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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 28, 2015

I am desperate. I hurt so badly and I want to be healed. When I get up from a chair to walk, my left leg gets sharp, shooting pain. When I walk, the leg is dull and achy. I am vulnerable. I can’t do anything about my hip. The osteoarthritis that comes with being human – and especially it seems in my family – is stronger than I am. I can’t overcome it and I need help. Tuesday, I will get help when the doctor replaces my hip. I can’t imagine what it must have been like years ago when there was no treatment for this ailment and many others like it. I understand, if only a little, what Jairus and the unnamed woman felt. Vulnerability and desperation.

Jairus and the woman both seek Jesus out. Jairus comes out to find Jesus and falls down at his feet and begs for help. These actions are particularly noticeable because Jairus is a leading citizen of the community, the leader of the synagogue. By and large the religious leaders did not like Jesus, but when you are desperate because your little girl is dying, you’ll do anything, even fall at the feet of a traveling teacher that just might help when all other avenues have been exhausted.

The woman is given no name. We don’t know anything about her except that she has had a blood flow for 12 years. She has been to every doctor she can find and none can help her. Her money is gone and now she is poor as well as ritually unclean. But the woman perseveres. There is this rabbi she has heard about. She is sure that if she only can touch his clothes, she will be healed. So she sneaks through the crowd and approaches him from behind.

Mark interweaves these stories because he wants to show us how Jesus’ healings are and what they show about Jesus. First, Jesus’ healings show who Jesus is. He is God’s Son. Through his absolute obedience to his Father, God gives him the power to provide healing for the people (Mark D.W. Edington). It is God’s intention that God’s people be healed and whole, and through the Incarnation, God has found a way to make this happen on earth. Jesus represents God’s will for the world.

Jesus’ healings show the compassion of God for all of God’s people. When the woman touches Jesus’ clothes, he becomes ritually unclean. When he touches the dead girl, he becomes ritually unclean. This happens several other times in Mark. Jesus is more concerned with helping people than he is with following the religious rules. He does not censure the woman for touching him without permission and he tells her parents to give the newly awakened girl something to eat. He has compassionate concern for the whole person, not only the spiritual side but the physical side as well.

Jesus’ healing shows us one person is just as important as another. He heals two women, who did not have much standing in society. On his way to Jairus’ house he stops to find the woman who touched him and hear her story. Jairus must wait for this occasion to take place. The woman with no name, the social and religious outcast, is just as important as the daughter of a socially prominent man. And the little girl, a child also with no standing in this patriarchal community, is healed by Jesus’ touch as well.

Jesus’ healing is not just physical. The woman and the girl are healed physically, yes, but they are also healed in other ways. The woman is restored to society. She can become part of the community again. She is also paid attention to by Jesus, an action sure to make her feel loved and cared for. Jesus tells her that her faith has saved her, in other words, more than just healed her. It has made her whole, so she can go in peace. The little girl, like Lazarus, only has a temporary reprieve from death, but she knows that God’s power is stronger than death, putting her in a different spiritual space than those who don’t know that. She too is restored to her family and to society.

Jesus’ healing is about relationship. Jesus can heal from a distance but he usually heals by touch, becoming more intimate with those he heals. That is why Jesus tries to find out who has touched him. He is not angry; he just wants to establish a connection with the person he heals. The woman could have gone on out of the crowd, but she is afraid that Jesus will somehow find her. She comes to him in fear and trembling, expecting to be chastised, but finding a warm welcome from the teacher. Jesus makes the connection with her he wants to make and sends her on her way. Jesus’ relationship with Jairus starts when he responds to Jairus’ petitions not with words, but with the action of following him home. It continues as the people come to tell him his daughter has died and Jesus asks Jairus to trust while they go to his house. Then he establishes relationship with the little girl he heals, taking her by the hand and telling her to get up. Part of the healing of the Son of God is to establish connections with those who need healing and those who are asking on behalf of others.

Finally, Jesus’ healing is about faith. The woman had faith that Jesus could heal her and he did. When Jesus finds her, he stresses her faith; that it is this quality that has made her well (or that has saved her). When the people from the Jairus’ house come to tell him that his daughter has died, he tells the synagogue leader not to fear but to believe. He does have faith, and his daughter is healed.

Who of us has never experienced the desire to be healed, whether we have gone through a long fruitless process as the woman did or find ourselves in a crisis situation, as Jairus did with his daughter? I have heard about two healings recently that have truly been miraculous. My friend Carol is recovering well from a nearly-always fatal disease because of dedicated work of doctors and nurses and the power of prayer. There are some things she still can’t do, but she is almost back to normal life and no one who watched her healing regards it as anything less than a miracle of God through faith and science. My friend Karen’s sister-in-law Nancy was suddenly set upon by a flesh-eating bacteria when they were on vacation and rushed to the hospital in Charlottesville. She has had numerous surgeries and once again numerous prayers. She will make it, though this too is an often fatal disease. There is tremendous gratitude for these healings among Carol and Nancy’s friends and family.

But sometimes we and are loved ones are not healed, and that is so hard to bear. We may come to acceptance of the disease; we may experience God in a way that lets us know God’s power over death, but we they do not get well. My cousin Joan went to a healing service about a month before she died. I didn’t talk to her enough after that to know what she felt, but I have to believe she was comforted in her trials and blessed by the contact with God, symbolized by the priest’s anointing.

Contact with God. That is a risk we must take as we seek God’s healing. We must be prepared for a deeper relationship with Jesus than we perhaps want in our lives. Jesus wants us to reach out and touch him and he wants to reach out and touch us. The intimacy of healing, saving touch gives Jesus a bigger claim on our lives than before and it may be a little scary, as it was for the woman. But Jesus wants only to bolster our sometimes shaky faith and tell us how beloved we are by God. He wants to make a connection with us that deepens into a relationship that can sustain us through good times and bad. How close can we come to Jesus? It depends on how vulnerable and how desperate we allow ourselves to be because whether we try to hide it or not, that is part of our humanity. Risk being healed. Risk reaching out for Jesus’ hand and know that he will take it in his and give us the saving grace we so much need.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited:
Mark D.W. Edington, Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 3, Theological Perspective (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), p. 192.