Mark 5: 21 – 43
Jesus said, “Do not fear. Only believe.”
Earlier this week, I came across two stories. The first one had to do with a man who, along with his wife, were fairly devout Christians and solid members of their church. The man had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which as you may be aware, causes the body to degenerate over a long period of time. Regardless of how great a doctor’s bedside manner happens to be, words cannot begin to describe the fear and anxiety that grips the heart and soul when someone receives news of having a terminal disease, and this couple was no different. Because of their faith, from the moment of his diagnosis, he and wife began praying for healing. Unfortunately, the man eventually died. However, when he was talking to a friend during the last years of his time in this life, he made a remarkable statement. “You know, I actually have been healed and delivered, but not in the way I prayed for. I have been set free from the fear and anxiety over Parkinson’s disease and from death itself.” The second one takes place in the 1980’s and is set in Romania. The Communist regime at the time set up orphanages where the children who lived there were cut off from the rest of society and lived in isolation. They received no love and in some cases no touch at all. When the iron curtain fell and the dictator’s abhorrent social policies were laid bare for all the world to see, it was discovered that in many cases, those who grew up in those conditions were physically human, but were missing part of their humanity. They could not speak, they could not relate to others and did not have the capacity to give or receive affection.
Today’s lesson gives us two accounts of healing miracles from the Gospel of Mark. Earlier in Mark, Jesus calmed a storm and delivered a man from affliction by a demon. Jesus has preached and taught in synagogues, has performed signs and wonders to herald the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God into the world. His reputation has proceeded him, so where ever he and his band of disciples go, they attracted a crowd, and this time is no different. On this occasion comes a man named Jairus, who one of the leaders of the synagogue, who was held in high regard by the community. His daughter has taken ill and is near to the point of death, and Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him to heal her. It was considered highly unusual for something like this to happen because Jairus was so well-regarded. Someone of such high regard might send a servant or family member to fetch Jesus, but Jairus publicly humbles himself and falls on his face for the sake of his daughter. He publicly confesses that he believes that Jesus has it within his power to make his daughter well, and Jesus agrees to go with him.
So the action picks up as Jairus leads Jesus, the disciples, and oh yes, the ever-present crowd on the way to his house. Along the way we are introduced to a woman who had been bleeding for a dozen years. No one, no doctor and no amount of prayer had been able to help her in all this time. What was worse, a woman during the bleeding part of the menstrual cycle was considered unclean, and would ritually defile anyone she came into contact with. But because the bleeding did not stop, she was outcast from the community. Everyone avoided her so that they would not become contaminated. The right and proper thing for her to do would be to call out to Jesus from a distance in the hopes he would pay attention, or get someone to intercede on her behalf. But in equal parts grit, determination and desperation, she sneaks up to Jesus, believing that if she just touches the hem of his garment, she will be made well. She, too, has confessed her faith in Jesus, but in a private manner. In many ways she is the opposite of Jairus as she is impure, absolutely vulnerable and certainly neither right nor proper. When she touches his clothes, the most remarkable thing happens. We are told that Jesus sensed that his power had gone out him as a result of this act, Jesus stops in his tracks and he asks, “Who touched me?” The disciples are naturally perplexed probably looked at Jesus as if he had two heads. “How can you say that?” they asked. “The entire town is pressed in around us as we go to Jairus’ house. No offense, Lord, but a better question might be, ‘who hasn’t touched you?’”
Jesus stopped and asked, “Who touched me?”
It is important to note that the woman was healed because she dared to approach Jesus and have the faith to reach out and touch him. Her body had been made whole, but the miracle of healing does not stop there. In reaction to this act of faith, Jesus does not just continue on but he seeks her out. The entire story STOPS just as Jesus himself STOPS when he knows that some divine power flowed out of him. The story will not move forward … until Jesus finds the one who was looking for him and he gets to know her.
