Primary Scripture: Mark 5:21-43
Not long ago, I found myself in one of those “swapping stories about yourself” conversations. You know the sort – one-upping each other’s experiences in odd or embarrassing situations. This particular conversation turned toward strange things we were afraid of growing up.
I remember being afraid to swim in murky water, thanks to movies about sharks and piranhas. I also remember developing a completely irrational fear that my family would end up being depicted in a “Movie of the Week” or worse – an “ABC After-School Special”.
Now, those programs don’t hold a candle to some of the stuff that is packaged as reality TV or turned into movies for Lifetime. But back then, these were the ultimate in telling true-life stories about families dealing with some kind of dramatic hardship.
There was the one about the teenager who wet his bed. Or the one where the daughter was knocked off her horse when she didn’t duck low enough and hit her head on a tree branch. Each story started with some kind of traumatic accident or the discovery of disease, often affecting a child or young person. And each story ended in some life-changing event, whether it was death, divorce or on the rare occasion, some kind of victory.
So I would lay in my bed at night, wondering which of my siblings might end up being the inspiring young patient who fights right up to the end, but dies. Or what horrible mistake I would make to wind up in a jail being “Scared Straight.”
The troublesome part about those stories – the thing that made them more like nightmares than daydreams, thus fueling my fear – was they weren’t like the Fairy Tales… There was no “And they lived happily ever after.”
They were more like real life. So the epilogue might easily have read They lived Angrily Ever After, Dysfunctionally Ever After, Broken-hearted or Grief-stricken Ever After.
I don’t really remember the endings of these movies, but then, these programs weren’t meant to tell a whole life. More like a chapter in a biography. We got to look into their lives for a season – a horrible period, usually – and then we move on.
Our reading from Mark this morning would have made 2 good Lifetime movies…
Let’s call the first one Too Young to Die. Here’s the pitch the production folks would have heard:
The leader of a synagogue is desperate when he finds his beloved daughter gravely ill. If he goes to the man called Jesus and asks for healing, how will that look? Other leaders in the area have determined that Jesus is a threat… Should he break ranks with them? Is his love for his daughter – and her very life – more important than losing the respect of others or his position of authority? Yes.
Jairus is desperate enough to seek out Jesus, even falling to his knees and begging for help. Relieved when Jesus agreed to come, they start for Jairus’ home…
But then, they got sidetracked by our second story. I call it Sick and Tired.
A woman has been ill for years… twelve years of hemorrhaging is a long time. The physical toll has been great. But even worse, she has been “unclean” for more than a decade. Forced to be separated from her family, unable to join others to worship in the temple or synagogue, she has no community.
She has sought the help of everyone she can think of and her resources are exhausted. In fact, the very doctors from whom she sought healing, exploited her. What was left for her to do?
She knows that this Jesus has incredible healing powers. She’s heard the stories. If only she could get close enough to tell her story… No, she could never get that close. But if she could just sneak into the crowd and get close enough to touch him…
Mark has given us two very compelling, yet very different stories.Jairus has enough standing in the community to walk right up through the crowds and talk with Jesus on behalf of his daughter. He is privileged because of his wealth, but also because of his position.
The woman has no standing at all. It’s not by accident that we don’t know her name. She had no name.
By virtue of the Law, she was ritually unclean, which meant she was isolated much of these years. The act of entering into the crowd means ALL of them are at risk of becoming “unclean” by touching her, including Jesus.
In fact, if Jesus had followed the honor codes and customs of society, things would have gone very differently. He would have rebuked the woman, and he would have had to complete purification rituals of his own rather than hurrying on to care for the wealthy man’s daughter.
But his attention was not on the customs and the laws. His focus is on this woman who had enough faith to risk whatever punishment might come in order to seek healing from Jesus.
The law’s power to render the woman unclean was nothing compared to the power of the Kingdom of God to bring her to wholeness.
Think about something that has plagued you for a long time. Some of us suffer from chronic pain or illnesses. Others may be dealing with anxiety or depression. Or maybe you are still trying to leave behind a pattern of behavior, a habit, what some might call a besetting sin. It always amazes me when I look back on old journals and prayer logs to find that I am still fighting the same battles I fought months and even years ago.
Now, think about that one thing, and put yourself in the crowd, in the place of the woman in need of wholeness. You just reached out to touch Jesus… You know immediately afterwards, that you are different. You feel some kind of healing power move from him into you…
And so does Jesus.
