July 1, 2018
Today’s Gospel story uses a very famous technique Mark loved to employ, affectionately called the “Markan Sandwhich.” In short, he sandwiches two stories together, starting one, moving over to another, and then back to the first. Part of his purpose in doing this is to signal to his readers: these stories are to be read and interpreted together. They are richer and tastier when taken at once, in one bite, as it were.
So, it is useful to notice what these two stories – the healing of the hemorrhaging woman and the healing of Jairus’s daughter – have in common, and how they are different, and consider what those similarities and differences might mean for our interpretation.
I’m going to tell you a few of them up front, as well as give you some context for the scene. Jesus has just returned from sailing across the Sea of Galilee and back. Last week we talked about how often Jesus does ministry on the way, and on the borders and margins, and today continues that pattern. As he is going to heal the daughter of someone very important, he is secretly approached and touched by someone very much on the fridge: a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. (There’s the first difference: someone of means and importance, versus a nameless woman on the fringe of society.) According to Jewish law, while a woman is menstruating, she is unclean, and so is everyone who touches her, so she was to stay secluded. That’s manageable a few days each month, but for this woman, she has had to stay apart from society for 12 full years, as long as Jairus’s daughter has been alive: she could not interact with other people, she could not be married or have children, she was a complete social outcast. She and Jairus’s daughter have very different lives.
But although Jairus and his daughter, and the hemorrhaging woman, could not be more different socially, they do share something very important: they are both absolutely desperate for Jesus’ help. Both crave healing. And both come to him in utter faith that he can do something about their troubles.
Our first reading and the Psalm will set up for us what it is like to desperately seek God’s help, and to find hope in the Lord. The Gospel will show us concrete examples of that faith and hope in action. Let’s listen.
Jesus has not had a break. From teaching, to stilling a storm on the sea, to casting out a legion of demons over in the land of the Gerasenes, back across the sea, and now he has barely landed before Jairus comes to him in desperate need. His daughter is sick, to the point of death, and Jairus has faith that this miracle worker, Jesus, can do something about it. He is also confident that Jesus will – after all, Jairus is a very important person, a leader in the synagogue, and one of the privileges of holding such a position is that people respond to your needs. And he’s right – Jesus immediately follows him to go heal the girl.
In the crowd, a woman watches. She is hiding – no one must see her, because it is against the law for her to be out, especially in such a large crowd. But she is at a point where she has no other option. For 12 years she has tried, in good faith, to be healed, to find a life worth living. Yet each doctor she has seen has taken her money, but only made things worse. She has no one to support her, she is in financial trouble, with no hope on the horizon. She is weak, for life has been draining for her for too many years. Indeed, she fears for her very life, what life she has, anyway. For her, there is no other option than to risk this act of civil disobedience, and approach the man she hoped could offer her an escape from this life. “If I can but touch the edge of his clothes,” she thought, “I will be made well.”
Jesus is quickly making his way with Jairus and the disciples. She takes a deep breath, and pushes her way through the crowd. She reaches out to touch his garment, and just as soon as she does it is as if she has surfaced from the waters that were drowning her. She feels power enter her like she hasn’t felt in over a decade. She gasps for air, for what seems like the first time in years, and knows that a new life is indeed hers.
But then Jesus turns around. “Who touched me?” he asks. What will she do? She could just slip away, and no one would have to know it was her. There were many people touching him, so he couldn’t know that it was her! Yet something about his sincerity and compassion compels her, in fear and trembling, to approach him, fall to his feet, and tell her whole story – the years of living in fear, the loss of any hope of having children, the doctors who had only hurt her, the family members from whom she had been necessarily separated, and yes, this, her act of civil disobedience in coming out into a crowd to find healing from Jesus. Telling her story is terrifying, but it is also liberating, and that act itself makes her feel not only life, but freedom. Jesus is listening to her with such compassion, she can do nothing but share everything on her heart, all the pain and sorrow and fear, to lay it squarely on him.
