This week threw me for a loop.
For starters, I had the opportunity to engage in a really great discussion in my Human Rights in the Old Testament doctoral seminar.
We dialogued about rights and responsibility as it pertains to the Deuteronomic law, while wrestling with questions like, whose responsibility is it to make sure that human dignity is upheld?—individuals? Society as a whole? The law?
It’s a complicated question (and a great one for discussion), but one particular classmate’s thoughts sparked my curiosity. She maintained (and I hope I’m understanding her correctly) that if each person upheld their duty of being kind and having empathy toward one another, then the good of individuals, collectively, would outweigh the bad. For example, if all good (or kind or empathetic) people did their part in taking care of the poor (no matter how small the part they play), then the effects of that would prove colossal. A lot of small acts of making things right would eventually add up and solve poverty and/or homelessness.
This sounds beautiful and I can see the truth in it, but during our dialogue, we couldn’t neglect to mention the difference between ideology and reality: IF everyone did their part. The truth is, most people don’t.
But the more I thought about this, the more I wondered about the effects of the people that do do their part. What role do small acts of making things right play?
Well, we all know (or perhaps we don’t) how the Divine works. That very same day I got to experience something unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
Every Wednesday Fuller leads us in worship for chapel. This particular Wednesday, we had the beautiful opportunity to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage month.*
With that in mind, we had Korean-American author, speaker, Kathy Khang join us (check out her interview on The Protagonistas) and preach a powerful message on Jesus’ interaction with both Jairus and the bleeding woman in Mark 5. I won’t go into all the details of her sermon because you should check it out, but one important thing that Kathy pointed out was the contrast between how Jairus approached Jesus in comparison to how the unnamed woman approached Jesus in the very same passage.
Jairus—a synagogue leader—was a man with power and privilege and he didn’t neglect to approach Jesus as such, walking right up to him in a crowd and pleading for his daughter’s life boldly. Jairus was direct, perhaps even confident in his request.
The unnamed woman, on the other hand, approached Jesus in fear. She had been suffering from constant bleeding and because of this, she was seen as “unclean.” She was an outcast, and she approached Jesus as such— coming up behind him in order to go unnoticed. Instead of speaking to Jesus directly, she hoped for the slightest chance of merely touching the tip of his clothes, believing that would heal her.
What a striking difference.
As Kathy mentioned, the woman knew she was afraid. The text tells us she was trembling.
As Christian women (and particularly, as Kathy explained, her AAPI sisters), we know what it’s like to live in a world of Jairus’. We know what it’s like to approach situations with fear, feeling like we’re less-than, not good enough, perhaps unclean.
But, you see, the thing about Jairus is that despite his confidence, he also was afraid—and it was Jesus that pointed out his fear: “don’t be afraid; just keep trusting,” he told him.
Jesus’ intuition was always on point. What was Jairus afraid of? Did he not trust that Jesus was who he said he was?
Kathy reminded us that Jesus asked this question after he made Jairus wait. Initially, Jesus was on his way to help Jairus, but was stopped by this unnamed, outcast woman.
Jairus was made to wait while Jesus attended to her.
What a powerful image—a man with power and privilege standing on the sidelines while Jesus healed, liberated and uplifted a person—a woman—whom society had ignored and pushed aside.
This story suddenly felt close to home, personal.
The room sat silent and heavy.
And in that moment of silence and heaviness, Kathy turned a corner. She looked at the brothers in the room and asked them a very important question:
Brothers, what are you afraid of?
I’ve wondered this same question many times, too.
I wondered it when I was told by a pastor that I’m “unsubmissive” because I took initiative to read the Bible with young girls in my church. I wondered this question when reprimanded by a Christian man in my life— “you think you’re a man,” he told me— because I had certain opinions and concerns. I’ve wondered it when told by professors (not at Fuller) that women should learn Greek to impress their husbands or that our place of ministry is only at home. I’ve wondered this question when I’ve been interrupted, talked over or dismissed in meetings.
What are you afraid of?
You see, my intention has never been to take anyone’s place at the table. I’ve only ever asked that you make room for me to sit alongside you.
And what gets me the most is that fact that the more time I spend at God’s table, the more I recognize how long, how expansive it truly is. Not only are there enough seats, but the food and drinks never stop flowing. God’s table is abundant.
And then what happened next in that chapel service is something that I will never forget.
Dr. Kevin Doi, an Asian man and our seminary chaplain, stood in front of the crowd and led our brothers in a prayer of confession and blessing:
”Women of the church, we confess the ways we have hurt you, the ways we have not seen you, the ways we have not heard you. We confess the ways we have ignored you, dismissed you, silenced you, and committed violence against you.
As men, we grieve what we have done to you and what the world has done to you.
Sisters, we affirm your worth, your voice, your gifts, your presence, your being--individually and collectively. We see you, we hear you, we value you. The body of Christ is woefully deficient without you. The church needs you, we need you. As men, we desire to be your partners in the ministry of God in the world.
We affirm you as seen, chosen, anointed, and beloved of God, who commends your faith. It is your faith that the body of Christ needs to be well.
The room overflowed with tears as we heard those words. Most of us had never heard them before.
And as the men confessed, I couldn’t help but hear Jesus’ words, “don’t be afraid; just keep trusting.”
So back to my initial question: what role do small acts of making things right play?
I can’t say I know the answer, but what I do know is that I found healing in that room that day. And what I’ve found is that healing happens in increments, and many times it happens unexpectedly.
Perhaps my classmate was right. Perhaps one person’s or a group of people’s actions or words of confession and blessing carry more weight than we imagine, sparking a hope in us that nudges us toward that healing.
As I consider this, Anne Lamott’s words ring true in my heart, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don't give up.”
* I do want to emphasize the fact that the focus of this chapel time was to center the experiences of the AAPI community, particularly AAPI women. My own reflections as a non-AAPI person are in no way intended to take the focus away from celebrating my AAPI siblings and centering the experiences of my AAPI sisters.
Check out Centering: The Asian American Christian Podcast for more on the AAPI experience.