Triage

Preacher: Jeff Davidson

Scripture Reading: Mark 5:21-34

How many of you have gone to the emergency room of a hospital for treatment on your own, not taken by an ambulance? How many of you got in for treatment right away as opposed to waiting a while? I’ve had both over the years. When I was a pastor in Dayton I wasn’t feeling well and was having some chest pains, so Julia drove me to the ER. When I told them I was having chest pains, they waved me straight in. No waiting.

The last time I went to the ER I was having a lot of pain from a kidney stone. I’d gone to my primary care physician, doubled over in pain. She gave me a shot for the pain and sent me on to the ER. Once I got there I told them what was going on and then we waited. And waited. And waited. I wasn’t doubled over any more – the shot had kicked in – but it still hurt. Since it was only a kidney stone, though, I had to wait around 45 minutes or so until I could get in.

That’s called triage – sorting out the different people waiting in order to figure out which problem is the most severe and which patient should be seen first. If any of you watched MASH on television, you’ll remember that there was an added step to the triage process. Not only was the triage doctor supposed to figure out who among the wounded soldiers was most seriously injured and therefore who should go on in for surgery first, the triage doctor was also supposed to figure out who was so badly injured that surgery would be a waste of time and resources. If the effort and skill and materials spent on one wounded soldier who would almost certainly die anyway could be better spent saving two or three other lives, the triage doctor was supposed to make that decision and see that the other soldiers, although perhaps less seriously wounded, got in for surgery first.

Peter Woods used the image of triage to write a blog post about this morning’s gospel reading a few years ago. I hadn’t really thought about it this way before. You’ve got two women. One of them, Jairus’ daughter, has a lot going for her. She’s 12 years old, which in our day means she’s still a little girl but in Jesus’ day meant that she was coming up on child-bearing age. She’s part of a powerful family. She’s got her whole life, her whole future, ahead of her. She has the potential to have a lot of influence, in one way or another, over events in the future. She has the potential to bear children, to create life, to nurture little kids and teach them about the rabbi who saved her life and bring them into right relationship with Jesus Christ.

All of that doesn’t even consider the kind of influence Jairus has. I know Jesus told him not to say anything, and I’m sure that Jairus will do his best to obey, but he’ll know. And sooner or later he’ll tell somebody and that person will tell somebody else and word will get around and it will create a lot of good feeling for Jesus.

On the other end of the spectrum we have the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. She’d been having this problem for as long as Jairus’ daughter was alive. We don’t know her name. We don’t know her family’s name. We don’t know if she had any family besides herself. She may have had money at one time, but she doesn’t any more. She has limited resources, limited power, and as far as we can tell not much of a future.

If we were going to do triage on these two people based on what the Bible says, who would we tell Jesus to heal first? I don’t think it’s a very close call. I think most of us would tell Jesus to spend his time and his power and his resources on the little girl. If he had time and if he felt like it then Jesus could come back and heal the older woman later, but if we’re being practical then the little girl with her life before her, the daughter of an influential man, should come first.

The older woman may have been afraid of a result like that, because she did not approach Jesus and ask for healing. Instead she said to herself, “Jesus doesn’t even have to know I’m here. I don’t want him to say no, so I’ll just sneak up on him and touch his cloak and I’ll be healed.” And that’s what she did, and that’s what happened.

Of course Jesus knew that someone had touched him. Jesus being God and therefore being omnipotent and all you can’t really sneak up on Jesus. So Jesus said, “Who touched me?” Again, Jesus probably knew who touched him. My parents used to ask “Who broke this lamp?” or “Who ate these cookies?” when they knew perfectly well it was me, no matter how much I tried to blame my sister. It’s probably the same thing here. And the woman fesses up, and Jesus commends her faith and sends her on her way.

In the meantime, people come to tell Jesus and Jairus that it’s too late. Jairus’ daughter has died. The time that Jesus spent with this woman, asking who had touched him when he probably knew perfectly well who had touched him and then listening to her little story and telling her it was all okay and she should be proud of her faith and all of that, the time that Jesus spent talking to this woman with no money and no future may very well be what cost the little girl her life.
Of course, we know that’s not how the story goes. Jesus goes on to the house, takes Jairus and his wife in to see the dead girl, tells the dead girl to get up, and she gets up. It’s a happy ending for everyone.

