Call to mind and revisit the numbers and date of 9/11, and a flood of emotions and remembrances invariably surfaces. These arranged digits will forever be seared into each of us following the terrorist attacks that took place that fateful day, profoundly altering our future.
It also happened on a Friday while in the second grade. Carla, the young girl whose desk was next to mine, returned from her lunch hour at home with tears streaming down her face. It was during lunch that day, Nov. 22, 1963, she first learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Watching a documentary on the History Channel this past week, the program revisited events surrounding our country’s sharp racial divide during the days of the Civil Rights Movement. At one point the commentator addressed a respondent and solicited his reaction to what happened April 4, 1968. It took him immediately back to shock waves and sorrow reverberating from a motel in Memphis, Tenn., with news of the fatal shooting of the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve been a parish pastor for almost four decades, and the work can be characterized as somewhat a “verbal profession.” The ministry involves much reading, writing and, of no surprise, speaking, teaching and preaching. Strangely enough, I grew up more a “numbers person” in high school and college, even securing a bachelor’s degree in business accounting.
As a consequence, to a certain extent, I suppose I live with feet planted in both worlds, so to speak. There are, after all, plenty of numbers in the Bible giving much “food for thought” surrounding their frequency and import. Beyond chapter and verse numbers, there are periodically weighty and recurring numerals such as three, seven, twelve, and even 40.
For many, see a placard scripted with numbers 3:16, and thoughts quickly surface of that much-beloved passage of scripture from the Gospel according to John referencing God’s love for the world, the giving of an only Son, believing in him and the gift of eternal life.
Many years ago I read from a favorite author who once posited the unique perspective of exploring the third chapter and 16th verse of every book of the Bible, looking for inspiration or even some connective tissue. Nothing overtly theological was at stake, but it was a provocative adventure nevertheless.
Given all that has unfolded in these tumultuous days following the regrettable and senseless killing of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, another number has been elevated as Mr. Floyd was decidedly pinned down to the pavement.
As one way to honor his memory and hopefully elicit change, tribute is being paid to numbers 8:46, or the amount of time Mr. Floyd helplessly endured an officer’s knee on his neck, leading to his death. The numbers have become a potent symbol scored upon the hearts of many and serving to reinforce the urgency to decisively address and vastly mitigate the racial discord and injustices still existing in our country.
Less than a handful of occurrences exist given the size and scope of the 66 books of my version of the bible, but among them arose one that captured my attention.
Before one arrives at Luke 8:46, the reader learns of Jesus making his way among the crowds to the house of a religious leader named Jairus. Earlier, the man had begged Jesus to intervene on behalf of his dying daughter.
While traveling to Jairus’ house, something miraculous occurred. Amidst the multitude traversing the streets that day, an unnamed woman, who’d suffered for a dozen years with the debilitating effects of hemorrhages, huddled below. Basically discarded, those who passed by were oblivious to her plight. However, upon seeing Jesus, she was inspired to secretly touch the fringe of his cloak, whereupon she was instantly cured of her malady.
At the same moment, Jesus inquired of his bewildered disciples about who had just then touched him. They pleaded ignorance given the mass of people surrounding them.
It is at that poignant moment the Gospel writer recounts for us in 8:46, “But Jesus said, ‘Someone touched me; for I noticed that power had gone out from me.’”
Much is nuanced into this powerful accounting. It may even help further illuminate our course toward a more just future.
In the eyes of Jesus, this nameless woman would not be ignored but rather supremely honored and valued. Oppressed and put down by her infirmed condition and undeserved station in life, he chose to elevate her and give back her rights, so to speak.
Likely excluded from the inherent privileges of the majority, Jesus reinstilled her with power ultimately emanating from the divine. He knew her only as a precious child of God.
Jesus dramatically intervened to discard the collective alienation and segregation she suffered. Religious, societal and even systemic walls of divide were torn down and radically replaced with bridges of undeniable worth. She, along with every other human being on this planet, was made in the image of God.
Yes, I along with others in this country will long recall and recount the numbers eight and 46. They will indelibly point back to the death of George Floyd and guide forward to greater equality. In solidarity with that, Luke 8:46 will also point to the one who came to give life, even as he gave his life, intending to release from bondage and value equally all of humanity irrefutably created in God’s image.
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org