June 28th 2015
Hebrews 11:1-3, 32a Mark 5:21-43
I know it’s a sweeping generality but I’ve made an observation that maybe you can agree with, that, for various reasons, most of us like to believe (or at least portray the outwardly image) that we have “it” all together. You know what I mean, that we’ve got everything ‘under control.’ Whether we do or not, is an entirely different issue. There are some folks, of course, who do have their ‘stuff’ together. You know them; they’re the ones whose picture is in the new wallet or picture frame you bought; they’re the ones who never seem to have financial worries, always drive a nice car, own that ‘dream’ house, the ‘perfect’ family and a good job. But common-sense instincts tell us, of course, that some of these people do not actually have it together, but only appear to. And then there are those folks who truly don’t have anything going on… we often are aware but sometimes are surprised to learn it.
The bottom line is that we all occupy a place on the spectrum from being one of those “got it all together” people, and one of those folks Ray Charles sang about, “if it wasn’t for bad luck, wouldn’t have no luck at all.” Wherever we are on that spectrum, there are some things that have a way of leveling the playing field, of making us all equal, in a way nothing else can. That is when we realize we do not control our fate.
This past week we have witnessed several momentous decisions by our nation’s highest court; the debate centered a great deal around the context of the law the case called into question What Mark essentially lays out for us today, is a story of two very different lives made equal and he tells it like he does, one within another, because he wants us to understand it in that context. One is the story of Jairus, a well-to-do, respected leader of the community; having the wealth associated with a position of authority in the synagogue, he was someone who until very recently had few unfulfilled needs or wants. He had ‘it’ all together, that was until his little daughter became ill. Now all his money and position were of little use; he was desperate man. He had obviously been made aware this man Jesus who was preaching in the area, and about how he had the power to heal.
The second story is of a woman who is the complete opposite of Jairus. She has nothing going for her, she endured a chronic physical condition which had persisted for twelve long years; any wealth she might once have had, has all been spent on physicians in a futile attempt to find relief from a bleeding disorder – most probably a gynecological issue. The science of healing and medicine barely existed then and menstrual bleeding was thought to curse a woman with impurity; the Hebrew texts define the steps a woman must take to purify herself when her flow stops. The affliction this woman suffered would have rendered her ‘perpetually impure,’ causing her to be an outcast among her peers – untouchable, unable even to take part in the worship of God at Jairus’ synagogue. It also implies she would be incapable of bearing children – considered to be the most basic function of any women in her society, another reason to shun her. She lives a life of insignificance, so insignificant that Mark does not bother to register her name. She did not have the option of sending someone else to summon Jesus… as she approached him she was, because of her ‘condition,’ on her own by necessity. She had none of his resources but was as desperate as Jairus, and like him sought the one who was healing people in God’s name.
It would not be unusual to expect a man in Jairus’ position to send a messenger or servant to fetch the rabbi, as I’m sure he did for the physicians. But his love for his daughter would not entrust such a crucial task to any servant or messenger, they could not convey the urgency in the same way he would; he went himself. Interrupting the rabbi was he talked to the people, he thrust himself into the midst of the crowd and threw himself down at Jesus’ feet. We read this and presume it to be a natural action, but this is not insignificant; Jairus is a leader of the community and synagogue prostrating himself face down in the dusty street, begging for the life of his little girl. “Please come and lay your hands on her so she might be made healthy again.” His life had been reduced to one thing, to find someone who could heal his daughter.
When Jesus heard the heartache of a desperate father, he was moved, and set out with him immediately. Jairus’ joy, and relief that his pleas had not been rejected, and that he had finally found someone to help his little girl, would have been overwhelming. He was a man of God, and must have been saying a silent prayer of thanks; then something totally unexpected happened.
