A Sermon by Eleanor Childs, Lay Reader
24 July 2016 Evensong
Mark 5 v 21 – end
Our gospel reading this evening recounts 2 miracles of Jesus which are probably very well known to most of us. Certainly so if you ever went to Sunday School. The healing of the Woman with an issue of blood and the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter. And the two events are interwoven.
Let’s just put ourselves in the picture: Jesus has just landed at the lakeside (we know it as the Sea of Galilee.) He’s a celebrity because of his healings and teachings so a crowd gathers round him as soon as he steps off the boat. Then a religious leader approaches him. A ruler of the synagogue, a man of standing in the community. A lot of religious leaders gave Jesus a very hard time , but this one is very humble: he falls at Jesus feet and, it says, ‘he earnestly pleaded “My daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”’ This is a desperate man who has thrown discretion to the winds. He doesn’t care what people think and however much the synagogue leaders criticised and rejected Jesus, Jairus believes that Jesus has power to heal. He doesn’t beat about the bush, he doesn’t try and impress Jesus with his credentials, he doesn’t offer him anything, he hasn’t merely sent a messenger, he has come in person and he just throws himself on Jesus’ mercy and compassion. And Jesus of course responds and goes with him.
On the way the crowd are jostling him probably hoping for some drama or a miracle. This chap is a big name. There are all kinds of stories circulating about the miracles has done and they’re not going to let him out of their sight. They’re going with him! And on the way a woman who has been ill for 12 years, who has spent everything she had on medical treatment but only got worse, comes up behind him, certain that if she merely touches the hem of his robe she will be healed. And she is. Immediately, and she knows it. And the interesting thing is that Jesus knows it too. It says he ‘realised that power had gone out from him.’ And he turns and asks ‘Who touched me?’ Now Jesus is surrounded by the crowds all jostling him, so it might seem a rather daft question, as his disciples are not slow to point out to him. But Jesus always responds to faith and he can detect that someone with faith has touched him. He asks for the person. Now we need to know in that culture, an issue of blood made a person unclean and they had to stay away from people, for anyone who contacted them would be ceremonially unclean too. They couldn’t go to the temple or have fellowship with friends. That was Jewish law, which of course had been given originally for hygiene reasons, to prevent the spread of infection. She should not have been in that crowd in the first place. But like Jairus it was her desperation and her hope of healing that brought her to Jesus.
It it certainly wasn’t easy for her. She may have feared the anger of strict Pharisees who would regard her presence as contaminating. She may have feared as a woman to speak out publicly in a crowd of probably mostly men, especially about such an embarrassing subject. She fell at his feet trembling and fearful. I don’t think she would have feared Jesus. She would have known from the grapevine that he reached out to people who were on the margins of society – beggars, lepers, tax collectors. And she knows she is healed. It says, ‘the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and trembling with fear, told him the whole truth.’ It may have felt humiliating and scary but how psychologically healing for her! She owned the whole truth of her pain and her healing. If there are any psychologists here they will know that owning the truth, the whole truth, of hurt, or pain, or bitterness or sin is vital to healing and recovery. But it takes a lot of courage.But it takes a lot of courage.
Jesus called her out too because he wanted to complete her healing by setting her on her feet publicly and affirming what had happened. He, a famous rabbi, on the way to heal an important man’s child, stopped and had time for her, a mere woman, and treated her with respect so that she might know she was accepted and of value. He would have known the isolation she had suffered over the years. And in that time and society people often viewed suffering as punishment for sin so she would have been viewed very negatively. He is healing more than her physical illness. He is healing her self-esteem and restoring her to her community.
And he is also lifting her faith to a new level. She has touched his robe and been healed. It would be easy for her faith to degenerate into a kind of belief that touching his clothes can work magic. Jesus wants personal contact with her and points out that her trust in him has brought her peace. Above all, God wants us to relate to him in trust. The risk with miracles, as Jesus well knew was that people can view them like magic and be wowed, yet miss the fact that they point to a God who loves us and desires relationship with us. He affirmed and developed her trust in God by speaking to her face to face. And I imagine too that there was a message for the crowd in this. Many were following him and jostling him, but only she reached out to him in faith to meet her need. Only she received his gift of healing.
