Scripture Lesson: Mark 5:21–43
Do you ever have one of those days where you can’t get a moment’s rest? One thing happens after another and a million things are competing for your attention. You can’t get a moment to catch your breath. All the while, you feel like you’re getting nothing done. The story we hear about Jesus’s healing ministry today describes one of those kind of days. As soon as he arrives back at shore a great crowd surrounds him and competes for his attention. Whatever well-crafted plans Jesus may have had for that day, they were immediately cast aside as a leader of the synagogue is in desperate need of help.
His little girl is about to die.
But Jairus knows about this faith healer named Jesus, one who answers prayers and makes miracles happen. He begs Jesus, come, make her well!
Jesus follows him for a while, but before he gets to the bed of the dying girl, he’s interrupted again. A woman who has been afflicted with a blood disorder for twelve years pushes her way through the crowd. Jesus is trying to hurry on to Jairus’s house, but the crowd is pushing up against Jesus and slowing him down. This woman too had heard about Jesus the one who makes people well. She knew all too well about physicians who would take her money and do nothing for her. She felt isolated from her faith community, as she has been deemed ritually unclean—unable to take part in temple worship—for twelve years.
We see in this story, only a few verses in, the phenomenal need of the world. Little children are dying. Women are suffering without adequate healthcare. Throngs of people are desperate for attention, searching for meaning, searching out some sign of hope.
This kind of story resonates with anyone who is in a caring profession. There is so much need and so few resources. Sometimes we feel like there is nothing we can do. As a pastor, people often call or come around the church in need of something. I hear and am attentive to so many needs. People come looking for answers or support and often they need more than I can give. I don’t have any superpowers. There are people in our community who are in need of healing, and the doctors do all that they can. We do all we can to pray. There are people who suffer on the fringes of the church community, who feel unwelcome in worship, and are desperate for healing from something that stigmatizes them—addiction, mental illness, questions of identity, mistakes in their past, bad experiences with the church… I do all I can to point them in the right direction, to show them that the church can be a place of healing.
But the characters in this story know where to find healing.
Jesus. There’s just something about that name.
He’s the master of the waters of creation. He’s the great vine-grower who is planting and caring for the kingdom of God. And, oh yes, he’s the healer.
The woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years touches his cloak. And immediately, the bleeding stops.
Jesus, knowing that power had left him, turns to find the one who touched his clothes and got a healing without petition.
She was afraid, but she admitted what she had done.
Not only had she delayed Jesus on his way to heal a dying girl, it was presumed in those days that a healer’s power was limited. Like a stamina bar in video games—once the power is gone, it takes some time for the power bar to fill back up.
But Jesus isn’t worried about it. Rather, he’s impressed in the woman’s faith.
She had faith that touching Jesus would heal her. She fought through the crowd and reached out to Jesus in faith.
Meanwhile, at the home of the synagogue leader, his daughter has died. Jesus evidently took too long to get there. The hemorrhaging woman’s healing had come at great cost.
“Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”
They knew Jesus was the one with the power, but remember: they think it’s limited. It’s too late.
When people come to a pastor or a doctor in a crisis of need sometimes it’s too late. Sometimes the comfort that can be offered is insufficient. All you can say is, “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more. I’m sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me the most.”
Jesus says, “do not fear, only believe.”
Now, Jesus separates from the crowd. It’s time for a more personal ministry. Only the inner circle—Peter, James and John—are allowed to continue. Others would have doubted what would happen next, or they would tell others and the demand for Jesus’s services would be too high.
Indeed, when he gets to Jairus’s house, the mourning rites have already started. They’re not ready for what is about to happen.
Jesus tells them, “the child is not dead, but is sleeping.” The teacher repeats himself. Everyone knows the euphemism. “Sleeping” is the word you use with a child that has not yet come to grips with death. But “sleeping” also implies a temporary condition.
“Stop, teacher,” they must have thought. “You’re embarrassing yourself.”
All they can do is laugh as they fight back tears.
They don’t yet understand who is on the scene. That the word who was at creation, the one who leads the way for God’s people, the one who embodies God’s very self in human flesh is on the scene. The true temple of worship.
This, again, isn’t the place for large crowds. The naysayers are asked to go outside for a moment. Their laughter is distracting and inappropriate.
It’s just Jesus, the father and mother, and three of the best disciples. And Jesus takes the dead girl’s hand. And Mark gives us the actual words of Jesus in his native language. The phrase in Aramaic is preserved, as if it itself holds some sort of power: “Talitha cum.”
“Little girl, get up!”
Immediately, the one who was dead is alive. The life that had been cut short can now grow into maturity and live the life she was born to live.
And, of course, she’s hungry and it’s time to eat.
No one else should know, Jesus says. Yeah right. Good luck with that. The crowds will continue to seek Jesus out.
When Jesus is on the scene, we learn quickly that the answer to the need—whatever it may be—is right at hand. All one must do is find Jesus and all will be well.
The characters in the story do everything they can to be seen by the great physician, the one who can really help them out of their situation.
Both Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman push the boundaries to get to Jesus. The synagogue leader, one who holds a high position in his community, gets on his knees to beg Jesus for assistance. But he doesn’t even know the fullness of Jesus’s power.
The woman seeks Jesus out, enters into a crowd even in her impurity, and pushes her way up to him so that she can reach out and touch him! She used up all the resources she had and she’s willing to reach out in faith because it’s her last, best shot.