As he turns and looks for the one who touched him, you know you must confess and face whatever comes. The crowd around you becomes a blur. You fall to your knees and feeling his eyes on you, everything spills out… all the disappointments, all the pain, all the sorrow, all the dreams set aside. And you tell him about the fear that was mingled with hope when you reached out, somehow knowing that the stories were true – that Jesus truly had the power to heal.
You look up, expecting anger and condemnation, but the eyes looking down at you are filled with love and compassion. “Go in peace,” he says. “Your faith has made you well.”
As he turns, you realize that the crowds are still there, and somehow above their buzz you hear those words again, echoing in your mind “Your faith has made you well.” You look for him again, hoping to offer your thanks, but the crowd has closed in behind him.
He is gone.
The intimacy of that moment is echoed when Jesus reaches Jairus’s house. Telling Jairus to ignore those who said it was too late. Jesus brings Peter, James and John into the girl’s room. With her parents looking on, both trying desperately to believe what they were seeing, Jesus takes her by the hand and tells her to get up. “Talitha cum”
She stands up and walks around, whole and healthy again. I like to imagine that she grabs Jesus in a big hug of thanks. As he leaves, Jesus tells the parents they should get the girl something to eat, after all, he remembers being a 12 year old. He tells them that no one should know. Keep what happened quiet. And then he was gone.
The epilogues would be popping up now, if these were movies. And what might it say across the screen? And they lived Happily Ever After?
Does that work for you?
I don’t know… I mean, we think that life today is hard. It sure wasn’t any easier then.
The woman was no longer unclean, but would she have someplace to stay that night? Did she still have family nearby to take her in? Was she able to care for herself, find a husband, have children so that she might be less vulnerable?
Meanwhile, Jairus would have had to face the other religious leaders—the ones who considered Jesus a dangerous heretic – and explain how he came to invite the man to his house… and basically beg Jesus to lay hands on his daughter, in front of everyone!
And wouldn’t Jairus – of all people – be expected to acknowledge that Jesus was unclean after being in contact with the woman? Might he have lost face and status as a result of these events? Would that have affected his wealth?
I have to think that – regardless of whether their own circumstances changed – the way they looked at others must have. Jairus, the woman, and hopefully Peter, James and John – their encounters with Christ, those intimate experiences of compassion and love, would have been so powerful.
As a result, did they live compassionately ever after– placing needs before rules and care before custom?
Did they live faithfully ever after? Trusting that the God who healed them – who saved them from their circumstances – would always provide and care for them?
Did they live prayerfully ever after? Going to God with their deepest, most heartfelt needs – unashamed and unafraid, just as they were on that fateful day that entwined their stories? Did they maintain that sense of intimacy – of opening themselves up fully to the will of God?
You see, the healing that Jesus offered went well beyond the physical realm. In fact, when Jesus tells the woman to go in Peace, the word he uses for “healed” can also be translated as “Saved.”
What we know – that Jairus and the woman only saw hints of – is that Jesus would overcome the power of death and sin, so that we might experience that same saving power in our lives.
How? It’s the easiest and most difficult thing we can ever do.
The life of a Christ-follower is one of freedom – In Christ we are no longer captive to guilt, no longer bound by shame and fear. But it is a life that requires surrender, authenticity. It is the life of trust and faith. We can’t experience Jesus as a single saving event- Jesus is about the business of saving us, healing us and making us whole every day. Not just for our sakes, but so that we might help build God’s Kingdom.
As Christ-followers, we are called to a particular Ever After…
We are to bring our cares to God- not expecting that our will be done, but always trusting that we would see God at work in every circumstance.
We are to see people through God’s eyes, with compassion and love. Even the ones that are dirty or not “like us”. The ones who are difficult to like, much less love. The ones who make us uncomfortable because of their looks, their frailties or their failings. Even those who scare us.
We are to touch others, laying on hands and praying in faith. Providing a comforting shoulder, a kiss of love, a hug of welcome, or an encouraging pat on the back.
We are to offer what we can to others- whether we cook a meal or donate soup, whether we offer some change or participate in a crop walk.
My friends, Jesus says this to you, today, as well…
Go in Peace, your faith has saved you. Go and live your Ever After -today and every day – as if someone else’s life depended on it.