Summary: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although He was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich. “
I thought it was about time I began a sermon with a joke, and today’s passage did make me think of that story about the world’s leaders at prayer, asking God when their countries would repay their national debts.
As the story goes, President Obama prays to God, asking when the US economy will recover. God says to him, “in 100 years time the US will repay its national debt”. The American President begins to cry, and God asks him “why are you crying, my son.” President Obama says, “because I won’t live to see it“, and God says, “No, my son, but the American people will live to see it.”
Simultaneously, as the story goes, President Mahmoud Admadinejad is also praying to God, asking when Iran will repay her national debt. God says to the Iranian President, “in 1000 years time the Iranian national debt will be repaid”. President Admadinejad begins to cry, and God asks him “why are you crying, my son.” He says, “because I won’t live to see it“, and God says, “No, my son, but the Iranian people will live to see it.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Rudd is also praying, and he prays, “Lord, tell me when Australian will repay her national debt?” And God begins to cry …
As I say, I thought it was about time I started a sermon with a joke for, I must admit, that most Bible passages I prepare for week by week don’t easily lend themselves to jokes, but not so today’s passage, which is all about money, and there are never any shortage of jokes about money, for indeed our society is obsessed with money and we talk all the time about money, and so we joke all the time about money.
And for the same reason, I must confess that when I first hear these wonderful words from St Paul - that “Although [Jesus] was rich, for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich“ - my knee-jerk reaction is to want to say that Paul is surely talking about a lot more here than just money.
Admittedly, the statement is made in the context of St Paul’s appeal to the church at Corinth that they might cough up more coin to support the aid work that was going on in Jerusalem, and yet the statement is about a lot more than just money
I’m not saying that that’s not a part of what is on view - that Jesus gave up his real job as a respectable middle-class tradesman in order to wander the hills as a penniless preacher, but that’s not all that is on view. For the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that makes us rich is something more than His change in career path. That, in itself, doesn’t do a lot for us beyond setting us a great example.
The voluntary poverty of Jesus that makes us rich is something more than economic. It’s a voluntary impoverishment of person, whereby God reaches down to us and comes down to us and dwells alongside side us, and suffers and dies for us in order to lift us up to something better.
It’s a pattern of downward mobility, where the Lord Jesus empties Himself for us so that we might be filled, and it’s a downwards mobility that was illustrated for us beautifully in today’s Gospel reading.
Our Gospel reading from Mark chapter 5 was the story of two ‘healings’ (of sorts) - the healing of the woman suffering from a haemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from death, which is a rather extreme form of healing!
It starts out as a story about one healing - that of the little girl - but then the older woman intrudes into the narrative, touching Jesus’ cloak as He presses His way through the crowd towards Jairus‘ house.
It’s a bizarre scene, in case you’re not familiar with it, as Jesus has a large crowd moving with him as He tries to get to the house of Jairus, and he’s being constantly jostled by those around Him, and so the disciples find it somewhat absurd when Jesus suddenly stops and asks out loud, “who touched me”?
I envisage it something like one of those scenes of a pop star trying to get through a crowd of fans, or the newly elected President trying to get to the podium through a crowd of supporters, with everyone having their arms outstretched towards him, hoping to shake his hand or at least touch his clothing.
It seems ridiculous that in such a context Jesus could stop and ask, “who touched me?”, but, of course, some touches are more significant than others, and this touch evidently makes contact with something deep in Jesus that actually draws something out of Him! And so when He asks the question, this woman knows exactly who He is talking to, and she comes forward trembling, only to find that Jesus isn’t wanting to rebuker her, but only to make real contact with her.