Desperate. Desperate is a word I probably take for granted. I probably overuse it. The lunch hour comes and goes and I don’t get a chance to eat, and suddenly I’m desperate for some food. My gas tank gets down to the lowest point it can go, and I’m desperate to get some more gas. I’m worried about having too much month at the end of the money, and I start feeling desperate – even though we have a roof over our heads and food in our bellies and clothes on our backs.
In an online dictionary, the first definition of the word desperate, an adjective, is “feeling, showing, or involving a hopeless sense that a situation is so bad as to be impossible to deal with.”
With this definition in mind, what does desperate look like? Desperate is going from doctor to doctor trying to find someone who can diagnose what’s wrong with your husband or your wife or your mother your kid. Desperate is sitting with your kids in the car outside of a police station, waiting until you see an officer, and then asking for help because you can’t go home. Home is where you might get killed. Desperate is taking your children and fleeing your home and your homeland because bombs are dropping or soldiers are marching or gangs are shooting. A few years ago, when a baby boy’s body washed up on the beach after he and his older brother and parents fled from the civil war in
in a tiny, un-seaworthy boat, Alice and I read a poem together as part of our
worship service. My paraphrase of part of that poem is this, “a parent doesn’t
put their child into a boat unless the water is safer than the dry land.” And a
parent doesn’t take their child across a desert unless the other side looks
safer than the home they’ve left. Syria
The people in this story from Mark were this kind of desperate. It was desperation that motivated and drove them. When Jesus got in the boat in the passage we read last Sunday, he went to the other side of the
Sea of Galilee. That
was the gentile side, the land of the “other.” Now he and the disciples have
crossed back again to more familiar ground. It would seem from our reading of
Mark’s text that the minute Jesus stepped out of the boat, he was met by a
great crowd of people. The crowd gathered around him, and although Mark gives
us no lengthy descriptions of the scene, I can imagine that it was noisy. That
many people gathered in one place, clamoring for Jesus’ attention, would have
Through the crowd came Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. As a leader, he would have had some status in the community. And that status would have given him some power and authority. Jairus could have easily sent someone to talk to Jesus, to ask for help, but Jairus himself came. Jairus must have pushed his way through the throng of folks gathered around Jesus. When he reached him, he did not tap Jesus on the shoulder or reach out to shake his hand. No, when Jairus reached Jesus, he fell to his knees before him and begged him, repeatedly,
“My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
We do not read what Jesus may have said in response, but we do know this. Jesus started to go with Jairus. The crowd followed. The crowd was so great and pushing, it must have almost seemed like an entity unto itself. The crowd pressed in on Jesus. Before Jesus could go very far, before he could reach Jairus’ daughter, another person pushed her way through that tight pack of people.
It was a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. At just about the same time Jairus’ daughter came into the world, this woman had begun to bleed. I cannot, nor do I want to; imagine how awful those twelve years must have been for that woman. As so often happens in the gospels, we are not given her name, but we do know that she had suffered much. She had endured much under the care of many doctors, but instead of getting better, she had only grown worse and worse and worse.
But here was this man; here was this man who had become known for doing wonderful things. He had become known, not only for his miraculous healings, but also for casting out demons and speaking about God in a way no one had ever done before. Here was this teacher, this rabbi, and the woman who had suffered for so long thought,
“If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
She didn’t presume to even look at the teacher must less ask, plead or beg him for help. She just knew that if she could touch his clothes, she would be made well. She was right. She was made well. She felt it in her body; she felt it in the depth of her being that finally the bleeding had stopped. But perhaps what she did not know, what she did not realize was that as soon as her fingertips brushed the rough cloth of Jesus’ robes, not only would power discharge from Jesus like a charge of electricity, Jesus would also realize that something had happened.
Even though Jairus’ daughter lay at the point of death, Jesus stopped. In that moving mass of humanity, with so many hands grasping at him, he stopped and turned around and looked and asked,
“Who touched my clothes?”
Who touched your clothes? Do you see how many people are around you? Do you see how many people are touching your clothes right now? How can you even ask, “Who touched my clothes?” Look! Everyone is touching your clothes!
But Jesus knew. And the woman knew. She must have been terrified. She must have been beside herself with fear and panic and worry. Not only had she snuck her way to a healing and been caught, she had also potentially made the rabbi and everyone else around her ritually unclean. Because you see this woman was not only physically ill, in the eyes of her community, in the eyes of the Law, she was ritually unclean. For the time of a woman’s menstrual cycle, a woman was in a state of spiritual uncleanliness; not to be touched. This woman had lived in that constant, unceasing, unrelenting state for twelve long years. Yet, she had risked everything to touch the clothes of this man because she wanted to be healed. Now she had been found out, caught. What would happen to her now?
Maybe she could have stolen away from Jesus through that crowd as quietly and as quickly as she had moved through it toward him. But the jig was up. It was better to come forward, then to hide. She came forward, trembling in fear, and fell on her knees before him. Jesus did not scold or reprimand. Instead he said,
“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
He had healed one daughter of
but just as this was finished the news reached him that it was too late for the
other daughter. Some people came to tell Jairus not to trouble Jesus any
longer. His daughter was dead. But Jesus only kept going, telling Jairus, Israel
“Do not fear, only believe.”
When they reached the house, Jesus only let Peter, James and John accompany him inside. Already the mourners had gathered around the little girl, weeping and wailing. Jesus said,
“Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
Even through their tears and grief, they could not help but laugh. Sleeping?! Hah! Dead is dead. But Jesus ignored them. He sent them outside, and taking only Jairus and the girl’s mother and the three disciples, he went to where the little girl lay. He took her by the hand and said,
“Talitha cum,” “Little girl, get up.”
And she did.
Two healings. Desperate people. The power of touch. A desperate parent will go to any lengths to save their child. I know I would. A desperately ill person will go to any lengths to find some healing, some help. I know I would.
I’m not sure how to end this; because as beautiful as these healings are, not all desperate people get what they most desperately need. Not all children who are sick get better. Not all people who fight against illness for years live. Not all desperation finds a happy ending. No parent would risk putting their child in a boat if the water were not safer than the dry land. No parent would risk taking their child across a desert if the other side were not safer than what they left behind. But they are desperate. And as good as I find the good news, telling desperate people to just hold onto that is not enough. It does not seem sufficient. I don’t have answers for why some children live and some do not. But I do know this. We are called to see and hear and acknowledge and love the desperate people in this world. Not having the answers does not let us off the hook. We are called to love them, to see them as God’s children just as clearly as we see ourselves as God’s children. We are called to offer our hand, to do whatever we can do, because we are the Church. We are the body of Christ in this world. We are Jesus’ hands and we are Jesus’ feet. That is our call. That is our commission. That is our commandment. And if we don’t do it, who will?
Thanks be to God. Amen.