They hadn’t gone far at all and suddenly Jesus stopped dead in his tracks. He looked all about and asked those traveling with him, “Who touched me, who touched my robe?” His friends were perplexed; they were in a crowded street and people were pressing in and jostling them from every direction as they made their way. How could he ask, ‘who touched me?’ who could answer such a question? But Jesus wouldn’t be deterred; turning he searched each face in the crowd for that one he would connect with. Jairus must have been beside himself, thinking but too afraid to speak the same question the disciples had. What he really wanted to say was, “Forget it; my daughter is dying! We don’t have time to lose – let’s be on our way!”
The woman, who had heard the same stories of this rabbi’s ability to heal as Jairus had, understood she was unworthy to openly appeal to him; she risked everything just coming into such close proximity to the town’s people. Her plan was to seek his healing covertly, without his or the crowd’s awareness. She was convinced, in her desperation, that if she could just get close enough to touch the hem of his robe she would be healed; then she would disappear back into the crowd. Her plan worked, except the part about being undetected, because as she withdrew, everything stopped and it felt like His question was directed to her alone – that she was the only one who could answer him. Now it was her turn to freeze, more fearful of him than the crowd, because in that moment when she reached between the bodies which surrounded him and touched her fingers to his cloak, she felt the bleeding which had debilitated her for twelve long years, suddenly stop! In that instant she knew she had been healed. What kind of power did this man have! She was amazed, and unburdened herself, telling him everything.
While all this was unfolding, Jairus, stood anxiously by; and then the worst happened. A messenger from his household arrived bringing news that his daughter had succumbed to her illness; there was no longer any reason to bring the rabbi to his house, he should come home immediately and grieve for her. Like any parent, he must have been awash in emotions of deep sorrow – that the daughter he loved so much had died, and anger – at the unnamed woman for delaying the rabbi, and at the rabbi for allowing the woman to distract him; realizing that if this rabbi was able to heal the woman, he most certainly would have been able to do the same for his daughter …had they only gotten there in time. But like any father he would have experienced a wide range of other emotions as well, like self-pity, remorse, inadequacy. But Jesus had heard the messenger’s report, and yet seemed to ignored it meaning; He spoke words that could only have rung emptily in Jairus’ ears, who was now more desperate than when he first sought the rabbi; but that desperation had taken on a new, darker form.
Two lives, one, lifted from desperation and given words of wonder, “My daughter, your faith has healed you, go in peace.” The second, sunk even lower, with the strange response to news of a young girl’s death, “Keep trusting.” While she clung to life he had trusted, but how could he continue trusting if she was gone? What exactly did the rabbi expect him to trust? Despite the servant’s message they would continue on to Jairus’ home, where He took only the disciples he selected, and Jairus and his wife into the room where the body of their child lay. Taking the girls hand he spoke to her saying, “young woman, get up” and she did.
The contrasts between these two little stories are many: rich and poor; powerful and powerless; one begs for healing the other takes the healing without asking; a twelve-year-old girl with an acute and sudden illness, and a twelve-year-old chronic illness in a grown woman; a girl who is touched by Jesus and quite literally raised from the dead, and a woman who touches Jesus and is healed while still very much alive.
While it is quite clear that these two stories are very different, at their core—and at their most profound level—they are the very same story. They are, in fact, the stories of two people, who, when they came in contact with Jesus, were transformed from death to life.[i]
There are times in our lives when things happen that press us to our limits, times when we are actually pressed beyond where our limits will allow us to go. These are the times when we forced to recognize that, regardless of our position or wealth, regardless of how we imagine that we’ve got it all together, our fate is not something we control. By faith we understand that we exist in a universe where we are better served trusting in God than in our own devices.
Jesus doesn’t ask much of us. He does not want us to stand gawking in amazement; he just wants us to trust. He wants us to trust without hesitation and without fear, and to be transformed to new life, through him. He doesn’t ask much, just to have faith.
— Amen —
[i] http://www.rickmorley.com/archives/1700 Rick Morley, a garden path
“going to hell, getting saved, and what Jesus actually says” by Fr. Rick Morley, pp. 164-169