This story – actually two stories – is so full with vivid details and rich with movement and speech that it’s rather easy to put our selves into its storied world. If we open our hearts and minds to the instruction and guidance by the Spirit, we will receive a blessing for today.
I had a thought this morning about this text. The arc of this passage has Jesus moving from one place to another. Along his journey, he is interrupted by two desperate people and their immediate needs, which give shape to Jesus’ ministry for that particular day. This story subtly conveys a cautionary message about “strategic plans” that do not allow for interruptions on the way to our best intentions. We might have an overarching sense of where we are going and about what we should be doing, but it is vitally important to keep enough flexibility in the plan that if the Holy Spirit brings us something new, we can stop and respond to the unexpected needs when and if they arise.
Let’s break this story down.
A large crowd relentlessly followed Jesus around the countryside. Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to get back into Jewish territory, only to find a great crowd waiting on that side too.
The crowd was so large that it was crushing in like the waves of the sea itself – reminiscent of the tumultuous storm on the sea in chapter 4. This mass was teeming with people – we can hear a cacophony of voices. We feel the energy, the warmth of the bodies, and the anticipation of the followers. There were folks in need looking for ailments, and those hanger-on-ers who were just curious to see the novel itinerant healer in action.
In the midst of all this movement, Jairus, a “leader of the synagogue” entered the scene. His title is repeated four times by Mark – leader, leader, leader, leader. Clearly his leadership is prominent and Mark wants us to know that this man had money, clout, a reputation, status, and was surely recognized by others.
But Jairus that day did not come to Jesus as a leader. That day, he was there as a receiver of grace, vulnerable and in need. He broke through the crowd and fell at Jesus’ feet risking his own reputation. The Jairus on the ground was a desperate father begging the Healer to go with him, to lay hands on his precious 12-year-old girl, to make her well. Jairus trusted that Jesus could heal her.
So Jesus went with him.
But on Jesus’ way, a second desperate person entered the scene. A woman very different from Jairus. She herself had been ill 12 years – as long as Jairus’ little daughter had been alive. The woman with the hemorrhages has no name in this story. She was identified only by her affliction. In Mark’s gospel, so many of the women are only recognized by their afflictions, or actions or relationship to a man.
However, this particularly courageous and independent woman took action on her own behalf. She had run through all her resources going from doctor to doctor and enduring their treatments, but her health continued to decline. (Doesn’t sound much different today, does it?) “If I can just touch this healer’s clothes, I can be made well.” Determined to do just that, she pressed in and reached through the crowd to get to the one who was her last chance for healing.
That kind of persistent faith is a gift from God, and the woman was given a large measure that day because when she touched his garment, IMMEDIATELY she felt the power of God heal her, and IMMEDIATELY Jesus felt the power go out of him.
He felt the same power of the Holy Spirit, which had descended upon him at the river Jordan at his baptism, go forth to heal. Jesus stopped, turned around, and looked for the one who touched him – which seemed ludicrous to his disciples given that they were being swept along and pressed in on all sides.
Jesus refused to allow the woman to remain invisible. Seeing him, she came forward, fell to her knees, and “came clean” – newly clean – and told the whole truth to him. Jesus was moved with compassion and gave her a new identity – he called her Daughter. He took her hand, raised her up and gave her a relationship, a restored daughter to the community. He proclaimed her healed – no longer unclean by her own blood – and blessed her with peace.
Meanwhile, in Jairus’ home there was anything but peace. The professional mourners had already arrived because Jesus was too late; the girl had died. But Jesus countered their grim news by announcing that the girl was only sleeping and indeed he pressed on, and in the face of the crowd’s mockery, Jesus kicked them out of the house, but took with him into her room her father and mother, and Peter, James and John.
Jesus reached out and took hold of the small hand of that dead girl – touching a body that by Law was untouchable – and he raised up to new life a second daughter that day.
They were all amazed. This Greek word, ekstasis, ecstatic, is the same word Mark uses when the women after Jesus’ resurrection saw the empty tomb. They too were amazed, ecstatic.
