Jesus is Lord over sickness, the elements and death. I have really enjoyed the past few weeks we've spent in Mark's gospel. This past Sunday, 6/28, the text was Mark 5:21-43.
This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy's and St. Mark's.
Are you hungry? Is your stomach rumbling and you can hardly wait for coffee hour with all its goodies to begin? In today's gospel, Mark serves up another of his Markan sandwiches. The two stories which compose the bread and meat of this sandwich have a number of similarities and a few differences; complementing each other and providing commentary for each other.
The first slice of bread is Jesus being approached by an important man named Jairus. He wants Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Jairus was a religious leader who could have been at odds with Jesus. Instead, he turns to Jesus, risking the health of his daughter and his own relationship with other religious leaders. Jairus was likely a man of wealth as well as being a man of position.
Jesus responded to Jairus' need and started walking home with him. Then something happened. This is the meat part of Mark's sandwich. A woman enters the scene with a mantra she kept saying to herself as she was trying to approach Jesus. "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." Her faith was active and she was willing to take a chance. What did she have to lose?
The woman was unclean and was thereby an outcast. For the ancient Hebrews, uncleanness was considered infectious. One could become unclean by coming into contact with any unclean person or thing. for the Hebrews, anything unclean meant certain animals, foods, diseases, body fluids and dead things. One became unclean by touching such things. Anyone or anything you touched became unclean as well. Sometimes when we see something disgusting, we say, "Ugh!" Parents may add, "Don't touch that!" You may be walking in the woods and see droppings on the ground. You say, "Ugh!" and try to avoid stepping in it. You certainly don't want to touch such things. There are some icky things in the world we just want to avoid."Ugh! Don't touch them!"
Being unclean was the opposite of being holy. This excluded you from worshipping in the temple. You had to go through a rite of purification and cleansing to be restored to society and the presence of God. Unclean does not mean dirty, like a 2 year old playing in the mud, but is more like a "dirty old man."
The woman was crossing a boundary by going through a crowd which would make anyone she accidentally touched unclean as well. The woman keeps on until she reaches Jesus' cloak.
Jesus is interrupted by this undesirable woman's touch of his clothes or is he? For Jesus, people were not interruptions. Jesus did not make up some excuse as to why he could not help this woman just then. We don't hear Jesus say, "I've been called away to a life or death emergency" (which he had been).
Instead, Jesus persistently worked to find out who it was who touched him. The woman was equally persistent in reaching Jesus. This woman wants a cure, however, Jesus wants a personal encounter. There is no anonymous sneaking a feel for healing. Jesus does not just quickly heal her and run off to Jairus' house. In the kingdom of God, miracles lead to meetings. In a way the woman may not have realized the desire for healing and wholeness is the desire for meeting with Jesus. The woman has an encounter with Jesus and her life would never be the same. No longer an outcast nobody, Jesus tenderly calls her "daughter." Not only does Jesus restore her physical health, but he changes her situation in such a way that she is restored to an active role in her community. She's family now, one who belongs to Jesus and to her community of Israel, the people of God.
Jesus is always turning things upside down. He does not become unclean by coming into contact with unclean people. Jesus' holiness transforms uncleanness into cleanness and wholeness.
Jesus had a dilemma to contend with. Both requests for healing were urgent. Either Jesus keeps his promise to Jairus or he stops to heal this woman. Jesus is also facing a potentially dangerous situation--from being crushed by the crowd and being infected with ritual uncleanness. He either helps an important person of rank and power who could help Jesus further his ministry or Jesus can help someone who has no resources to offer Jesus whatsoever.
Before Jesus is completely finished with the formerly unclean woman and before he can get back to Jairus' concern, it's already too late for the little girl. People came from Jairus' house with the news that his daughter is dead. "Why trouble the the teacher any further? But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the [Jairus], 'Do not fear, only believe" (v. 36 ).
At the same time, one person's hopes have soared while another's have been dashed to pieces. One has been claimed as a daughter, while another's daughter has died. Jesus' response of "Do not fear, only believe" (v. 36), is better translated, "Stop being afraid. Go on living by faith." The present tense verbs call attention to the transforming power of Jesus' word to change lives from fear to trust, a transformation in which the prospect of life and salvation now appears in a whole new dimension.
The second slice of bread in our Markan sandwich is when Jairus and Jesus finally make it to Jairus' house. They could hear the commotion from a distance as they approached the house. People were wailing and crying as is typical of Middle Eastern mourners.
The girl was dead and the mourners laughed at Jesus when he came to visit. They thought he was crazy to take time to see the girl. Didn't Jesus know It was too late for Jairus' daughter? What if Jesus had gotten there earlier and hadn't been delayed by the woman who was hemorrhaging? Jesus did not wring his hands, lamenting the fact that he had not gotten there earlier. Jesus saw this situation as another opportunity to transform the lives of the people he met.
Since the girl had died, Jesus was able to perform an even greater miracle. Only God can do that, so Jesus, God in the flesh heals the girl, raising her to life and makes sure she gets something to eat.
In both of these healings, we see the role faith plays. Jesus told the woman that her faith made her well (v. 34) and Jairus was told to go on living by faith. There is no magical power of healing in faith itself. It is God who is present in Jesus who heals. On the basis of these stories, no one who is sick and prays for healing and does not receive it should think that it's because they don't have enough faith; in spite of what those who falsely teach that you can have whatever you want from God, that you can demand healing from God because of what Jesus did on the cross. These are the kind of prosperity teachers who lay the blame for sickness on the sick because they didn't have enough faith. Is that what you hear from Jesus in today's gospel or anywhere else in scripture?
God is telling each of us to allow God to transform us so that God can use us to transform others.
In the face of Jesus' power, there are no either/or propositions. Jesus' power is enough to provide new life for both Jairus' daughter and the poor woman. How often do we assume that God's power is not enough to bring life out of the seemingly impossible choices we have to make?
God is challenging us to open up the so-called interruptions and hard choices of our lives to Jesus' power. After all, he is Lord over nature, over sickness and over death. Perhaps the interruptions we face are God-incidents.
As a church, do we see interruptions and intrusions upon our time as always bad? In the gospels, Jesus was continually interrupted. We have those days where we have in mind what we will accomplish, then it all gets turned upside down. It can be challenging for us as a church to prioritize procedures, processes and ministries. When do we allow mission to interrupt our work? What are the ways we allow our work to interrupt mission?
These are not questions that only apply to pastors and others in "professional ministry." These are questions that each of us as children of God and as the church have to face. None of us is the church by ourselves. We are the body of Christ, the church together.
Don't be afraid to reach out to others with the love of Christ, with the story of Jesus and how your life has been changed. Believe that God is able to work through each one of us, not just the pastor.
Jesus' behavior with unsavory, unclean people was shocking for his time.. What everything points to throughout the gospels is who Jesus is and what does that mean for us. That was the case in Jesus' time, throughout church history and today as well. Is Jesus simply a healer who makes us feel better or is he the Lord or heaven and earth, the faithful, all present, all powerful savior of us all? Let the way we respond to interruptions to the sick, the unclean, the unhealthy, the unwanted be shocking to our community and to the world.
James Boyce, http://workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2471
Fred B. Craddock, M. Eugene Boring, The People's New Testament Commentary, Kindle Edition.
New English Translation notes
Marion Soards, Thomas Dozemen & Kendall McCabe, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary
Brian Stoffregen, http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/index.htm