There are a lot of morals to this story. Every life is precious. Jesus is no respecter of the social status of persons. Faith makes a difference. The poor are as worthy as the rich, those with little future are as important as those with a long life ahead of them, folks without power or influence matter just as much as folks with power and influence. I could go on – there are easily a dozen different morals here just at first glance.

Here’s one. What looks like the most important thing may be important, but it may not be more important than lots of other things. Does that make sense?

I read Micah’s sermon last week, “God Will Judge Those Who Put Children in Cages,” and I loved it. I thought it was an excellent sermon. If I could have gotten by with it, I might have just preached it again this week. I liked it so much I had Bob leave the title on the sign out front this week.

I also loved the rallies yesterday both here in DC and around the nation. The theme was “Families Belong Together” and there were over 700 rallies scheduled all over the country. Were any of you in the local rally here in DC? I know I had some friends who came to DC for the rally and others who participated in other cities.

As much as I am in sympathy with those rallies and as much as I think that the zero-tolerance policies at the border are both morally wrong and practically ineffective, I don’t want to let that issue blind me to other issues that may not get as much media play, that may not stoke the same kind of outrage across the nation. I don’t want to let the unique circumstances that Pres. Trump’s actions have created make me believe that there aren’t other issues and other causes and other people just as worthy of my time.

There are something around 11,000 people without permanent shelter in DC, and on any given night over 1,000 sleeping on the streets. Some of us here know some of those people through our work with the Brethren Nutrition Program, but for others of us those 1,000 people on the streets are no different than the woman who touched Jesus’s garment. We don’t know who they are, where they are, what their issues are, or how to help them. No one is marching for them. I don’t know how long it’s been since any of them were on the front page of the Post.

There’s been a lot of outrage on social media about a woman who said on Fox News that a lot of her African-American friends had told her that the conditions that some of those immigrant families are being held in looked better than the projects that her friend had grown up in. I don’t know if anyone actually told her that or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me if someone did and if it was true. Some of those projects were and are horrible. Back in 1981 Jane Byrne, Chicago’s mayor, moved into the Cabrini-Green projects in Chicago to draw attention to how bad it was there. Things got better, at least at that particular project, and at least while Mayor Byrne lived there, but there were plenty of other projects in Chicago and elsewhere that no mayors moved into and where no one paid attention and where nothing got any better.

The lesson of that Fox person’s anecdote, by the way, isn’t what some people think it is. Whether she meant it this way or not, the lesson isn’t that immigrant families in custody have it too easy. It’s that housing projects in the United States need to be vastly improved and not made worse as Secretary Carson has suggested.

We in the Church of the Brethren, in this congregation especially, know that the spotlight moves from issue to issue far too quickly, and that in our 24 hour news cycle yesterday’s outrage is today’s footnote and tomorrow’s memory. On April 15, 2014 the Boko Haram group of Muslim extremists kidnapped 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. Huge headlines. Demonstrations, marches, rallies, some led by Nate and the Office of Peacebuilding and Policy. At my last check after escapes, releases, and reported deaths there are still 112 of those girls in custody. 112 still held prisoner over four years later. When’s the last time you saw something in the Post about that?

None of this, of course, even begins to touch on people and situations that would never make the newspapers anyway. None of this deals with families that we know through school or work. None of this deals with people we live next door to. None of this deals with our own lives or our own households. There are issues like these all over our lives, some catastrophic and some matters of quiet desperation.

I’m not suggesting that the folks who marched have misplaced priorities or shouldn’t have been marching. They should have and I am glad they did and I am proud that I know some of them. I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be outrage about the zero-tolerance policy on many levels. I’m not suggesting that God will not judge those who put children in cages. God will judge those people, and I hope that they repent of their evil.

I just know that in my own life it is easy to be distracted by the big story, the major outrage, the tragedy of the day. And if that’s a challenge for me, it’s probably a challenge for other people too and so it’s something that others might keep in mind just like I do. What I am thankful for is that this isn’t a challenge for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t do triage. Jesus deals with the needs that are there as he finds them, large and small. People who are young and old, people who are rich and poor, troubles that as the world views them are important and trivial. Jesus deals with them all. I hope that with God’s guidance and power we can do our best to do the same. Amen.

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