Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (Mathew 9:18-38) transports me to the time of the Black Death in Europe, where the bubonic plague wiped out a third to a half of Europe’s population. On a dreary street in England, we see a death worker, pushing his cart full of bodies through the street, clanging a bell and yelling out, bring out your dead! Bring out your dead! A tall gentleman walks out to the street carrying the body of a frail old man over his shoulder, but before he can throw the body onto the cart the old man speaks up, I’m not dead yet, which inspires an awkward discussion between the gentleman and the cart man. The old man continues, I’m getting better, to which the gentleman replies, No you’re not, you’ll be stone dead in a moment, and starts negotiating with the cart man. The old man gains more life and starts protesting his fate, I feel happy, I feel happy and starts dancing around before the cart man whacks him on the head with a club and throws him on the pile, bidding the gentleman adieu with a friendly, See you next Thursday. Leave it to Monty Python to make you laugh at one of the most morbid pandemics to ever hit the world.
Our passage today shows Jesus traveling through a land plagued by disease and pestilence, with masses crowding around him like sheep without a shepherd. He had an eye for the masses, but he also had an eye for the individual sufferer among the masses. Recognizing the magnitude of these individual needs, Jesus called for laborers to join him in the work, to go into the streets and bring health to the diseased, sight to the blind, speech to the mute, freedom to the possessed, and life to those left for dead. We can see from the story of the ruler’s daughter that there actually were plenty of laborers in the field, but they were invested in a different kind of work than Jesus had in mind. They were death workers, not life workers. The family of the girl left for dead had employed a whole host of laborers who earned their keep by chasing the death carts and offering various services to the grieving families. There were professional mourners and flute players and all sorts of noisy folks who regularly clocked in at death’s door and got to work. Jesus got to the house and started shooing them all away, telling them that the girl really wasn’t dead, but was sleeping, and this drew a laugh from the mourners.
I can imagine the ruler’s daughter telling her caretakers, I’m not dead yet, even as they made the arrangements for the flute players and professional criers to gather round her bedside. Before anyone had a chance to make sure of her demise, though, Jesus came in and simply took her by the hand, and she arose. Just as simply, Jesus brought sight to two blind men, health to a woman whose lifeblood had been hemorrhaging away for twelve long years, and free speech to a man who had been muted and possessed by a demon. Jesus’ call for laborers to assist him in this simple but profound life-giving work raises questions for me about the laborers in our field today. It occurs to me that we, like plague-ridden Europe, have a pretty large chunk of our labor pool dependent on suffering and death. We hear stories about a pretty sizable sector of the economy that provides thousands of jobs building Cold War weapons that the Pentagon hasn’t had any use for in 30 years. We hear a lot about bailouts of major industries today, but the reality is that we have been bailing out the Cold War “military-industrial-complex” for decades. What would happen if the Body of Christ started shooing them away? What would happen if we started re-directing our energies and resources and labor pool into activities that promote a healthier and more insightful community, a community free of the various addictive demon possessions that plague us, a community that lends a hand to the left for dead? Anybody ready to clock in?
*Daily Passages are the weekday reflections of Stan Dotson, connecting culture to biblical texts. Each week takes its guiding theme for the daily posts from the gospel reading on Monday, the “Primary Passage.” This week’s theme is “Matters of Life and Death.” As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Feel free to share where the passages take you in your journey of faith.