The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost

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“The Healer”

Mark 5:21-43

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The girl is dying.  She has reached her last breaths on this earth.  We can hear the anguish in a father’s repeated request: “My little daughter is at the end [of her life].  Come and put [Your] hand on her, that she might be healed and live” (Mark 5:23).  Can you see him?  Can you see Jairus pushing through the large crowd, looking frantically for the man called Jesus?  Can you see this synagogue leader, this respected and probably wealthy head of his family, falling on his knees?  Holding to the feet of One whom he believes can heal his daughter?  No doubt the crowd was moved to pity.  Without a word, Jesus follows him toward his home.  And so does the crowd, pressing tightly around Jesus and Jairus.  But before they can get there, Jesus stops.  There!  Do you see her?  Wrapped in that dirty and blood-stained cloth?  No wonder she didn’t want anyone seeing her.  She was unclean and unwanted; untouchable and unable to enter the temple or synagogue.  According to the Law in Leviticus, “If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days…all the days of her discharge she shall continue in uncleanness” (15:25).  Every woman in Israel was unclean for a few days each month, but this woman had been shut out of community and synagogue for twelve years.  No man who wanted to fulfill the Law would ever come near her, let alone touch her, so it is likely she had no husband.  No one could be touched by her without becoming unclean.  She had gone to every miracle-worker and peddler of potions, everyone she could find who promised results, everyone claiming expertise in the healing arts; no doubt she had been swindled more than once.  Now, with nothing left, brought to the same brink of desperation as Jairus, she carefully pursues Jesus from the back of the crowd.  She and Jairus probably couldn’t be more different from one another: one a respected member of the community, a leader in the synagogue, a prominent and pious man; the other a disrespectable non-entity, shut out from the synagogue, a no-name woman at the height of uncleanness.  One who comes in the open, for whom people stand aside.  One who comes secretly, who must conceal both her identity and her problem.  But they have this in common: they both come in faith.  One with a believing request at Jesus’ feet; the other with a believing touch at the back of Jesus’ cloak.  Jesus is on His way to restore life to a twelve-year old dying girl, and life is restored to a woman who has been dying for twelve years.

Whether Jesus knew who had touched Him, or whether He wrapped His divine knowledge in human ignorance, the point is the same: this woman cannot be healed and simply fade away into the crowd.  She must have been petrified by His question: “Who touched My cloak?” (Mark 5:30).  Hoping He would simply move on, she tried to shrink back into the mass of humanity.  But He would not give up: “Who touched My cloak?” as He kept looking around.  The rest of the crowd must have thought what the disciples said: “You see the crowd pressing around you and you say, ‘Who touched me’?” (Mark 5:31).  Everyone is touching you, Jesus!  But Jesus ignores them and keeps asking; not everyone is touching Him in faith.  The woman knows what He wants; she felt it in her body when the flow of blood dried up.  She is afraid and trembling, but she knows she has no choice.  So she does what Jairus did: she falls down at His feet and she tells Him the whole truth, what she did and why.  And now the Man who is the Truth tells her the truth: “Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be healed from your suffering” (5:34).  And she is saved: from the torment in her body and from the suffering of her soul.

You have to wonder what Jairus was thinking while this was going on.  He had to be desperate already if he was willing to leave his daughter’s side, knowing she was close to death.  Maybe he could feel hope slipping from his grasp as Jesus stopped to ask who had touched Him.  Every second Jesus spent with the woman was one second closer to his daughter’s death.  Even Jesus might not be able to do anything then.  You could almost predict it: here they come, people from Jairus’ house, stricken with visible grief: “Your daughter has died.  Why keep bothering the teacher?” (5:35).  What can He do for her now?  She is beyond help, beyond even this “teacher’s” reach.  And as their words pierce Jairus’ last hope, as he is about to sink into despair, Jesus grabs hold of him: “Do not fear; only believe” (5:36).  To the woman, Jesus had affirmed that she believed rightly, because she believed that He was the only real Healer in Israel.  To Jairus, Jesus strengthens his faith: he was right to come and ask Jesus; for Jesus, death is no obstacle to healing.  The Hand that formed Adam from the dust of the earth and breathed breath into his lungs could restore life to a child of dust.  And so they go: Jesus and Jairus; Peter, James, and John; and the crowd.  They come to the house; to a scene of mourning and wailing, the noise heart-wrenching.  But it must have turned surreal as Jesus asked them why they were in turmoil and crying, since the girl was only sleeping.  The hired mourners’ tears turned to ridicule and bitter laughter at Jesus’ words.  Was He mocking them?  Was He simply tactless or was He being cruel?  They knew she was dead.  But believing is seeing, so Jesus threw them out of the house.  Jesus is not a magician; He has no need to prove Himself to those who refuse to believe.  He takes the parents and the three disciples into her room, and, as Jairus had asked, He took her hand and spoke two words: “Talitha koum”; Aramaic for “Little girl, get up.”  And she did, immediately, just as the woman’s flow of blood stopped immediately.  The parents and the disciples are standing there drop-jawed, beside themselves, and Jesus sternly instructs them not to tell those for whom the miracle was not meant.  And then He tells them to give her something to eat.  She was no ghost; she was not an illusion or a trick.  She was restored to life in her body, and, at least in this life, bodies need food.

Everything is covered here: every emotion, every hope, the whiplash ups and downs of the life of faith.  Without reducing these intertwined stories to an object lesson, do not Jairus and the woman live in each of us?  If you were Job last week, maybe you are Jairus today: bringing your desperate requests openly before Jesus, because only He can heal.  But maybe your hope is slipping as the seconds tick away.  You’re not letting go of God, you’re just losing your grip.  Do not fear; only believe.  No person is ever beyond Jesus’ healing hand.  He is the resurrection and the life, and death is no obstacle to Him who lives and reigns forever.  Come before Jesus and lay your requests at His feet.  Leave them there, and receive His life into your body.  He will go with you from His House to your house; and where He is, death cannot have the final word.  But maybe you are more like the woman, carrying something in your body or in your soul that seems to cut you off from family and friends.  What is killing you today?  Maybe it’s been weeks, or a year, or twelve years, but that stone in your gut is slowly draining your life.  All you know is secret shame and hidden grief, and what if everyone else knew…?  But you cannot hold onto your shame and open your hand to touch His Body at the same time.  You cannot feed on your pain and still open your mouth to His Blood.  So give up your shame; Jesus already knows it.  Confess it; Jesus already died for it.  And hear His Word to you today: “Daughter.  Son.  Your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be healed from your suffering.”

Go in peace, knowing that Jesus is Lord of life and conqueror of death.  Go in peace, for your eyes have seen, according to His Word, God’s salvation in Jesus’ crucified and risen Body and Blood.  Go in peace; we are all dying, but we all live.  We are dying in the midst of life, but we live in the midst of death.  Beloved, Jesus is the Healer of body and soul.  Whatever happens to your physical life, you have eternal life now.  But do not fear; only believe: Jesus will one day heal your body, too.  If He heals you partially in this life, take it as a sign of His ultimate healing, when death and mourning, shame and grief will be no more.  It is a sign of the day when Jesus will take your hand and speak with a Savior’s love: “Little girl, rise up.”  “Little boy, rise up.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).  Amen.

— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 6/24/09

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