The Rev. Dr. Ross McGowan Wright
The Church of the Good Shepherd
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2018
Text: Mark 5:21-43
In our Gospel reading, we meet two people, each facing a life-threatening crisis. The first is man whose twelve-year old daughter is dying The second is a woman with a humiliating illness which has robbed her of her vitality and left her isolated and broke. These two people are different in many ways. He is a wealthy man with a prominent position in the community. She is a poor woman, isolated and alone because of her illness. But they have one crucial thing in common: both are desperate. Both are driven by their crisis to humble themselves before Jesus and to cry out for help. Most important, both have an encounter with Jesus that reveals the victory of God over disease and death.
This morning, we hear their stories. I trust that as we do, the Spirit of God will deepen our confidence in the power of God that has broken into our world though the resurrection of Jesus. and that God will give us new hope in the victory of God over sin, death, and all of the forces that threaten us and those we love.
So first, the woman. She has a chronic condition that causes internal hemorrhaging. She has suffered with this condition for 12 years. How long is twelve years? The little girl whom Jesus raises from the dead is twelve years old. So, the woman has suffered for a long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive. Twelve years is far too short, it’s a child whose life is cut short. But it is far too long if you’re suffering from a debilitating illness. Time moves slowly when you’re living through some protracted crisis.
Here’s a woman whose vitality has been robbed by an illness. As she loses blood, her life force is literally flowing out of her body. Not only that, she has run out of money, paying doctors who can’t help. Her situation is a painful reminder of the limitations of our bodily existence. Our physical existence on this earth is a gift from God. But this bodily life is a finite resource. It is always running out. The woman is a symbol of us all: our physical life is limited; it runs out, like the sand in the hour glass. It is easy to forget this, when we are in the glow of health.
But the woman is acutely aware that life is running out. And she sees in Jesus a source of power, of healing. Her situation is summed up in the one thing that is on her mind as she sees Jesus: “If I can just touch him – if I can just get close to touch the hem of his robe, I will be healed.” That one sentence speaks volumes: it expresses her deepest longings, her desperation, her hope in the life-giving power of Jesus.
So she moves into the crowd, behind Jesus. She is trying to be invisible. She has been invisible for much of her last 12 years. She has been living on the margins and in the shadows. She just wants to touch him and remain undetected – by Jesus or by anyone around her. We can imagine her, moving closer, closer as the crowd moves forward – until finally, she is close enough to reach out her hand and touch his outer garment. The instant she does, she feels something like electric current coursing through her body. She knows in that very instant that the hemorrhaging has stopped.
In these few moments, the woman’s gaze has been intensely focused on Jesus. Jesus on the other hand has not seen her. He is unaware of her. Until he senses the healing power radiating from his body. In that moment, he turns and gazes at the people around him. Something about his gaze draws her out of the crowd. Something about his gaze frees her to tell Jesus the truth – about her entire situation. Now, what matters is not that she sees the Lord – but that the Lord sees her. It is not her touch that matters but Jesus’ gaze – that disciple-forming gaze of Jesus.
“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be healed and free from your distressing condition.” She confesses faith in Christ. She finds peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. She becomes a disciple.
Like the woman, we often come to God out of desperation or for all kinds of selfish motivations. God understands. Like the woman, when we turn to God and humble ourselves before him, we discover that he has already turned to us. He is thinking about us long before we began to think about God. All we need to do is to think about God – and he is there.
There is something else we can learn from this woman. She has pluck. She has faith – and it is an active faith. Active faith does what it needs to do to draw close to the Lord. What is it that you need? What does the church need? Active faith goes where we think that we can find the power and presence of the risen Christ. Active faith goes where Jesus is active and does whatever we need to do to draw close to him.
Now, while Jesus and the woman are talking, another crisis is moving to a surprising conclusion: Jairus’s daughter is dying. The story of the woman’s healing is enclosed within a larger story of resurrection from the dead.
Jairus’ crisis is expressed in his poignant request to Jesus: “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her so that she may be healed and live.” And now, Jesus makes his way to Jairus’ house.
At this point in the story, both the woman and Jairus recede into the background, and there are only two players on the stage: Jesus, the life-giver, and death, the intruder. I have called this sermon, The Intruder, because death is an intruder in God’s good creation. We often hear that death is a friend or simply a natural process. But in the New Testament, death is always regarded as an enemy, as an invader in the goodness of God’s creation.
So, what happens when the intruder meets the Lord and giver of life?
Notice first Jesus’ supreme confidence in the face of Jairus’ heart-rending request. When asked to save the daughter, Jesus agrees to go. It is as if he is saying: Okay – I’m up for that. This is the very reason for which I have come to earth.
Next, notice how calmly Jesus accepts the news from the mourners to Jairus: “It’s too late [Jairus]. Your daughter has already died. Don’t trouble the teacher.” Jesus ignores these professional mourners, then dismisses them, thereby rejecting the funeral industry’s culture of death. He refuses to accept death itself on its own terms.
He continues: “Why are you mourning and weeping? The child has not died but is asleep.” By referring to death as “sleep,” Jesus reinterprets the meaning of death. He cuts death down to size. For believers, death is not the last word, but a temporary state from which we will awaken. Jesus refuses to let this alien power take over Jairus’ house. He strides into the room where the little girl’s body lies and drives out the intruder.
Finally, Jesus utters the victorious word: “Talithaka koum. . . Girl, I say to you: Rise!” Whose resurrection is being described here? Jairus’ daughter is brought back to life, to be sure. But this miracle points to another resurrection: Jesus’ rising from the dead on Easter morning. It also points to our resurrection. The Christian hope is that we, too, will one day hear the voice of the Lord call us by name: And the dead will hear his voice and be raised.
Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
We have heard two stories this morning – two witnesses to the power of God in Jesus. The first is a healing, the second a resurrection. Every time we are healed, we have a foretaste of resurrection. Every time our health is restored after an illness, we have a promise of the resurrection of our bodies when Christ returns in victory and God is all in all. You know that delightful feeling you have when you have been sick, then you wake up and realize you’re well again? You say: this what it feels like to be healthy!
I leave you with a word from St. Augustine, who preached on this passage and offers vision of hope in the power of God. This is the promise of the resurrection of the body – our resurrection bodies. Augustine explains what is at stake here:
What is decayed will flourish again; your diseases will be healed; your perishable parts shall be reshaped and renovated, and made whole again in you. And these perishable things will not carry you with them down to where they go when they perish, but shall stand and abide and you with them, before God, who abides and continues forever.