Monday, July 2, 2012

The Great Interruption

Mark 5:21-43
July 1, 2012

            When I was a young teenager, 13 and 14, I volunteered for two summers at Outlook Nashville. Outlook Nashville was a daycare facility for infants and children with special needs.  The staff cared for children who had cerebral palsy, mental retardation, Down’s Syndrome and other physical and mental challenges.
            I was intimidated by it all at first, but I loved kids.  So I threw myself into working with them.  This was in the ancient times when you didn’t have to have background checks and references, etc.  I just called and asked if they needed volunteers, they said “yes,” and my mother dropped me off on her way to work.
            One of the little girls we cared for was named Autumn.  I believe she had cerebral palsy, but my memory is a little dim on that point anymore.  She was a darling little girl, no more than three, and even though Autumn couldn’t walk or talk, she had no problem making her needs known.
            Autumn was the happiest little girl ever.  To describe her disposition as sunny is an understatement.  She loved all the people at the daycare.  She was always glad to be there and she got along well with the other kids and the teachers.  But the person Autumn really, truly deeply loved was her mom.  I’m sure she loved the rest of her family too, but as it was always her mother who dropped her off and picked her up, we only saw that particular interaction. 
            Autumn didn’t just love her mother.  She had an extra sense about her.  That sweet little girl knew in the depths of her being when her mother was about to arrive to pick her up.
            The staff always knew when Autumn’s mama had pulled into the parking lot because Autumn would literally start to tremble with excitement.  Her mom would come into the outer office, and even before Autumn heard the sound of her mother’s voice, she would be wiggling and squeaking with excitement.  If you were working in the room with Autumn that day, you didn’t need a clock to know it was Autumn’s pick up time.  You just watched Autumn.  Everyone who worked there, teachers, staff and volunteers like me watched for this phenomenon, because it never ceased to be amazing.
            If somehow Autumn’s mother managed to sneak into the classroom without Autumn seeing her – and believe me this didn’t happen very often – Autumn would start to look around wildly, because she knew, just knew that mommy was close by.  Autumn had more than her share of mental and physical issues, but there was another kind of sense going on there.  Autumn could perceive her mother’s love on a different level than most so-called “normal” people.  All of us who had the opportunity to witness this sense in action were blessed because of it.
            Autumn had a different sense, a different kind of knowing and perception than most people when it came to her mother.  In this passage from Mark, we read stories about two people who seem to know on a different level that Jesus will help them, and where Jesus put his own ability to sense, to know, to perceive into action as well. 
            Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, was in the crowd who had gathered by the sea awaiting Jesus’ arrival.  He was probably putting his reputation and religious career on the line by being there.  But his little daughter was deathly ill, and what parent among us wouldn’t sacrifice everything we had to save our child?  Jairus was completely vulnerable and made himself more vulnerable still by rushing to Jesus for help.  Jairus knew, he just knew that if Jesus would come and lay his hands on his daughter, she would be made well.  So as soon as he sees Jesus he falls at his feet and begs him to come and heal his little girl. 
            As Jesus is making his way toward Jairus’ house, there is another person who just knew that Jesus could help her.  The woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years.  Twelve years!  There is no reason given for why this woman bled for so long, but we do know that she spent every last cent she had on physicians and doctors.  But none of them could make her well.  None of their treatments worked.  The text tells us that she had “endured much under many physicians.”  I suspect that means that she had been given every test, every treatment, every cure known to a doctor of that time.  Still nothing worked.  She had only grown steadily worse.
            Yet now Jesus has come, and this unnamed woman knows.  She just knows that if she can only touch him, if she can just grasp his clothing for a fleeting second, she’ll be cured.  All will be well.
            The woman does this.  Her determination must have been great because the crowd was large and she had been ill for a long time.  I doubt she was strong.  But she pushed her way through that crowd and touched Jesus’ cloak before the crowd could surge against her or her own courage failed.  As soon as she did this, as soon as she touched his robe her bleeding stopped.  She knew that something was different.  She could feel it in her body.  The bleeding had stopped and she was finally, finally healed.
