6TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 7-1-2018
Pentecost 6B 2018
Texts: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8: 7-15, Mark 5: 21-43
“Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever been at the absolute end of your rope? Have you ever been so desperate, so scared, so blindsided by life that you couldn’t breathe; you couldn’t see how you were going to get through the next 5 seconds let alone the next five minutes, or the next five days? Have you ever been in a place in your life where the only thing you could do was fall on your knees and pray?
If you have, you know that you are not the same person you were before life’s cosmic rug was pulled out from under you. A seismic shift happened. You cannot go back to the way things were before no matter how much you may want to.
It may have been a job loss, a devastating diagnosis, a divorce. You may have wrestled with an addiction and been on the losing end, or you may have lost the most important person in your life. Whatever it was or is, today’s gospel reading is for you-especially for you.
If you haven’t been on the receiving end of such a punch to your spiritual solar plexus; if you have never had a bring-you-to-your knees experience, this gospel reading is for you too. Remembering it may come in handy someday.
In today’s gospel we have a story within a story, a Markan sandwich. And these two stories-the story of Jairus and the story of the hemorrhaging woman-are meant to go together. They play off of each other, inform each other, rest within each other.
The first piece of bread in this sandwich is the scene where Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, a man of stature in the community, and now, a desperate father, falls at the feet of Jesus and begs him, repeatedly we are told, to come and heal his twelve year old daughter who is dying. Jairus, a man others would recognize and be watching, humbles himself in front of the crowd to this itinerant Rabbi and begs for his child’s healing.
The meat in this sandwich is the story of the hemorrhaging woman. Unlike Jairus, we do not know her name, but we do know that as someone who was constantly ritually unclean due to her bleeding for twelve years, she would have been shunned by others. Her isolation would have been pretty complete.
She has spent her life savings on going to doctors that only made her worse. She has spent everything she has on trying to get well and nothing has helped. Unike Jairus, she is someone of no account. She isn’t known by her name or her stature in the community, she is only known by her bleeding. She is as desperate as Jairus. She, too, braves the crowd, goes forward regardless of what others may think, and reaches out to touch Jesus believing that a simple touch, stolen in the press of the crowd, would be enough to heal her.
But something happened after that stolen touch, something she didn’t count on; Jesus stops in his tracks. Just as she knew the instant she touched his cloak that something had shifted, something had changed inside her, so too, Jesus knew that something had changed inside him. “Who touched me?” he asks. The crowd was so large that to ask that question seemed kind of silly to the disciples.
It’s like walking down the subway stairs in Manhattan at rush hour and asking “who jostled me?” There are so many people around going in all different directions that to try and figure out who pushed, pulled, tapped, or prodded you is a wasted effort.
But no effort is wasted for Jesus. And no one is wasted on Jesus. He wants to know who. He wants to interact with whomever it was that received his healing. This woman of no account, this woman who didn’t matter to the community, matters to Jesus. She matters enough that he interrupts his going to Jairus’ house, to Jairus’ dying little girl, to heal her and to hear her speak her whole truth. And in response to hearing her speak her truth Jesus calls her by her name, “Daughter”, for that is what she is, a true daughter of God. In healing her Jesus restores her to her community.
The second piece of bread in this sandwich is scene two with Jairus. It is during this interruption that Jairus learns that his daughter has died. He is told not to bother Jesus any further, nothing more can be done. Are there any more devastating words we can hear? These are hope slaying words; the situation cannot be changed.
But Jesus steps into these words, into this hopeless abyss, and says the five words that change everything. “Do not fear. Only believe.” And then leaving the crowd behind, he continues his travels to Jairus’ home where the mourners have already gathered. Stepping right into their laughing disbelief he goes up to the bedroom, takes this dead little girl’s hand and tells her to get up. Oh, and by the way, give her something to eat; she must be hungry.
Barbara Brown Taylor, one of the preeminent preachers in the Episcopal Church says, “The problem with miracles is that it is hard to witness one without wanting one of your own.”
It is hard to see someone beat the odds when our loved one didn’t. It is hard to understand why Jesus stepped into another person’s crisis and not ours. It is hard to watch as another person, another situation seems to go back to the way it was before while we are still left with the situation we are in.
We are left with the question, “Is that person somehow better than us? Did they have more luck, more faith, better genes?” Like the rewind button on our old VCR’s we want to walk back from the precipice, we want to erase the now and go back to before those words were spoken, that action taken, before our pain is set into concrete.
When we focus on the miracles in these stories we are shifting our gaze from the real message in them. We are hoping to understand and explain something that in some ways is easier to understand and explain than what the true message is because it is easier to posit why some people receive miracles and others do not than to try and explain why Jesus would step into anyone’s pain, any one’s sorrow, anyone’s bad choices. Most of all mine.
This story within a story is not about two miracles. It is not about a miraculous healing and resuscitation. It is about Jairus and the unnamed woman being vulnerable to an encounter with Jesus. It is about reaching out and saying, “Lord, I am at the end of my rope. I don’t know how I am going to go on. I don’t know how to take my next breath or my next step.”
These stories aren’t about making the horrible disappear but rather about making hope appear in the hardest, darkest, most painful times we can imagine. They are about the God of all creation loving us enough to come to us, to live life with us, to enter our pain, our sorrow, our shame. Whether or not our lives are deemed important by others, understood by others, honored by others, we are told by God that our lives matter; our pain matters.
These miracles weren’t done for show. They weren’t done to wow people into accepting that Jesus was God. They were acts of compassion from God to his people. They were signs that God loves us enough to work in and through our everyday ordinary lives.
Miracles do occur. But they happen in ways we perhaps weren’t looking for, in time not our own, in areas of our lives we weren’t expecting or perhaps even wanting.
The miracle sometimes is that we get through the situation intact. Changed always, but intact. The miracle is that after life turns us upside down and inside out, that when we can’t imagine how we can possibly go on or get through, somehow we do. The miracle is that God can, will, and does, use our pain to help heal others, to help heal the world.
The question to wrestle with is not, “do miracles really happen and will I get one of my own?” The question to wrestle with is whether or not we will we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to Jesus. The question is will we allow Jesus to touch our bleeding places, our dead places, so that new life can be brought forth?