2 Cor 8:7-end; Mark 5:21-end
5th Sunday after Trinity
St Barbara’s; 1.07.18
A story within a story within a story…fame, despair, tragedy, faith, love. This is not the latest offering from the BBC’s Sunday night drama department but today’s epic Bible reading where we find Jesus and his healing power centre stage. This passage is of a story within a story is a writing device Mark uses here and again in Chapter 11, what Tom Wright calls a “Markian sandwich” where the flavour of the outer story adds zest to the inner layer” . In the verses immediately before the ones we have read this morning we have had the stilling of the storm on the lake, the healing of the man with a legion of demons and then after seeing Jesus master those 2 seemingly hopeless situations we are confronted with 2 more scenarios that to our eyes should seem as equally beyond hope.
The camera pans to Jesus and his disciples now crossing that same lake to arrive back at the shore in Capernaeum. Already a large crowd is gathered and pressing round Jesus (same word as weeds that grew and choked the seed in parable of sower). News of his miracles is widespread…people, excitement, the palpable tension of a crowd (akin to the scramble out of a stadium at the end of a football match or the scrum to enter a black Friday retail sale).
And now here comes Jairus, a synagogue leader who administrates and ensures the proper running of the local place of worship. Who would normally have been wise to maintain neutral about this radical teacher to avoid his synagogue facing scrutiny from Herod or the Roman’s. Now, ashen faced, desperate, trembling he fell at Jesus feet (in front of his synagogue goers, his community).
He had left his wife and desperately ill girl to seek Jesus. To leave his bedside vigil was a mark of being sure in whom he placed his hope, so devastated by what he saw as his daughter’s inevitable death that any “last ditch” roll of the die was worth a shot, after all Jesus had healed so many and even that man with demons so…He seems sure Jesus is worth a try, if anyone can do anything… The act of pleading and prostrating is his final petition, His “baby girl”, his only daughter (as we read in Luke). At 12 years old however in Jewish custom she was ready for marriage, adulthood but in his parental moment of petition we see this father give emotionally of himself, to do all he could to save her and to call on the healing name of Jesus. “My little daughter is dying, come, touch her so she will live”.
“So Jesus went with him”
Episode 2 opens with the crowd again pressing in, clamour, Jesus moving with Jairus towards his home to heal the precious daughter when enter stage left a woman.
For the 12 years the little girl had been alive she had been miserable, robbed of normal life because of her menstrual bleeding, menorrhagia. Leviticus 15 25-31 lays down the law, she was unclean as well as was anything or anyone she touched. 12 years not able to be part of her normal community, worship or relationships.
She shouldn’t have really been there, what with the bleeding, her un-cleanness making others unclean as she jostled with the crowd, elbowed, pushed, weaved through the gaps to get to Jesus.
12 years bleeding would have left her anaemic, pale, breathless, perhaps with heart failure and definitely with overwhelming fatigue. (Luke- the physician- misses out Marks comments about doctors but I’m happy to own it. At that time there were no cures and only a few tonics for her anaemia and period problem. With modern surgery hysterectomy appeared as dramatic but decisive cure in 1843 and only in the past few decades has been superseded by ablations and the Mirena coil.
No doctor could help this woman, she was desperate, perhaps in her communities eyes “beyond hope” but she knew hope was not gone as she placed her trust in Jesus, this carpenter’s son, this Galilean preacher with his odd band of disciples, this one in whom she saw something more powerful than anything she had perhaps dared to dream of.
Now maybe “not to make a fuss” or because of embarrassment or guilt about being out in public when unclean she came to Jesus from behind. Maybe she didn’t want to interrupt his journey to heal the dying girl with her comparatively trivial concerns, but fuelled by faith she pushed on and touched his cloak.
Immediately the bleeding stopped, she was free from suffering. When I read this it seemed like a physical “My chains fell off, my heart was free” moment. A foretaste of salvation.
Jesus simultaneously felt power leave him (word here is dynamism). We can only assume Jesus knew exactly who had touched him and what had happened but he doesn’t allow the woman to slope off, he calls her out, “who touched me?” Why? Not to further embarrass her or tell her off but to make this impersonal healing personal, born out of her relationship with Jesus. Not something others could tout as a magic trick of touching the “special cloak tassels” when she was later to recount it but to let her and the crowd know that her dogged faith not “a tasselled cloak” has facilitated her healing. By facing Jesus she was released from feeling she had stolen her healing in some grubby way. The physical, social revolution that the woman now experienced was born of faith in Jesus and pointed to his divinity. “Daughter, you faith has made you well”, be blessed, be free.