            All of this in itself is amazing.  We could stop the story right here and know that a miracle had happened.  Outside of knowing the fate of Jairus’ daughter, nothing more would need to be said.  It is a miracle!  But the amazing events continue.  Jesus knows something has happened as well.  He perceives that power has left him.  He realizes something out of the ordinary has happened.
            So he stops where he is and calls out, “Who touched me?”  My reaction to this is much like the disciples.  What do you mean, “Who touched you?”  Have you seen the size of this crowd?  There are about a gazillion people trying to touch you, reach you.  Folks are coming at you from all sides, how can you possibly know that one person touched you in the midst of all these others?
            But Jesus knew.  He knew something was different.  He knew something had happened.  He felt the woman’s healing just as she did.  The poor woman must have been terrified beyond belief.  Certainly she must have felt a thrill of fear that Jesus could sense the power that had moved between the two of them.  But beyond that she was ritually unclean.  Not only had she touched Jesus, she had touched a whole lot of other people in her push to get to Jesus.  For twelve years she would have gone without a normal family life, and without participating fully in the life of the synagogue because to come into contact with her would have contaminated others.  She should have been nowhere near a great crowd such as this, and certainly nowhere near a teacher such as Jesus.  Her very presence there was a violation of the Law.
            So I’m sure she was afraid, very afraid.  Afraid of potential punishment and the consequences that would come because of her desperate need to touch Jesus.  She occupied a much lower place in society than Jairus did, but their need for Jesus was an equalizer, wasn’t it?  They were both willing to be completely vulnerable in order to receive the healing they so desperately needed. 
            For this woman the consequences to her actions could be very great indeed.  But in spite of her fear and dread, she owns up to what she did.  She steps out from the others, out from hiding, falls down before Jesus and confesses what she has done.  However instead of reprimands and rebukes, Jesus says to her, “Daughter your faith has made you well.  Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
            This woman believed.  She sensed, she knew that she could be healed by Jesus.  She knew that all she had to do was touch his robe and her cure would come.  She was right.
            But Jesus’ healing doesn’t stop with this woman.  Lest we forget, her healing was an interruption to Jesus’ original purpose.  He was on his way to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter.  Without meaning to, the woman interrupted Jesus.  She seemingly distracted him from his initial intent.  In fact as Jesus once more moves ahead to Jairus’ house, some folks who had been waiting come to him and inform him that Jairus’ daughter has died.  There’s no point in bothering Jesus any longer.
            Jesus overhears them and tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”  Only believe.  He and just a few of the disciples go to Jairus’ house.  The mourners have gathered.  In spite of their wailing and weeping, they can’t contain their laughter when Jesus announces that the little girl is only sleeping.  Their laughter doesn’t stop Jesus.  He takes the girl’s hand and says, “Talitha cum.”  As the text tells us this means, “Little girl, get up.”  She does what she’s told.  She gets up.  She walks about the room.  She is healed!
            Jairus knew.  Jairus believed that Jesus could heal his daughter.  And his deep sense, his absolute belief in Jesus’ healing ability was fulfilled.  The woman who bled for twelve years knew as well.  She believed without hesitation that merely touching the clothes Jesus wore would give the healing she sought. 
I wish I knew like they did.  I wish I felt the same urgency to reach Jesus, to fall on my knees before him, to believe that even just grasping his robes would give me the healing I desire.  I do believe.  I believe that God through Christ has a power to change hearts and minds, and that how that happens is most often beyond my understanding.  But I take my belief for granted.  I’ve done my seeking.  Even if I weren’t a pastor, I’d still be here, in church, participating in worship. 
            But I think that sometimes our faith grows complacent.  Our urgency to seek Jesus only surfaces in crisis.  It was desperation that made both Jairus and the woman willingly make themselves vulnerable and turn to Jesus for help.  Perhaps the one thing we can take from this passage is the understanding that seeking Jesus is a lifelong pursuit.  Jesus told Jairus, “do not fear, only believe.”  So fear must give way to belief.  Worries must give way to trust.  Each day we are called to make our way towards Jesus, determined, unafraid, vulnerable, and willing to accept whatever consequences may come from reaching him.  Every day we need to repeat Jesus’ words over and over again – do not fear, only believe.  From this we know, we know and we believe and we hope that miracles are possible, for all of us, for all of God’s children.  Amen.

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