The woman can see the disciples, and especially Jairus, getting antsy to move on – Jesus is taking so much time to listen to her, an outsider, a nobody, when someone important is in need, someone who would never have to break the law in search of help! – but she cannot stop pouring her heart out to Jesus, and Jesus never seems rushed. Finally, as she utters the final words of her story, she looks to him, with tears streaming down her face, and he looks at her kindly. He says to her one word: “Daughter.” She gasps a sob: hearing this word, this word of belonging and restoration to her community – this word heals her ills in a way she could not have predicted. He goes on, “Daughter, your faith has made you whole again. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” And even as he utters the words, she knows that they are true.
As she basks in her newfound wholeness, someone arrives to tell Jairus that it is too late – his daughter is already dead. With a glint in his eye, Jesus responds to the news saying, “Do not fear. Only believe.” Do not fear. Huh! Jairus can scarcely accept this – his daughter is dead! – yet something about how Jesus says it does make him believe. They hurry to his home, where indeed the girl has wasted away to skin and bones, and appears lifeless. Jesus suggests she is only sleeping, and the sound of laughter is like breaking glass in Jairus’s ears. Still, he clings to faith, against all evidence to the contrary, that Jesus is right. Jesus goes right up to the girl, reaches out and takes her hand. It is so tender; he truly cares for this girl, even though she is just a child, and just on the verge of being a woman. Yet he cares for her.
Gently, Jesus says to the girl, “Little girl, get up.” To the amazement of everyone there – even Jairus whose faith has not wavered! – the girl gets right up and starts walking around. Jesus tells them to get her something to eat. She, too, is filled with new hope, new strength, new life.
~ ~ ~
Just before these two healing stories, Jesus told a few parables saying, “The kingdom of God is like this.” He doesn’t say that here, but it does seem to be implied, that here are two stories that show us not only what Jesus is like, but what Jesus’ followers are like when they are truly his followers, doing his work, living in his Spirit. I came across a quote this week by Presiding Bishop or the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry, who has been in the news lately for the moving sermon he preached at the royal wedding a few weeks back. He describes very directly how we can know what Jesus would have us do – as we interact with our neighbors, as we prepare to cast a vote, as we watch the news and discern how we might be a part of making this broken world into something that looks a little more like God’s kingdom. He says, “If it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it cannot be claimed to be Christian.”
Well, here we have two stories that show us what Jesus of Nazareth looks like, what love looks like:
Christian love looks like hearing the cry and pleas of a desperate father, and responding by doing what is necessary to make sure he does not lose his child.
Christian love looks like visiting a sick child, taking her limp hand in ours, and offering words of life.
Christian love looks like not being in too much of a hurry to stop and truly listen to the whole story of a woman in despair, who has done everything she can think of and spent everything she had in order to find a better life. It looks like not judging her, even for breaking a law in order to find that new life, but rather, offering her compassion.
Christian love looks like risking defilement in order to touch the bloody and broken, knowing that touch is what brings healing.
Christian love looks like insisting on and making space for the whole truth, no matter how falteringly told or how long it takes, and it looks like listening to that truth not with the intention to refute it, but rather, to hear it, with thoughtful compassion.
Christian love looks like bringing life to places where death threatens to win, bringing hope into despair.
Christian love looks like seeing the outsider, the outcast, as a member of your own family, your own clan, and bidding them peace.
As baptized Christians, this is our calling. It is not an easy one. Insults are easier than empathy. Avoiding the news is easier than learning all about what is going on. Talking only to people we agree with is safer than trying to understand other perspectives. Ignoring those in need, or dismissing them, or rationalizing why we shouldn’t help them, in favor of getting to whatever important tasks we have before us is more efficient.
But if it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it cannot be claimed as Christian. I don’t know about you, but I want to look like a Christian! Right? Let us strive, sisters and brothers, always to take not the easier road, nor even the road that feels better in the moment, but the road that is loving, that is of Christ. Let us seek not self-preservation, but compassion and tenderness, time and a heart to listen, and words of life for those in desperate need. Let us always ask ourselves, “If Jesus weighed in on this situation, what would he suggest we do?” And then, let’s do that.
Let us pray… Healing God, make us compassionate enough to hear your people’s cries, courageous enough to share our whole story and listen to others’, and faithful enough to believe you can heal our every ill. Help us to move and grow, as individuals, as a congregation, as a country, and as a world, toward seeking always to do what looks like love, what looks like Jesus of Nazareth. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.