Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
It is hard to imagine Mark began only 4 chapters ago. Remember, in Mark there are no extended beginnings, no infant narratives or childhood experiences recorded for Jesus. Jesus springs to life for us full-grown with his appearance at the Jordan River being baptized by John. By today’s passage in the gospel, Jesus has been in the thick of several miraculous and challenging events.
The first chapter records community members already having witnessed Jesus teach in the synagogue with amazing authority, practice exorcism, and, as Mark records, “he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons” (1:34). Then, in the second chapter, two instances occur where Jesus lays claim to being the Son of Man. The first time this takes place Jesus is teaching and four friends of a cripple tear through the roof of the house, lower their crippled friend in, and Jesus forgives him his sin. Challenged by Elders indignant at his daring to do what God alone is authorized to do-which is to forgive sins, Jesus goes a step further and challenges them in return:
But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” (2:10-12)
The second time he refers to himself as the Son of Man, he defends his followers as they are picking heads of grain in the fields on a Sabbath on the way to the synagogue, which is unlawful to do according to the acceptable Jewish practices of the time. Pharisees again challenged his authority to allow this, and his answer was, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (2:27b-28)
Chapter three begins in the synagogue that night: a man with a withered hand is present. Remember Jesus is noted by this time for miraculous healing. Seeing hard-hearted Elders gathering around with disproving gazes waiting to see if he would heal on the Sabbath or not, Jesus throws down the gauntlet, so-to-speak: Jesus asks them,
Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (3:4-6).
In chapter 4 Jesus teaches several parables about the Kingdom of God, some to a great crowd, with some just to his disciples. We also have Jesus displaying power and authority over earthly elements with the calming the storm on Lake Galilee. After the healing of the demoniac near the Decapolis on the other side of Lake Galilee, finally Jesus again returns home to Capernaum, the location of today’s passage.
Today’s passage in chapter 5 is a double-whammy. I invite you to turn to Mark 5:21-43 and follow along as we examine it. Two stories of healing, one set with-in the other, offer interesting parallels and insights into the lives of people Jesus met and talked with, people who were impacted in a major way by the presence and ministry of Christ. Two stories, one with in the other, both concerning miracles of healing as well as overcoming adversity. Mark also discloses to us further insights into how the Kingdom of God is played out on earth.
We begin with Jairus, a man of prestige and standing. He is male, he is counted among the synagogue rulers; as such we can infer he is probably also well-off. Biblical scholar Paul J. Achtemeier reminds us that in the time of Jesus, the development of the synagogue as a physical gathering place was still forming; mostly as a community center for a group of Hebrews living far enough away from the Temple in Jerusalem to make it difficult to travel to it regularly. The synagogue, then, would be where they conducted their schools, studied the Torah and Talmudic commentaries, held community gatherings, housed visitors, and engaged in prayers and worship. The synagogue, which actually means “the assembly,” or “the gathering,” formed the center of Jewish community life. The leaders of these synagogues were considered community leaders, and were even recognized by civil authorities, which at this time were magistrates within the Roman Empire.
In coming to Jesus, Jairus lays aside his standing and authority in both the Jewish and Roman communities, recognizing in Jesus a higher authority at work. In a climate contesting who Jesus is and what right or authority he has and from where/whom it comes, this is a bold and potentially dangerous move for Jairus.
Have you ever been in a similar position? Knowing you might be endangering your standing because of your faith? Imagine, if you will, Jairus, pacing back and forth in the front room while the sounds of labored breathing comes from the back room where his daughter lays whimpering in pain.
“Lord, I have served you all these years in the synagogue, supervising liturgies and looking after this place of worship and learning. I have served so faithfully, so why now do you bring this upon me? My daughter is dying! There is nothing anyone can do. She is my life! My only child! What will I do? I have heard Jesus, the son of Joseph the Carpenter from Nazareth, who has been teaching here in my synagogue; he even performed a healing exorcism right in the midst of the assembly! He has been teaching a new way of life in your covenant. If only I might be bold enough to approach him despite the Romans and my brethren who disagree with his methods. But Lord, if all I’ve heard and seen is true, my talitha … he could heal her! His daughter calls out, “Ma ma….” That’s it. I will go and seek Jesus at the docks, he comes ashore there with his fisherman friends. I will even beg, regardless of what the others think!”