So episode 2 has not the high drama of a 12 year old in bed gasping for her last breath but a different daughter, woman, less sensational but equally as important to Jesus.
Sometimes with our prayers do we doubt the validity of our own needs compared with the needs of other and the world? Perhaps we can raise a wry smile when asked to pray for someone’s verruca on a backdrop of the Syrian war but this story points to Jesus’ intimate concern for each of us and while it may seem like a terribly British virtue “not to trouble God” is really placing limits on him, making him a little God in our own image if we think one more thing on God’s to-do list might tip him over the edge and send his spinning plates to the ground. Like any parent Jesus wants open and honest dialogue and belief like any child who knows a parent’s love, for us to have “certainty” that our father in heaven has time for us.
Episode 3…could be a quick one, get ready with the rolling credits as we pan back to Jairus walking beside Jesus and hear that “your daughter is dead, why bother the teacher anymore?” A bit cold but perhaps just pragmatic.
We can imaging the scene, Jairus crumples, folds in, indescribable, inconsolable desolation that I know some of you here this morning can well relate to.
Even solid faith buckles at times, the diagnosis of a cancer spread, the exam failed, again, the relationship broken to the point of separation, the empty wine bottle after years of being sober…”your daughter is dead, don’t bother the teacher”
But for crushed ebbing faith and dashed hope Jesus remains ever strong and ever present. He’s not about to let this devastated Jairus wander off alone. He knows our fears and our limits and goes with us beyond our fears.
“Don’t be afraid, just believe”
Echoes of the angel to Mary, to Mary Magdalene at the tomb, to Jairus and to us when our world is falling apart, “Don’t be afraid just believe.” Walk with me, Jesus is saying to Jairus, and I’ll do the rest.
So Jesus now in our final instalment refuses to leave Jairus but already unclean from touching the woman goes with him with a view to now touch a dead body, more uncleanness… On arrival at the house we find weeping and wailing. Jesus seems either insensitive or to be setting himself up for ridicule and tells them to stop, she is only sleeping. Perhaps Jesus here is seeing heaven’s perspective that death is a temporary state from which we will be restored when death is defeated and heaven and earth are remade.
Now we should pause for an advert break before the grand finale while we ponder Jesus taking only the child’s parents and a select few disciples to the girl’s room and after he raises her (oh spoiler alert) instructing them to tell no-one. Perhaps he only took a few to avoid having unbelief in the room (Mark 6v5) where doubt stems Jesus’ power. I believe he asks for secrecy because in the gospels we see timing is crucial as scriptures point to how Jesus would die in a certain time, in a certain way, in a certain place and the crowd in Capernaeum were already slightly giddy, this raising would be sensational, front page news locally then picked up by the Jerusalem Times bringing a demanding crowd wanting a traditional messiah and Roman fears of their overthrow. Jesus needed time to point to his divinity, to sow his kingdom values in his disciples, and now was not the time for capture, death or messianic enthronement.
Cue dramatic music, “Talitha Koum!” little girl get up. This is one of the few places (like in Ch14 in the garden) where Jesus’ words are recoded in his native tongue perhaps because this act so encapsulated the person and spirit of Jesus that translation may devalue or dilute what we have as his essence in the story.
Immediately he asks for food for her. She is well, restored to full health and in human form, able to eat, not a ghost.
There we have it – roll credits…
If we had to write a punchy review of this drama?
“2 women bound by illness, rescued, saved through faith and belief”
“God’s son-remaking Israel, humans and the world!
“Pushy faith or propped up faith, catalysts for God’s power”
Today we have seen a God who values pushy faith, has time for us, heals us, and allows us to intercede. Who carries us when we are beyond our endurance and who breaks through and works in the ordinary details of life. We see the start of the revolution, the signs of it are healing and power. We can use them as a signpost not the destination.
As we read on we see Jesus meet and defeat death itself and when that happens we are all invited to the party and no one is asked to stay quiet!