we or our inner Pharisees might think.
I wonder why we try to pretend otherwise. However outwardly successful we are,
we all come up to the edges of what we can manage: we get a chilling diagnosis;
someone we love has an accident; our spouse gets called into the office on a
Monday morning and finds their job has been eliminated. The landlord sells our
building and evicts us; smoke from wildfires hundreds of miles away gets into our
lungs…just to name a few of the things people I know have been dealing with in
these last few weeks. We realize that we’re not actually in control of it all, despite
what we imagined. We’re the ones failing at life. We’re messed up, no matter
how hard we try.
My priest colleague Rick Fabian, one of the co-founders of St Gregory of Nyssa
church in San Francisco, insisted on carving the words of the Pharisees right into
the wood of the altar they made for their church: This fellow eats with tax
collectors and sinners. It was the worst thing they could say about Jesus. And as

Rick likes to point out, ‘sinners’ is a nice translation for what the word really says
in Greek. But the Pharisees were right. This table, this altar, is the welcoming
table Jesus spreads for a meal with us. The ones who can’t manage it all. The ones
who are falling apart. The screw-ups, the ones who need him. In other words,
I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners, Jesus says. I’ve come to call
everybody. Everybody who recognizes they can’t do it all and go it alone,
everybody who hasn’t yet figured that out, all of us are called. And all of us are
healed – even when it’s in ways we may not recognize right away. There’s enough
of Jesus’ healing for all of us; there’s enough to share at the table. And there’s so
much more where that came from. Amen.

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