Obviously, what I just portrayed is not written in the scriptures. But this is: Jairus was moved to seek Jesus out. For Mark, and arguably for us, this story contains a theological movement. Is this not the beginning of true faith, of true salvation? Like Jairus, we approach Jesus with hope-maybe even expectation that he will act. And, also like Jairus, we who are already called must initiate further with God. We cannot sit back and expect things to happen to us; we must actively welcome God’s calling on our lives and seek to deepen our relationship.
In the text, Jairus goes and falls down at the feet of Jesus, and indeed begs him to come and heal his daughter. Jesus agrees to go to his house and see what can be done. But, they are interrupted by someone completely on the other side of the social standing than the synagogue ruler. A poor, broke, single (possibly widowed), ritually unclean woman seeks Jesus out, believing in her heart that if she just touches the hem of his cloak, she would be healed of twelve years of bleeding. Can you believe such faith? Mark is making this contrast for a purpose.
From all we know of the culture from which these stories came, women were second-class citizens; especially poor ones. If she had, indeed, “spent all she had,” as Mark tells us, she would have been counted among the poorest of the poor. She would have had no standing, and in addition to that would have been overlooked by any and all in the Jewish community for being ritually unclean by her flow of blood. She would not have been able to be approached, she would not have been allowed to come near to anyone else lest they themselves would become ritually unclean by association.
What a picture Mark paints! The up-standing synagogue ruler and the destitute hemorrhaging woman, two polar opposites of the socio-economic spectrum, yet they both turn to Christ. So what can we learn? The amazing proof of God’s love is this: Jesus responds to both their needs.
There is yet more to be learned from this passage, however. Jesus stops his errand for Jairus, the synagogue ruler, and seeks out the one who touched him and had such faith. When she comes forward in fear and trembling, realizing that she has indeed encountered the divine healing presence of Almighty God in Christ, he recognizes her!
Not only is the woman healed of her bleeding, but Jesus responds to her faith in him and gives her a new identity. “Daughter,” he says, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be freed from your suffering.” There are two additional lessons here. First, by way of our Native American brothers and sisters, we can understand this passage as a re-naming ceremony. Each of us, in a sense, when we accept Christ, also undergoes a re-naming ceremony and become, as the saying goes, born anew.
Not only is the woman healed after 12 years of bleeding, she is made completely new, and ever afterward is known not as the hemorrhaging woman, but as a Daughter of Christ. She has been claimed by Christ. For her, this is a powerful moment which unquestionably defines the rest of her life, a life of ritual purity, which means she can now be included in regular fellowship and worship in the synagogue, with her fellow Israelites as well as social and familial opportunities that before had been denied her.
This whole amazing episode happens as an interruption to Jairus’ plea! Here is yet another lesson-this is a hint as to the how the Kingdom works: Those who are most last in society are accepted into the Kingdom, even before those who may have excellent standing. That’s right, the last may be first and the first last.
There is even more that this interruption can teach us! Besides the extra-ordinary challenges the woman had to overcome to even reach Jesus in her ritually unclean condition, and the amount of faith she had in him as divine healer, there is this; Mark writes in verse 30, “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’” Jesus did not actually control this healing miracle; the faith of the woman controlled it, and indeed caused it to be; first by faith, then by action. That is a powerful witness!
What can we take from these stories for our context today; for us, here at First Presbyterian Church in Trout Lake, Washington? First, we must be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, both individually and corporately. Second, we must believe that in Jesus Christ, all things are possible. Third, when we approach Jesus, we should do so with the expectation – nay, the faith – that he will act. When we act and turn to him, Jesus will reciprocate by seeking relationship with us. Like both Jairus and the woman, we must initiate the movement. We cannot sit back and expect things to happen on their own. We must act out our belief, to “follow our faith.”
Let me leave you with this. During the time of the early church, there was much dissent as to who was a follower of Jesus and how they did it, and if they had to be Jewish or if they could be Gentiles and still be “Followers of the Way.” Mark crafted his recounting of the gospel of Jesus Christ at a churning, fermenting time in the history of western civilization and at a crossroads in the history of the Jewish faith, which became the beginning of ours.
For Mark’s community, and I submit for ours, the message is clear: as adopted sons and daughters of Christ, no matter what challenges or struggles we face today, we are called to hold strong to our faith, keeping Jesus present in all we say and do. May it be so; and may all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.