Sunday, June 28, 2015

In Need

Mark 5:21-43
June 28, 2015

            How far would you go to save your child? Until I became a parent, I didn’t understand how hard it is having a sick child. Even something as ordinary as a cold tests you. You want to give your kids comfort. You want to make them better, and you think you should be able to. Making your child well again should be within your parental powers. After all, I was the one who could kiss an owie and make it all better. But sometimes no amount of kisses and cuddles and comfort can make a sickness disappear. My kids have been ill to varying degrees throughout their lives. But they have both had one significant illness that terrified me. Luckily, they weren’t in life-threatening states. But they were pretty sick, and I have never felt so helpless.
            How far would you go to save your child? In the novel, “My Sister’s Keeper” by Jodi Picoult, parents go to extraordinary lengths to save their daughter, Kate. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 2. She needed blood and stem cells from a matching donor. Her older brother was not a match. Her parents were not a match. So Kate’s parents sought the help of a geneticist who helped them conceive a baby who would be a match. Anna. The story twists and turns from there, but it is a moving example of the desperation parents may feel when their child is sick. How far would you go to save your child?
            How far would you go to save yourself? When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, none of us questioned her decision to do everything she could to fight it. If she had wanted otherwise, we would have done all that we could to convince or even coerce her. She had a mastectomy. She stayed on an oral form of chemotherapy for a long time. She did the physical therapy. She did everything she was told to do. My mom continues to have yearly mammograms, because she knows how insidious cancer is. How far would you go to save yourself?
In our story from Mark’s gospel, we read about two people who were willing to go to great lengths for healing; the woman for herself and Jairus for his daughter.  
            Jairus was a leader of the synagogue. He had standing in the community. It was probably far more shocking than we realize for him to seek out Jesus directly. There were plenty of people of less importance who would have gone to Jesus for him. But Jairus went to Jesus. He sought him out. Jairus fell down before him, and begged for Jesus’ help. He was probably putting his reputation and religious career on the line by doing what he did, but his need was so great I imagine all concern for dignity, reputation, and standing were forgotten. Jairus’ daughter – his little girl, his child – was deathly ill. He was willing to go to any length to save her. Jairus, a man of authority and power, was powerless before his daughter’s illness. In his helplessness, he was completely vulnerable and made himself more vulnerable still by rushing to Jesus for help.  Jairus knew; he knew that if Jesus laid his hands on his daughter, she would be made well.  So as soon as he saw Jesus he fell at the teacher’s feet and pleaded with him to come and heal his little girl.  That was how greatly he was in need. That was how far he would go to save his child.
            As Jesus was making his way toward Jairus’ house, another person came to Jesus in desperate need; a 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 was given every test, every treatment, and every cure known to a doctor of that time.  Still nothing worked.  She had only grown steadily worse.
            When Jesus stepped into that crowd by the sea this unnamed woman, this desperate woman knew. She knew that if she could only touch him, if she could just grasp his clothing for a fleeting second, she would be cured.  All would be well.
            She did just that.  I imagine it was her desperation, her need that helped her push through that large crowd.  Being ill for so long, she was most likely anemic. I suspect she had very little strength.  However, in great need, 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 felt it in her body.  The bleeding stopped. She was healed.
            All of this in itself is amazing.  We could stop the story right here and know that a miracle happened.  Outside of knowing the fate of Jairus’ daughter, nothing more would need to be said.  It is a miracle!  But the amazing events continued.  Jesus knew something happened as well.  He perceived that power had left him.  He realized something out of the ordinary had occurred.
            So he stopped where he was and called out, “Who touched me?”  My reaction to this is similar to the disciples’.  Huh? 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.  This 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 her fear must have gone beyond the fact that she touched this rabbi. Her twelve years of bleeding meant that she was ritually unclean.  Not only had she dared to touch Jesus, she surely touched a whole lot of other people in her push to reach him.  For twelve years she would have lived an outsider’s life. For twelve years she would have been banned from full participation in the life of the synagogue.  Contact with her would have contaminated others. Her uncleanness would have been contagious. So she should have been nowhere near a great crowd such as this one, and certainly nowhere near a teacher such as Jesus.  Her very presence there was a violation of the Law.
            I’m sure she was afraid. I’m sure she was shaking at the potential punishment and the consequences for her actions. But she was in need. She was in desperate need, and that need outweighed everything else. She needed Jesus. Jairus needed Jesus. This woman occupied a much lower place in society than Jairus did, but their need for Jesus was an equalizer. It bridged the distance that society and status placed between them. They were both willing to be completely vulnerable in order to receive the healing they so desperately needed.  How far would you go to save your child? How far would you go to save yourself?
            The consequences for this woman’s actions would have been great indeed. But in spite of her fear and dread, she owned up to what she did.  She stepped out from the others, out from hiding. She fell down before Jesus and confessed what she had done.  Yet instead of reprimands and rebukes, Jesus said to her, “Daughter your faith has made you well.  Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
            This woman believed.  She knew Jesus could heal her. She was in need, and had faith that her need would be answered. She knew that all she had to do was touch his robe be cured. She was right.
            But Jesus’ healing didn’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 little girl when the woman interrupted. She seemingly distracted Jesus from his initial intent.  As Jesus once more moved toward Jairus’ house, some others who were waiting came to Jairus and informed him that his daughter was dead.  There was no point in bothering Jesus any longer.
            Jesus overheard them and told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”  Only believe.  Jesus and a small contingent of the disciples went to Jairus’ house.  The mourners were gathered.  In spite of their wailing and weeping, they couldn’t contain their laughter when Jesus announced that the little girl was not dead, only sleeping.  Their laughter didn’t deter Jesus.  He took the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha cum.”  The text interprets this as, “Little girl, get up.”  She obeyed.  She stood up.  She walked about the room.  She was 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 her the healing she sought. Their need drove them to seek out Jesus, but they both knew that he had the power to heal, to help them, to answer their need.
It was desperation that made both Jairus and the long-suffering woman willing to be vulnerable. In their need, they went to great and even dangerous lengths to seek Jesus’ help. In their need they turned to Jesus, and Jesus responded, directly and indirectly.  Not only did Jesus answer their need, Jesus stepped across boundaries to do so. An unclean woman touched him, but instead of chastising her, he called her “daughter.” He restored her place in the community. Jesus touched a girl who was dead, making him unclean, but that boundary of social propriety did not stop him. Her need, her father’s need was greater than any wall social mores could construct. Jesus defies boundaries to meet our needs as well; because suffering knows no boundaries.  Jairus and the woman were willing to cross boundaries to reach Jesus, and Jesus responded in kind. A popular saying is that “Jesus meets us where we are.” These intertwined stories bear that out. Suffering does not respect status or boundary. Need doesn’t care about social niceties. Here is the good news. Neither does Jesus. Jesus meets us where we are. Jesus meets suffering where it is. And this good news calls us to do the same. To go where suffering lives, and where need abides. To do and live the words Jesus spoke to Jairus. “Do not fear, only believe.”  So fear must give way to belief.  Worries must give way to trust.  The needs of our world are great. Our need is overwhelming. The needs around us are more so. But God’s love through Jesus is greater still. No boundary can stop that love. No place is too dark for that love to reach. Jesus meets us in our need. And we are called to go with him, to be his hands, his voice, his love, in meeting the needs of others.  That is good news. That is good news indeed. Let all of God’s children say, “Alleluia!” Amen.

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