Albuquerque, New Mexico
Sunday June 28, 2009 Pentecost 8B
Preacher: Christopher McLaren
Text: Mark 5: 21-43, Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15: 2:23-24
Them: Life-giving presence
Jesus has been crisscrossing the Galilee shuttling between Gentile and Jewish territory. Now he has returned to Jewish territory among his own people the faithful of Israel. For those into numerology the text is full of the number 12 highlighting its Jewish audience. The woman with the hemorrhage has been suffering for 12 years. Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old. Jesus has 12 disciples following him and he has just returned to side of the lake where the 12 tribes of Israel call home.
Immediately upon his arrival Jesus encounters Jairus who is a church official, a leader of the Synagogue, a clergy-type. Jairus falls at Jesus’ feet when he finds him and begins to beg Jesus to come and heal his daughter (this of course is not typical behavior for a synagogue official). It is a tender and desperate scene, and evidently Jesus finds the man’s request as compelling, as many of us surely do, and begins to travel with him toward his beloved child. What is needed for me in the text is a little travel music, “Life is a highway I want ride it all night long.” You can insert your own music here.
In route to the little girl, Jesus is surrounded by the crowds that have come out to see him, to hear him, and to be healed by him. Things are chaotic as the crowd surges along trying to get a sighting of the famous rabbi pressing in on him. Hidden in the crowd is a desperate woman, who has been suffering, bleeding for 12 years. She has seen every specialist. She has tried the dead sea crystal healers, and the tribal medicine men. All of her life savings is gone on medical care (because she didn’t live in Canada or Sweden). Somehow this suffering desperate women she manages to get close enough to him to touch his clothing that she believes will heal her. How long has she imagined this scenario? Had she dreamed it the night before? Did the idea hit her like a lightening bolt from heaven, or had she been planning it for some time hoping against hope that this itinerant healer would come by her village?
In a spine-tingling way Jesus is, “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him.” Jesus stops his urgent travel begins to search for the one who had touched his clothing. Of course the 12 disciples are not a little incredulous. There are hundreds of people surging around them how can we be concerned about who touched you, “Who hasn’t touched you think the disciples.” “We don’t need a welcoming committee we need some crowd control around here,” the disciples mutter.
For the second time in this passage a person falls at the feet of Jesus. The woman full of the knowledge that her body is healed comes to Jesus. Trembling with joy and fear she allows her story to be told for perhaps the first time in all of its troubling and heartbreaking detail. Sometimes I wish we had that story. But you know all about this story don’t you. You’ve been there, or someone you love has. They’ve been to doctor after doctor, they’ve had this test and that test, embraced this treatment and that drug and still they suffer. She pours out her story, the failed medical history of a woman who has been ceremonially unclean and an outcast in her faith community (according to Levitical Law Lev. 15:25-30) for so long she can’t remember what it means to belong. Jesus looks at her, looks deep into her and speaks words that she had probably thought would never come, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” There is so much in these words spoken to this healed women. Jesus calls her daughter as if her were saying welcome back to the family. He affirms her part in this healing, your faith, your desire to be well, your dogged determinism not to give-in to the culture of death around you, not to be immobilized by hopelessness is part of your healing. Jesus speaks Shalom into her life, a rich and numinous word for wholeness and peace and the coming perfection of the world. Finally, Jesus reminds her that she is indeed well. Her life is about to change dramatically as newness breaks in.
The interruption of the woman has held Jesus up from getting to Jairus’ home and it is now too late. Servants from his house come bearing news of the child’s death and begin to call Jesus off the mission. But Jesus will have none of it, “Do not fear only believe,” is his guru-like advice to the fearful, the mourning, and to his clueless disciples, and to us.
Arriving at Jairus’ home it is all over. The weeping and wailing and commotion of the place tell the sad story. But Jesus has another take on the scene
"Why are you making such a fuss?" Jesus asked. “The child is not dead but sleeping.” The crowd of mourners turns nasty and begins mocking Jesus.
Taking with him only a select few, the parents and an inner circle of disciples, Jesus enters the house and goes to the child. As if it were time for school, Jesus touches the little girl, saying, "It's time to get up!" And she arose and walked out. All those in the house of death are astounded, jaws drop and hearts begin to open. Jesus orders them to keep this hush, as if anyone could and reminds them that this little girl is probably hungry.
This healing story is so astounding that we are tempted to discount it, to dismiss it. Things just don’t work like that very often. Yet at the same time we know deep in our souls that God does indeed heal. Perhaps it has happened to you or to someone you know. I have a friend who at a healing service watched her leg grow and her life-long limp disappear. I cannot count the number of times that people surrounded by prayer have returned to the surgeon or doctor only to find that the tumor isn’t there anymore, that the problem is no longer present.
But while miraculous healing does occur we also know that it is not the norm. Usually things are more pedestrian with us seeking sage medical advice and treatment. We know that often, painfully often, illness continues and faithful people, prayerful people die. We wish we understood the ways of God. We would like to be able to access the healing power of the divine in the just the way we desire it. Why don’t these miraculous healings happen more often? Why is God so random with his grace?
The stories of Jesus the healer in our sacred story make it clear that he did not heal everyone. Jesus was not a physician who set up a 24/7 clinic to rid 1st century Palestine of disease. I do not believe that the healing stories in the Bible are meant to be used in a way that make us feel inadequate in our faith if a miracle of healing does not a occur when we pray. However, I do believe that theses healing stories are meant to tell us something about God life-giving power at work in the world around us.
We all encounter friends and family who are in the grip of various forms of addiction. Recovery? Cure? Do you know the statistics on that sort of thing? Few get over their enslavement to the pills, or the bottle. Death is the order of the day.
We know people who continue to make such poor choices in their life that they seem hell bent on death themselves.
Some of us know what it means to be numb, asleep, dead to the world because we have had so much pain and loss in our life that we don’t know if we will ever really live again.
Some of us are surrounded by Job’s comforters: telling us that things are only getting worse, that cynicism is the only path that doesn’t lead to disappointment. That God is to blame.
What they mean is, you must adjust to death. What they and the world are trying to convince us of is that the culture of death will win. So when this desperate father presses in upon Jesus, when this poor, harried woman reaches toward Jesus, he responds by offering them new life, hope, a future. He doesn't say some magical incantation over their problem. He looks into the woman’s eyes and calls her daughter. He wakes the girl up for school and breakfast. He just shows up at the man's house, he just allows the woman to touch the hem of his garment.
For Jesus just showing up is enough. These stories of Jesus and his followers are proclaiming that wherever, there is a situation of death and defeat, there is the possibility of resurrection. When Jesus shows up, when the one “through whom all things were made” (John 1) arrives or is called upon, a culture of life invades. That is the good news.
These miraculous stories about healing are not just for two women long ago, they are for us. They are reminding us that even now, a culture of life is flowing around us in God, that even now the power of death can be undone by the author of life and our fumbling attempts at faith.
As the Wisdom for Solomon proclaimed to us today:
God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
True, he didn't raise every dying person, didn't heal everyone who was sick. Yet there is something about Jesus that is everlasting life. In him was life, and light, and it was and is for all.
It's for you too. I don't know, this summer day, where there is a shadow in your life. I don't know what dead end, or despair or what situation of enslavement you are dealing with. I do know that in God there is a culture of life to be found, that death has no chance in God’s life-giving presence. This is a hope worth falling at the feet of Jesus for not only long ago but for us today. Amen