5th Sunday after Pentecost

5th Sunday after Pentecost

Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)

Some years ago following the death of Pope John Paul II, the media ran many series of videos and photographs encapsulating the late pontiff’s career. Again and again what we saw in all that was the fact that no matter where the pope went, the one constant was the fierce desire people had to touch him. The New York Times published a particularly wonderful photo that showed this.  It came from a visit the pope made to this country and specifically an appearance he made at a cathedral in Newark, New Jersey.  The picture had been taken from the balcony and showed the pope from above and behind as he proceeded up the church’s center aisle.  John Paul had both of his arms extended outward to the side. And from the pews lining the aisle were the extended hands of dozens of people stretching and reaching so that their hands could brush against one of his hands.

A few years ago we somberly marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and so were reminded that RFK exuded a similar attraction.  According to Bobby Kennedy’s aides, there were many times after campaign appearances in 1968 when Bobby had to throw away his shirt. So many people clutched and clawed to touch him that Bobby’s hands would be scratched and a bit bloody even as his shirt sleeves became tattered to shreds.

Far better than just seeing someone—including someone powerful or famous—is to make contact. That’s something Jesus knew a lot about, too.

In today’s Gospel, we hear two stories of healing. They are also stories of hope—a bold, persistent, expectant hope.

First, we are introduced to Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, who emerges from the crowd that meets Jesus as he disembarks from a boat. Jairus approaches Jesus, falls before him, and begs him to heal his little daughter. While a large crowd follows Jesus and presses in on every side, he begins to accompany Jairus to his home.

Soon, another person emerges from the crowd. She is not there to ask for the healing of another but rather to seek it for herself. There is no one there to advocate for her. No friends to carry her on a mat or lower her through the roof to be seen by Jesus.

She has tried everything. She has done everything money can buy. She has seen countless doctors and has only grown worse. But something in her still hopes. Despite all she has been through, something in her believes, trusts, even expects that if she simply reaches out and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak, she will be healed.

She does not approach Jesus with the intention of falling before him or even of speaking to him. Perhaps she doesn’t want to bother or inconvenience him. All she wants is to simply touch his cloak and then maybe slip away, unnoticed yet healed. She comes up behind him and reaches for his hem. She immediately feels healing within her. She might have escaped through the crowd, except that Jesus feels the exchange as well. He begins to look around the densely packed crowd, asking, “Who touched me?” The disciples are befuddled and Jairus is likely impatient, but Jesus is insistent.

Whether out of self-consciousness or out of sheer awe at what has happened to her, the woman steps forward and shares her story with Jesus and in front of the crowd. Jesus responds, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

What relief she must have felt, not only to be healed physically but to be seen and encouraged by Jesus. There had been no one to ask for healing for her. She felt she had to acquire her healing by making as little commotion as possible. By stopping and inviting her to tell her story, Jesus encourages the woman to see that not only is she worthy of healing but also that she offers the crowd a witness of deep faith, persistence, and courage. And with his words, Jesus himself becomes her advocate.

After Jesus sends her on to live healed and at peace, he goes to heal another daughter. He and Jairus are soon on their way again, despite other people saying that hope for the daughter’s life is already lost. Jesus enters the home, gathers with the young girl’s parents and loved ones, and invites her to get up and walk around. She is healed, and they are all overcome with amazement.

Both of these stories contain amazing healing but also persistent hope. The woman has exhausted everything she has—her finances, her options—but hope emboldens her to reach out her hand, even when her body and her finances are depleted.

Jairus is told not to bother the teacher any longer, that his daughter has already died. But he and Jesus carry on, continuing to the house to see her. Hope moves his feet, carries him forward.

There is desperation and depletion in both of these stories, yes, but hope is stronger. Hope asks for healing and persists. And it is clear in both stories that to hope is to know something about who Jesus is. In their different ways, both Jairus and the woman reach out to Jesus in hope because they know who he is. To hope is to rest in the assurance that Jesus desires healing, wholeness, and fullness of life for all of God’s children.

Healing—physical, emotional, societal—takes place in many different ways. To seek healing is to hope for more wholeness, to believe that it is possible. In Christ, we believe such wholeness is not only possible but also desired by the One who created us and loves us.

After a year of pandemic, heated political divides, isolation, and unrest, we are hungry for healing within our bodies, our tired souls, and our communities. To follow Christ is to know and to be encouraged that God desires this healing. God desires fullness of life, peace, and wholeness.

So how do we need to reach out for this healing? 

What stories do we need to tell? 

Do we need to ask for help, for rest, for prayer, for companionship, for an advocate? 

For what and where do you desire healing, and how might you seek it?

To ask for and seek healing is an act of hope and a witness to the love of God. It is to be rooted in the knowledge that God loves us and desires wholeness for us and for our communities.

Today you may identify with Jairus and feel moved with compassion to advocate for the healing of another, knowing that we cannot accomplish another’s healing for them, but we can use our voices for good. 

Or you may identify with the woman, depleted yet determined to take the next step in faith. Either way, may we seek healing where it is needed and remember that to believe in Jesus is to hope for—even to expect—healing and wholeness. 

In our Gospel lesson for this week Jesus continues to break barriers. Jesus heals both the daughter of a leader of the synagogue, and a woman from the crowd who was presumably a Gentile who was hemorrhaging in a mysterious way (something that would have caused her to be considered unclean at the time). Both reach out (either on their own or someone on their behalf) to Jesus as a last-ditch effort to find some sort of healing or answers. They believe that maybe, just maybe, Jesus could be the one to help them find healing, solace, and new life. But, there are obstacles for both entities. For Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, he has to reach out to rabbi and teacher who has essentially been cast out and exiled from the main synagogues and powerful Jewish leaders. For the woman, she must push through the crowds who view her as unworthy and unclean. Perseverance and hope are active ingredients to this scene that are fueled by Jesus’ undeniable presence and message of love and hope in new life. In the end, both are healed. The people gathered are in disbelief, and even have the audacity to laugh at the thought of Jesus actually pulling off this incredible feat!

It is amazing what hope, perseverance, and love can do, isn’t it? It reminds me of a congregation in which I served that was bogged down with conflict and a fair amount of money troubles. The congregational council was at odds with one another, the congregation members frustrated and at a loss of what to do, and in the midst of a congregational meeting it was suggested that maybe the congregation could support a project for a local family who had lost their home and everything they owned in a recent house fire. 

Several members were exasperated and asked how on earth something like that would even be possible in the sad state that the congregation was in.

That conversation was volleyed back and forth a few times, and eventually a young high school student stood up and simply said, “But why not? What are the actual reasons we can’t do this? Isn’t helping in this way exactly what the church is supposed to be?” While some folks rolled their eyes and continued to argue, a few were stopped in their tracks by the young man’s comment. Why not help? Why not be hopeful for the future? Why not reach out to Christ and God in a time of need instead of lashing out at our siblings in Christ? Why not try new and unknown kinds of ministries? Practically and logically, I am sure we can make dozens of lists of “why nots.” But instead, what if we made a habit of stepping forward in faith towards even the things that seem unattainable or ridiculous. 

Hope is a powerful thing, whether we are giving it to someone else or getting it ourselves. These stories remind us that Jesus was in the hope-giving business, and so should we. Hope to ourselves, hope to each other and hope to the world around us.