In the Scriptures and in Tradition there are many images of the Church – Body of Christ, a living temple, a holy nation, a local community, a flock, , vine and branches, a revelation, a bride, a gathering of the saints, a hospital for sick sinners, a household, a family, the Kingdom of God. In today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 8:41-56 – synagogue ruler Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood) , the church – the assembly of those who are following Christ is envisioned as a large crowd of people. And not a passive crowd at that but a jostling, pushing and shoving throng. This one is perhaps my favorite image of the Church.
The Athonite Monk Archimandrite Amilianos offers a vision of the local church which is a family gathering big enough to include everyone in the world (see The Church is God’s House for Prayer). His vision of the Church goes way beyond any legalistic “member in good standing” way of viewing Christianity. His vision certainly incorporates the Eucharistic offering: “Again we offer to You this reasonable worship: for the whole world…” This certainly encompasses everyone in a crowd of people, not just the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), but “all mankind” – the entirety of the human race.
Who is in this crowd, following Jesus? His apostles, his disciples, the sick, miracle seekers, the curious, Pharisees, synagogue attendees and synagogue leaders, men and women, those who love Christ and those who hate Him, friends and enemies, those seeking the Kingdom of God and those seeking to entrap Christ in this world. People whose names we know (Peter, James and John for example) and the unknown. Rich people, rulers and beggars as well. Let’s consider the Gospel Lesson:
And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.
The rulers of the synagogues were frequently in the Gospel among those who opposed Jesus because He didn’t keep their rules about the Sabbath. They are sometimes his most vocal critics, and yet they are in the crowd following Christ where He goes. Not everyone in the church community has to agree with what I think or with what most of us think. The Church community is big enough even to consist of people who disagree with most of us or find most of us disagreeable.
And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, for he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
Those looking for miracles. Desperate for help from any source. Those who loved their children. Those who are distraught and despairing and running out of hope. Those who socially outranked Jesus and His followers. Those who represent groups we criticize – for the synagogue leaders like the Pharisees are among those Jesus criticizes most frequently.
But as He went, the multitudes thronged Him. Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, came from behind and touched the border of His garment. And immediately her flow of blood stopped.
The socially unacceptable. The outcast. The forsaken. Social diseased. The despised. Strangers. Foreigners. Immigrants. Those whose lives do not matter. But also those with means and money – this women had spent her fortune on doctors. Those with hope and some kind of faith even if the faith is only for some self-serving end.
And Jesus said, “Who touched Me?” When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, “Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, ‘Who touched Me?’” But Jesus said, “Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.”
The disciples are there too. Those who think they understand Jesus but don’t. Those who don’t understand Jesus but who follow Him anyway. The crowd – the great unwashed masses. The constantly needy. The dependent.
Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately. And He said to her, “Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
There are also in the crowd the timid, introverts, those who wish they could disappear. The shy and retiring. But also those who like to be the center of attention, the extroverts and expressives. Those commanding attention, and those who are willing to be commanded.
While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house, saying to him, “Your daughter is dead. Do not trouble the Teacher.”
Those who serve others. Those who have more important things to do in life – those on a mission. The doubters. Those who don’t really believe in Him. Those who want to remain respectable. Those who are there merely because it is their job to be there. These are the aids and spokespeople for those with power and prestige.
But when Jesus heard it, He answered him, saying, “Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.” When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl. Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, “Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.” And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.
Unbelievers. The incredulous. The scientists. The realist. The skeptical. The Jaded. Scorners. Those who see believers as naïve and ready to be deceived. The Pessimist. The Cynic. The sarcastic. The know-it-all. The presumptious.
But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, “Little girl, arise.” Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately. And He commanded that she be given something to eat. And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.
Parents and children. Families and neighbors. Brothers and sisters.
And today, we the Church are asked to be the same, followers of Christ, one and all, no matter what the reason or attraction, we assemble to be around Christ to have Christ in our midst. We need to be something to all the people of the world, not just a motley crowd, but visibly to be the Body of Christ – to make the One present whom the world is seeking.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19)
No one person can do that, but together as the Body of Christ, the parish community can become all things to all people. We have friends, neighbors, family who might be looking for something from Christ, we are to be those who make Christ present to them. We are to encourage them to look for Christ and to follow Him. There may be women seeking help from God, or people with sick children, or the needy or the lost.
There may be people that some of us don’t want to minister to and don’t want in our midst, but others in the Church community will be able to be Christ to them. That is the real image of the Church.
We, the Church – all of us together – are responsible for making Christ present, for giving the crowd, the world an opportunity to be with Christ.