Before Jesus’ attends to Jairus’ daughter, he attends to one outcast from society. Here we see that the needs of the vulnerable and the marginalized are addressed before before the needs of the respected and the powerful. Here we see that those who are on the fringes of society also have a rightful place in direct relationship with Jesus. Jesus is not bound by the law which forbids him from touching the woman, but he responds to her faith just as he responds to Jairus’ faith. But only does he accept the woman, he embraces her by calling her “daughter.” He calls her a child of God and breaks through her isolation from the community. The power that Jesus offers is not only that which cures physical ailments, but it brings wholeness and peace. It is a flash of intimacy which gives to her something that is very precious … a healing of the entire person: body and spirit.
The rest of the story resumes at its former pace as Jesus is led to Jairus’ house only to find that his daughter has died. Once again, Jesus ignores social convention and asks to be shown the body. Bringing with him only Peter, James and John, and the parents, Jesus touches the girl, takes her by the hand and tells her to get up. And she does. Stories of resurrection in the Bible are not new. A similar scene is found in the Old Testament where Elijah prays to God to bring back to life the son of the Widow of Zarephath. Here Jesus’ demonstrates his authority over death itself and instead of praying, directly tells her to get up.
Both of these stories have happy endings, but we all know too well that life is not like that at all. We are sad-fully, painfully aware that some of our most earnest prayers are not answered the way in which they are asked. It is very easy for me to stand up here and talk to you about miracles of healing and resurrection, but the reality is death and illness visits our community every day. Our cries and prayers are no less desperate than those of the woman and of Jairus. In this past week, one member of the community lost his father. And just one week ago, a mother and her two children died in a fire on Ramrod Key and the surviving sibling was taken to Miami for treatment.
The loss of a loved one is always tragic. In our grief and despair it is far too easy to isolate ourselves from those we love and who love us to the point where that same grief and despair begins to consume us. Cut off from our community, we may begin a cycle of self-destructive behaviour and we give in to our own despair, anxiety, and fear. We lose part of what makes us human, just like the children in Romania.
The Scottish Philosopher John McMurray once said, “I need you in order to be myself.” Someone who is enthralled to an addiction finds that they cannot even begin to get better and to recover until they are willing to step outside of themselves and accept the welcoming touch and the relationship of others. While their bodies have been changed to the point that they can no longer ingest those substances without quickly returning to a living death, they experience healing through a spiritual program and constant contact with each other so that they are no longer enthralled to cravings and hunger for what was killing them.
Life happens to us all, and it is only a matter of time before life comes knocking on our door. None of us go through this life without the experience of loss, and for myself, I know what it is like to lose almost everything: a job, retirement account, financial security, and even close friends. Sometimes, we may like awake at 3 in the morning not knowing what the next day will bring or how we can even begin to face it. We may say, “I can’t pay my mortgage, I can’t make my rent, I feel so alone and cold and afraid and sometimes I just feel as dead as a corpse.” But to this Jesus says, “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”
I am reminded of the a man who came to Jesus asking for his boy to be healed and all he could do was to cry out, “Lord I believe … help my unbelief!” which I have to think is the greatest declaration of genuine faith in all of Scripture. Faith … even a flawed, imperfect faith … is an integral part to healing and wholeness. When we cry out to Jesus and we reach out for him, even if our faith in him is imperfect, he stops, he comes looking for us and never ceases to search until he finds us and breaks through our isolation, our disease, our insanity and our uncertainty. We receive healing in the form of an awareness of the continuing and comforting presence of God … even when it seems all is lost. When we cling to the One who restores us and cast our every care upon him, he meets us right where we are in our sickness, our doubts, our despair and we are transformed by his love and grace and mercy from brokenness into wholeness.
The Good News I have for you today is that because of Jesus, while Disease and Death will remain with us, they are no longer the final answer. The Good News I have for you today is that if you read your Bible, you will find that every time Jesus meets someone who is dead, that dead person gets up and walks.