I titled this sermon “Reaching Faith” because these stories tell us faith is found in the act of reaching – faith is action; faith is a verb. Faith moves us toward God in times of need, out of our deep longing to have God act on our behalf. It’s audacious really. Faith that is born out of suffering, like Jairus’ and the woman’s, is a reaching faith, fearful and yet emboldened to ask for what one needs.
I don’t believe however that one reaches faith, that is, faith as static, faith as a noun; Faith as a point or place at which we arrive. Faith is not motionless. It’s not something we own. That’s not the way faith works. It keeps us moving in the midst of our doubts, disbeliefs, set backs, highs and lows.
A “reaching faith” is dynamic. A reaching faith is a gift given by the Holy Spirit to us as we respond to life’s pain and difficulties with honesty asking for God’s help. Faith is measured out in coffee spoons in our times of need, not dumped on us in one load.
I find that faith comes in my life in moments and glimpses of God.
I know folks who feel disheartened when their faith waxes and wanes. We all go days and months and sometimes years without really feeling God’s presence or the pleasure of the emotional ties that bind us to God. We might fear that we’ve constructed the whole thing in our minds, or worse we’ve drunk the “kool-aid” of religion.
But I tell you that most often our faith comes when we need it most; it is a gift at times of desperation when we are calling out of foxholes. As writer Anne Lamott says, There are two types of prayers: “Help me, help me, help me” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Madeline L’Engle, the children’s author of a Wrinkle in Time, said in an interview before her death that she believed that suffering was a necessary part of a full life. She had experienced much loss in her own life. “In times when we are not particularly suffering we do not have enough time for God. We are too busy with other things. And then the intense suffering comes, and we can’t be busy with other things. And then God comes into the equation: ‘Help.’ And we should never be afraid of crying out, ‘Help.'” (Interview on PBS, 2000)
A reaching faith, a crying-out faith, is an honest faith because it springs forth from our deepest needs. Sometimes it is even through our disarmed, honest prayers that we discover what are our deepest longings.
Suffering can be our teacher. Jan Thrope, a local woman who started the organization “Inner Visions” spoke in Adult Ed a few weeks ago. Jan was asked, “Where do we begin when we want to respond to the suffering of others?” She answered, “Start with your own pain. Pain can lead to passion. Passion to a purpose for your life.”
I want to close with a poem about the woman reaching out for healing and landing at the feet of Jesus by one of my favorite writers, Macrina Wiederkehr. (Seasons of Your Heart)
“Once there was a wound
It was no ordinary wound
It was my wound
We had lived together long.
I yearned to be free of this wound
I wanted the bleeding to stop
Yet if the truth be known
I felt a strange kind of gratitude
for this wound
It made me
tremendously open to grace
vulnerable to God’s mercy.
A beautiful believing in me
that I have named Faith
kept growing, daring me
to reach for what I could not see.
This wound had made me open.
I was ready for grace
And so one day, I reached.
There I was thick in the crowd
bleeding and believing
and I reached.
At first I reached
for what I could see
the fringe of a garment,
But my reaching didn’t stop there
for Someone reached back into
A grace I couldn’t see
flowed through me.
A power I didn’t understand
began to fill the depths of me.
Trembling I was called forth
to claim my wholeness.
The bleeding had left me.
The believing remained
And strange as this may sound
I have never lost my gratitude
for the wound
that made me so open to grace.”
Jairus and the woman are you and me. I do not know all of the specifics of what your illness looks like…what it feels like…how you endure it…what others tell you about it…or what caused it.
Nevertheless, I believe there is something in each of us I trust is yearning for healing…begging for relief…seeking after a blessing. I pray that you and I might be ready to trust enough to ask for healing.
Jesus is ready to be interrupted by our cries for help – to heal the wound that makes you profoundly open to grace.
The act of reaching out to God is enough.
The desire to connect with and touch God is enough.
Your vulnerability to come to God – needy and ready – is more than enough.
That’s faith. God responds to that kind of honest faith.
Reach out and you will be made whole.
Thanks be to God.