Mark 5: 21 – 43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Today’s is a message that tugs at our Congregational heart strings: it challenges our hearts and it challenges our intellects to believe that really, by touching the cloak of Jesus, by saying “Please come and just put your hands on my loved one,” that all will be made well. How lovely it would be if we could all take today’s Scripture in a literal sense, and maybe some of us can, for otherwise that will be more difficult.
I’m a person who loves faith. Practically anyone you may talk to in my life will tell you that I’m a person of deep faith. Even in the darkest days of my life, faith has been my constant companion. So I guess it’s no accident that I got to be the person to balance the distance between that literal faith and the metaphors we see in today’s story.
In Jairus, the religious leader who approaches Jesus, we meet a wealthy, religious leader, but a father desperate for his daughter’s healing. We see a man who didn’t just walk up to Jesus and start talking, but he fell at Jesus’ feet and repeatedly begged for the healing of his daughter, asking that He would simply just come and lay hands on her and make her well. And next we meet a woman who has been bleeding: not for 12 days, which many of us could appreciate, not for 12 weeks, which maybe someone in the congregation has experienced, not for 12 months, which is practically unimaginable, but for 12 years this woman has suffered, and maybe even everyone around her has suffered because of this condition. But she has one belief: “If I but touch the cloak of Jesus I will be made well.” And when she touched Jesus’ cloak she felt the transfer of power to her body; imagine that. And Jesus immediately knew that He had given his power to this woman, a woman deemed unclean by her family and friends, by her community, and He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed in your disease.” And then, while all of this was going on, another group came to Jesus and said, “The daughter has died.” And Jesus said to him, “Do not fear but believe.” And then, as they approached the house, Jesus heard people wailing and admonished them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And as Carolyn shared with us, Jesus took the child by the hand and said “Talitha Cum,” “Little girl, get up.” And she got up.
So what do these stories tell us today? What are the things we realize in them? Of course, the primary theme is that of faith. In my online research for today’s message I found this definition of faith: “Faith is like looking through the viewfinder on a camera: it helps us to see whatever is in front of us just a little bit differently.” Years ago in a conversation with my brother we were having a discussion on the difference between faith and trust. He described it to me in this way: that faith is walking into the room and seeing all of the empty chairs and realizing, “Oh, one of these chairs would give me the needed support,” and trust is walking across the room and sitting in that chair.”
So let’s look at the faith the father possessed today. The father has, I would say, the appropriate faith that the touch of Jesus can heal his little girl. As a religious leader, he’s in the know; Jesus is not a stranger to him. He has heard of all the works Jesus has been doing; he has access to Jesus. He has no fear about approaching him and asking him to do what he knows Jesus does best. As a matter of fact, Jairus is the only person named in today’s story and the name Jairus represents “the enlightened one.” The woman, on the other hand, is living in a patriarchal society. Now don’t get nervous; I’m not going to deliver a big old feminist sermon for you, although I saw several of them as I was putting together these words. But nonetheless, it was a patriarchal society. Women did not have any power: they were, at best, second class citizens. And this woman, because of the way she was plagued with this medical condition, was really separated from her community. Her economic condition was one of poverty because she had spent all of her money trying to be healed. And if her sickness and her poverty aren’t enough, she has to deal with a society who tells her she is unclean, unworthy, that she is not one of them, she is not one of us. And even with all of this on her shoulders, she has that mustard seed of faith that “if I can simply touch the cloak of Jesus, I will be healed.”
There is another piece in today’s Scripture that is really important. I can imagine Jairus just kind of walking up to Jesus and saying, “Could you please just put your hands on my daughter?” But the woman had to sneak in; she had to stand behind Jesus simply to get a touch. It says that the crowd was large, so she undoubtedly had to fight her way in, all the way in, and reach in just to touch. She makes herself available for the healing. To me, this is the most important part of today’s story. It’s not just that she comes expecting Jesus to do something for her; she makes herself available. She insists that she will be healed. Jesus immediately knew, on her touch, that His power had gone out of Him. Now this is a very powerful man, the son of God, who realizes that His power has left Him. This is the exchange that happens between us and God when we let go, when we make ourselves available we assume that power. And when Jesus felt that transfer of power He said, “Who touched me?” Did He call her out to ridicule her and say, “How dare you touch me, you woman, sick for all of these years, poor, separated from your community?” No, He didn’t call her out like that to remind her of the law; He called her out to show everyone around the example of her precious faith. He called her out to bring attention to a woman, a sick, impoverished woman, perhaps a woman at the border, so that others would follow the way in which she had exercised her faith. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” How wonderful to have heard those words.
