By the Rev. Darren Miner
Today’s Gospel reading is a complicated bit of storytelling. We get two separate healing stories in what can only be called a “narrative sandwich.” The reading begins with the story of Jairus’ daughter, switches to the story of the woman with a hemorrhage, then reverts back to the story of Jairus’ daughter. I imagine that Mark intertwined these two stories the way he did for one purpose: to emphasize their common themes.
First, let us consider the story of the woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years. Once upon a time, she must have been a woman of great wealth. For in those days, only the very wealthy could afford the ministrations of a physician. But now her situation in life has changed. She is chronically ill. She is destitute, having spent all her money on medical treatments. She has no male relatives to support her. (We know this, because, contrary to Jewish custom, she is walking in public unescorted.) And she is “unclean.” Now, what do I mean by calling her “unclean”? Well, according to Jewish law, a woman who bled was ritually impure. Her husband was forbidden from touching her. And if one so much as sat in a chair that an unclean woman had sat in, that person had to undergo ritual purification.
The woman in today’s Gospel story was not just unclean, she was contagious! Every person she brushed against in the crowd was contaminated, whether he knew it or not. And so, when she reached out to touch Jesus’ cloak, she was deliberately defiling him. But what else could she do? She was desperate, and she doubted her own self-worth. Why should this powerful healer show her mercy? After all, she was “dirty,” and her very touch made others “dirty.” So she decided to steal grace, to reach out and take healing from Jesus without his knowing. But he does know! He senses her healing. And then he seeks her out. In shame, she falls to her knees before Jesus and confesses that she touched him, that she made him dirty, that she stole grace from him. But instead of condemning this woman, Jesus commends her great faith and calls her “daughter,” thereby acknowledging some sort of intimate relationship between them. And now, being healed of her hemorrhage, this woman can be restored to a right relationship with her family, her friends, and indeed her whole society.
Next, let’s consider the case of Jairus and his daughter. Jairus was one of the leaders of the synagogue. (Think of him as the senior warden of the only parish in town.) He was a well-known and well-respected figure in the community. His daughter falls seriously ill. And Jairus is willing to do whatever it takes to save his beloved daughter. So he goes to Jesus, who already has gained a reputation as a healer, and he falls on his knees and begs for his daughter’s life. He shows no regard for his dignity at all. On the way to Jairus’ house, they get word that the little girl is dead. Jesus says to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; only continue to trust.” When they get to the house, Jesus encounters a group of mourners, and he assures them that the girl is not dead, but sleeping. How can he say that the dead girl is only sleeping? She is, in fact, quite dead. I think that he, and he alone, can truthfully equate death with sleep, because for the Lord of Life there is little difference between the two. Again, as with the woman who hemorrhaged, Jesus shows utter disregard for the issue of ritual defilement (for a corpse, like a hemorrhaging woman, was a source of contamination). Instead of keeping his distance, Jesus draws near to the girl’s body, takes her hand, and bids her to stand up. And she does! She is restored to life and to her family. Again, Jesus has defied tradition to restore someone in need to new life and right relationship.
To recap, we have learned today that Jesus did not always condemn what his fellow Jews condemned. We have learned that Jesus did not consider “dirty” or impure those whom the Law declared to be impure. We have learned that he sought to restore the people whom he encountered to right relationship with one another, with their society, and with their God. And all he asked for in return was simple trust.
But there is even more to be learned here. From Jairus, we learn that dignity counts for very little when someone we love is in need. And we should never be too proud to ask for help, whether from one another or from the Lord. From the woman with a hemorrhage, we learn that we have only to reach out to our Lord for help and then have trust in his power. Lastly, from our master Jesus, we learn that, if we are to follow in his footsteps, then we too must be agents of healing and reconciliation and new life in this wounded world.
And there are so many ways to be agents of healing. When we collected money for the Anglican hospital in Gaza, which we completed just last Sunday, then we were being agents of God’s healing. When we advocate for a more just and civil society that respects the dignity of every human being (and I mean every human being), then we are being agents of God’s healing. (That means that gay couples get their wedding cakes, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders gets dinner at the Red Hen restaurant!) When we defend innocent children from being punished for the so-called “crimes” of their immigrant parents, then we are being agents of God’s healing. And lastly, when we pray for the President of the United States, that he may minister justice with compassion and walk in the ways of truth, then we are being agents of God’s healing. (Remember that next Sunday when we pray for “all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world.”)
But before we can go out and be agents of healing in the world, we ourselves need some healing. So, in solidarity with Jairus who knelt and begged for help and with the desperate woman who was plagued by bleeding, I bid you humbly kneel before the Lord at Holy Communion, reach out your hands in faith, and take the grace you need to be made whole.
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.