Then there’s the people in the crowd. They initially try to get as close to Jesus as possible, but by the end of the story they’re laughing at him. They’re amazed, bewildered, and full of doubt.
Where do you find yourselves in the story? Do you come today, begging Jesus for what you need? Do you come close, willing to do whatever it takes, even if everyone is standing against you? Or are you in the crowd waiting to see what will happen, but ultimately laughing at the absurdity of the thing?
Whoever you are. Whatever you need. There is Jesus, the teacher, the healer, the one who lets himself be troubled by all who are in need.
Who is this Jesus? Well, he is the temple. He is the church. He is the place of our worship and the place where God’s presence dwells on earth. Jesus himself represents the place that the hemorrhaging woman could not enter. Her entrance to the temple would have defiled it, but when she touches his body, this temple un-defiles her. It restores her to wholeness. It stops the flow. It removes the barrier that prevented her from experiencing wholeness of life.
Jesus wasn’t the place of holiness that was so far away that it couldn’t be touched, like the Temple was with its holy of holies.
No, Jesus brought the spiritual access of the temple a step further.
He is the place of holiness so close that it could be touched. He is the locus of healing and wholeness. He is the embodiment of salvation.
We toss that word around all the time like we know what it means: salvation. Often, when we say it our definition is “salvation: the process of being saved so that we become an insider who associates with other saved people.” We ask people “are you saved?” Aka: are you part of the club? Do you know the forgiving love of Jesus?
Of course, it means all of that.
But what we may miss is that these stories in Mark 5 are also stories of salvation. No, there’s no talk of conversion. There’s no reference to the church. There’s not even an allusion to sin or forgiveness.
But every time we see “made well” in the English translation, we’re looking at the word sozo. Salvation.
Salvation isn’t just being saved from sin or ultimate death. Salvation is being saved from whatever keeps us at arms length from others, whatever is pulling us into the depths, whatever power is against us.
And yes, the church should be a place of this kind of salvation. Being made well. Being healed from what afflicts us.
It starts with being uncomfortably open about our needs. Begging Jesus. Entering the crowd when we would rather be hiding our problems at home. Even crying in the pew. It’s okay. Church is a place of salvation. Because not only is Jesus’s body the temple, but the church is Jesus’s body. It’s the place where for millennia, people knew they could come to experience the presence of Christ.
Here’s the problem. So many in our world today are separated from the healing power of Christ’s body. The church for them is a place of hurt. A place where they have been and will be judged. A place whose members are more likely to give out gospel tracts and make demands on others than offer them the means of real salvation power. It’s a place that peddles whatever “snake oil” is popular. You’ve seen the TV preachers. They either offer a smiling face that refuses to acknowledge bitter truths or someone who promises “if you just give us money and pray, your faith will make you well.” What a distortion of the good news of salvation.
Others offer accusations of sin when someone is suffering. “Jairus,” they say, “your daughter is suffering because of your sin or her own. Don’t trouble the teacher, go and repent!” Or they say to the hemorrhaging woman, “you have sinned and broken the purity code, you don’t deserve to be healed. Wait in line for your turn!”
Church, too often, is the place where damaging words are shared toward people of different abilities or statuses. How can we offer healing when we can’t even acknowledge the shared humanity of our neighbors in need?
Or, church is the place where people offer well meaning, but useless platitudes like, “God won’t give you more than you can handle” or “everything happens for a reason” or whatever word-vomit comes out of our mouths when we’re trying to show genuine care.
But look, here’s the problem.
People don’t know where to go for the real Jesus.
The solution in our story was easy. JESUS, JESUS JESUS. There’s just something about that name… Go to him and be healed. Do whatever it takes. Push through the crowds.
But when so many people identify as his followers and continue to accuse and hurt and offer useless wisdom… people don’t know where to go. They don’t know who to trust. And so they don’t find the healing hands they need.
Healing in our world comes through a variety of avenues. There are many lifeboats out there. Doctors who diagnose and perform surgeries and tell you what you need to hear. They’re doing the work of Jesus, folks. There are friends who are real who meet practical needs, who offer a shoulder to cry on, who offer comfort and support and who expect nothing out of the one who suffers. There are social services and non-profits who assist in the fight, whatever disease or illness or stigma is being fought.
Whether they know it or not, these people are doing the work of Jesus. Wherever there are healing hands, wherever there is comfort and healing… Jesus is there. And oh-I-hope the church is there too.
Look, we can’t all live our lives like Jesus did, wandering from place to place and caring for everyone we find. We have obligations! Family! Jobs!
But what if we were all a little more open to allowing the spirit to guide us where we are needed, like Jesus was. What if we really went into the world as the body of Christ, healing the sick, bringing relief to those in bondage, crying with people who are suffering instead of hurling accusations at them gosh-darn-it.
We know the healing power of Jesus. We know where to find the savior. Thank God he can do so much more than we can. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.”
But we can be there. We can offer support. We can give the gift of time and support in long-suffering. We can go to the places where Jesus went and would go.
And when the time is right, when they have seen something of the power of God, when they become hungry for more of God’s presence…
We can invite them back. We can show them to the table of grace.
It’s God’s table—not yours or mine. It’s God’s church—not yours or mine.
It’s a place of grace, love, peace, hope, and joy.
Come! Let us trouble our teacher for some food. Come to the table of grace!
|Image Credit: “Talitha Cum”, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55111 [retrieved July 3, 2018]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/feargal/5096153455/.|