I can imagine from these stories that Jesus is telling us that He wants to be in conversation with us. He wants to know the individual, the faith communities to whom power is being sent. He wants to say to us, and is saying to us, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace.”
It is easy to see in today’s story that God’s work is never done, because on the one hand, while Jesus is bringing about this marvelous healing because of this woman who has made herself available, the privileged leader receives the news that his daughter has died, that it may be too late for Jesus to come and put His hands on her. I can imagine it as a parent, dealing with their young child, and the child is going, “But mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, I need your attention with now.” And the parent is saying, “Honey, I’m having a conversation right now; hold on a second. I will be right with you.” I can imagine that others are gathered around saying, “Ah, it’s too late; why couldn’t He have just gotten here on time. It’s too late for our little girl.” I can imagine people in our nation today saying, “It’s too late: we don’t have a shelter here in Bellevue. It’s too late: families are being separated at the border. It’s too late: we had another shooting just this week. It’s too late: when will Jesus show up?” And I can imagine Jesus saying to us, “But do not fear; I am on the way.”
I believe that a critical reading of today’s Scripture invites us, as Jesus invited Jairus, to look at our privilege. He said to the privileged one, “I’ve got you covered; let me take care of this woman at the border. Let me take care of this woman who is separated from her family, from her friends, from her community, likely even her faith community. Hold on, I’ve got this. Let me take care of this woman at the margin.” Jesus wants us to know that what lies ahead will be managed by Him, but we will be empowered to reach out and touch His cloak. Jesus is counting on us to not jump to conclusions and say, “All is lost; there’s no hope.
So the questions which arise out of today’s Scripture are: What will our approach be? Will we wait on the touch of Jesus as Jairus did? Or will we push through the crowd and make ourselves available for Him? Will we use our privilege and step aside and make room for the woman who has had to enter from the back to come and touch the cloak of Jesus? Which situation will you respond to today? Will it be the children and families at the border? Will it be the men, women and children here in Bellevue? Perhaps it will be someone right here in our faith community. Perhaps you will write a note card, make a phone call, in some way interact with a political leader in our nation to make a way for a better world.
My prayer today is that whatever you choose, and you do have a choice, recognize the gift we have in faith. The choice is embodied in each of the empty seats we see in the sanctuary. I urge you to choose one, decide upon your approach, and sit. Amen.
Our Scripture for today reminds us to have faith, to exercise our faith and to be willing to emerge from a crowd. It seems fitting that on this communion Sunday we will have the opportunity to do just that, to come to this open table, whether we’re waiting on the touch, whether we’re making ourselves available for the touch, or even wailing that the touch has not come soon enough. Jesus only asks that we take the bread and cup in remembrance of him. At the Last Supper, Jesus asked the disciples to eat the bread and drink from the cup of the new covenant, to do so in remembrance of Him.
For on the night He was betrayed, He took the bread, He gave thanks for it, He broke it and He gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and eat; this is My body, broken for you. And as often as you eat of it, do so in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way, Jesus took the cup, He blessed it, He gave thanks for it to His Abba and He gave it to His disciples saying, “Take and drink; this is the cup of the new covenant, sealed in My blood and as often as you drink of it, do so in remembrance of Me.”
And so, my invitation to you and this faith community’s invitation to you today is to say, however you come to this table, come in response to Jesus’ request that He be remembered. Jesus might ask you to let go of your fear and only believe. He might ask you to identify yourself. He might gently ask that you rise up. But no matter whatever your response is today, as you eat the bread and drink of this cup it will be the exercising of your faith, no matter where you are on faith’s journey.
Ministering to you with the bread and the cup, I present these elements to you in the name of Jesus.
Be in a spirit of prayer. Lord, we thank you for this meal and for this open table. We thank you for your presence in our lives and in the life of this faith community. Let us be fed by these elements, let us bring honor to you as we remember you. In Jesus name I ask these things. Amen.
© Copyright. Patty Ebner. 2018. All rights reserved.