I think it was wonderful that on the way to help a religious leader – a male – Jesus takes time out to heal a woman, a second class citizen in that society, or even a 10th class one due to her embarrassing disease. People sometimes blame Christianity for its paternalism, its male dominated bias over the centuries, but there is no hint of this with Jesus. Quite the reverse, he flaunted convention by treating women as equals and with great respect. It is the church which has departed from his example and commands or has twisted them to support injustices or inqualities over the centuries. Jesus had time and compassion for a nameless, suffering woman on the way to Jairus’ house.
It must have been hard for Jairus to cope with this distraction en route for every minute counts. And, oh dear, as Jesus is talking to the woman, people come to Jairus with the news that his daughter is dead. ‘Why bother the teacher any more?’ they ask. Fortunately, Jesus overhears them and sensing the fear and anguish that grips Jairus, says, ‘Don’t be afraid, just believe!’ Trust me, is what he is saying. And then he dismisses the crowd. It says, ‘he did not let anyone follow him except Peter and James and John.’ Jesus may have been gentle and loving but he had amazing authority. He gets rid of the crowd. Why? A resurrection such as he was going to perform would surely have enhanced his standing and caused many people to believe in him. Well, would it? Would they really want to follow him and live by his standards? Jesus refused to perform miracles to convince sceptics. He performed them where faith was present and to point those with open minds to God. He knew and knows that people are always wowed by power and often want to harness it for their own ends. You remember after the miracle of feeding the 5000, the crowd wanted to take Jesus and make him a king by force, and Jesus withdrew from them. Jesus did not intend to be treated like a magic show, or to be the god people wanted to promote their agendas.
When the mourners at Jairus’ house laughed at him, he put them out too. He took only his 3 disciples and the child’s parents into the sick room, because he wanted an environment of faith and trust in which to speak his words of life. He didn’t do his miracles to amaze the crowds or get a following but to respond to faith and humility and to demonstrate God’s great love and compassion. If you look at the miracles of healing recorded in Scripture you find that very often they are a response to desperation, humility and trust. Of course many of them too were signs of who he is, the son of God, but these were often only visible to the eyes of faith. When he raised Lazarus from the dead, after 4 days in the tomb, it didn’t convince the Pharisees of his identity, but only of a threat to their power base and the urgency of having him eliminated. It didn’t inspire faith in them for he was definitely not the god they wanted, the god who would forward their power-hungry agenda. So Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead in private, and gave the parents strict orders not to let anyone know about it.
In this account of two very different miracles which demonstrate Jesus’ power over illness and over death, there are many contrasts. One person is a man of standing, the other is an anonymous woman with an embarassing illness. One comes to Jesus publicly and asks Jesus openly to meet his need, one creeps up to him in private. The one who came in private is called on to acknowledge her healing publicly, the other, who came publicly is told not to tell anyone. But there is one common denominator: both come to Jesus in desperation, humility and trust. Jesus affirms the woman’s faith and encourages that of Jairus.
You know, for many people, including many church-goers, faith has come to mean believing certain things about God. But that is not faith, that is just mental assent to a set of propositions. Sometimes we need to be desperate about our lives or situations or the world before we throw ourselves on God and own our helplessness to save ourselves or anyone else. There is a world of difference between believing facts about God and trusting him with our lives.The faith that God is looking for and to which he responds is a humble, childlike trust that depends utterly on him. A relationship with a child cannot develop or help him or her grow if they have no basic trust in the adult. God is the ultimate good parent who longs to bless us, to help us on our life’s journey and who longs to see us look to him in humility and trust, as Jairus and the nameless woman did. We have nothing to fear and everything to receive when we do so.