Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2018
Year B, Proper 8: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
CLICK HERE to listen to the recorded sermon.
If any of you have watched someone you love became sicker while medical help is ineffective or have been struck in traffic when trying to get someone to the emergency room, you have some idea of how Jairus felt in the Gospel we hear today. His twelve-year-old daughter was ill. He could do nothing about it himself. A tragic situation for any parent. We can imagine the scene at home as he left his wife with their daughter, and rushed off for help in one last, desperate attempt to save her life.
I want to look at the Gospel story through the eyes of some of the adults involved – specifically Jairus and the woman who interrupted his mission to get help by seeking help for herself.
Why was it significant that Jairus was a synagogue leader? It meant he was a layman, with good knowledge of the Torah, the law, and a respected member of the local community. In Mark’s Gospel Jesus had already had two rather dramatic encounters in the synagogue, and if they didn’t take place in Jairus’ synagogue it is quite probable that he had heard about them. In the first episode, Jesus was confronted by a man with an unclean spirit who interrupted his teaching. Jesus cast out the unclean spirit in a noisy episode, leaving the man healed and everyone astounded. That evening people were brought to the house where Jesus was staying, and he healed them as well.
So, it is likely that Jairus knew that Jesus was able to heal, but also that Jesus was in some trouble with the religious authorities because of it. Jairus was on dangerous ground in asking for Jesus to come and help. But what really made matters worse for him, what put his standing on the line, was the fact that Jesus had just come from the other side of the Sea of Galilee – that was gentile territory. Jairus and his fellow Jews would have been horrified that Jesus had been to gentile territory, associating with a demon-possessed man. This would make Jesus unclean in their eyes.
Jairus is risking his reputation by going to Jesus for help. His love for his daughter wins out. He goes, falls at Jesus’ feet, and begs him to come and help. This is not what people would expect from their synagogue leader. But Jairus seems beyond caring about his reputation. He only knows that Jesus has healed people and believes that he can heal his daughter.
Suddenly, there is an interruption, and someone touches Jesus. Jesus stops and asks the seemingly ridiculous question given the large crowd, “Who touched me?”
Can you imagine Jairus’ frustration as precious time slips away? But Jesus persists, and so we have the story of the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage.
She has spent all she had on fruitless visits to doctors and has probably suffered a lot along the way. Anyone losing blood in this way is physically weak. Simple tasks take a lot more energy. This is in the day before iron tablets, and she had been like this for twelve years.
But in addition to the medical problems, she faces exclusion from what would be considered “normal” society. According to the law, a woman was unclean during her monthly cycle and the week thereafter. She was essentially cut off from society for the duration, since anything or anyone she touched became unclean. Then it or they had to be purified by bathing – in a culture where water was a precious commodity and not to be wasted on frequent washing. The fact that she pled her own cause with Jesus suggests that she had been pretty much abandoned, since it was unusual for women to seek help on their own. They were generally considered the property of husbands, fathers or sons.
According to the law, she made Jesus ritually unclean by touching him. No wonder she tried to escape quietly. She risked his wrath and that of the religious leaders and the rest of the crowd who might have touched her accidentally in the crush. This was potentially a very hostile situation. We do not know her by name, but Jesus did not let her get away with anonymity.
It was an act of bravery for her to own up to the fact that she had touched him. But in so doing, and in his response to her – “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease” – she knew herself to be accepted back into society. That, as much as the physical healing, was what she needed. She was restored as a whole person to human society.
Isn’t that what many people need? They often conceal physical needs or come with a much deeper need to be accepted in a society that creates outcasts.
Are any of us outcasts? Most of us, I think, have felt or like outcasts at some point in our lives. Even when we hear again and again that we are God’s beloved children.
God help the outcasts. A lovely song from a Disney movie, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. The movie, of course, is based upon a novel of the same name by Victor Hugo.
“Yes, I know I’m just an outcast. I shouldn’t speak to you. But still, I see your face and wonder. Were you once an outcast too?
God help the outcasts. Hungry from birth. Show them the mercy, they don’t find on earth.”
Mark emphasizes that Jesus is concerned to see that the woman has received that gift as much as the much-needed physical healing. That she is not an outcast.
The phrase “be made well” is actually “be saved”. The Greek word carries the meaning of restoration, making good, being released. Mark is using certain words and phrases in this story to describe the woman’s suffering that he uses elsewhere only to describe the suffering of Jesus. It is as though Mark wants to impress on his hearers that, although the details were different, Jesus in some way shared this woman’s suffering, that he knew what it was to be rejected as she was, to suffer shame and to suffer abuse. In a culture that saw women as far less important than men or even boys, Mark is making a radical statement. There are no outcasts in Jesus’ world.
Jesus calls her “my daughter”. A chapter earlier in Mark, Jesus tells the crowd that whoever does the will of God is his brother and sister and mother. Now he tells the woman in the hearing of the crowd that she is his daughter. Not only is she part of his family, in seeking healing, she has done the will of God. she is a determined and faithful woman whose tenacity is rewarded.
By this time,Jairus is probably very agitated. Time is short and Jesus has been delayed, and now he is ritually unclean. Then comes the message that his daughter is dead, so he shouldn’t bother Jesus anymore.
Jesus tells Jairus not to fear, but only to believe. And Jesus allows only a few close disciples to come with him. Jesus knows that Jairus needs to be in the company of people who do not discourage him.
These stories of two women that Mark intertwines – not only in the telling of the events but in the common link of twelve years – make a clear statement. However, discouraging our circumstances, however afraid we are, however much shame we feel, however shocked we think others might be, however long we have been seeking help, we can reach out and ask Jesus for help either for ourselves or for others.
If we are to reach out to others and invite them into church, telling them that they can turn to Jesus in any situation, then we need to make sure that we do so ourselves. Do we miss out on God’s care for us in our needs because we are too embarrassed at times by what our friends will think if we ask in public?
As we enter to worship and depart to serve today, I ask you to consider the outcasts of today’s world. People fleeing violence and famine, refugees seeking asylum not only in the United States but in countries throughout the world.
In Mark’s Gospel, we see God’s grace extended to all people. Jesus tells us to show mercy and compassion for each other, as Jesus showed to the unnamed woman, to Jairus and to Jairus’ daughter.
When the world seems to be falling apart and breaking away – remember that Christ binds us together with love and with healing.
We are embraced by Jesus’s compassion and love for us. And called to extend that same compassion and love to others.
The sermons are recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link above, but to access the library of audio files for recent sermons, CLICK HERE.