July 1, 2018 – The 6th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 8B
© 2018 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
I wonder how it felt to be in the crowd that day and see the leader of the synagogue fall down at Jesus’ feet and beg for a miracle. Jairus was a man of wealth, respect, and dignity, but his daughter’s illness had brought him to the point of desperation. What did it feel like to see the man who was always so well put together, who was always impeccably dressed, down on the dusty ground, grabbing at Jesus feet, pleading for assistance? As a leader of the synagogue, Jairus was known to everyone in the community, and it must have made them uncomfortable to see this man of power brought literally to his knees.
After hearing his request, Jesus went with him toward his house, and the crowd pressed in to follow him. They wanted to see what would happen. They wanted to see what would come of Jairus and his daughter—whether the famous rabbi would be able to help. And I wonder what it felt like, in the middle of that urgent errand of mercy, to see Jesus stop in the midst of the crowd, spin around, and ask, “Who touched me?” It seemed like a silly, out-of-place question. Why was the rabbi asking who had touched him? And why was he stopping? He knew that there was little time, and that a child’s life was at stake. Why did he waste this precious time asking who it was who had bumped into him.
And then they saw who it was. Terrified, the woman whom no one had touched for a dozen years came forward. What must it have felt like to see that the woman with the hemorrhage was the one who had touched Jesus? Like Jairus, everyone recognized her, but, unlike the synagogue leader, she was known because of her shame. For twelve years, she had lived apart from normal society. Because of her menstrual discharge, she was ritually unclean. Anyone with whom she came into contact likewise would become unclean. Every night, she slept in a tent out behind her house. She wasn’t allowed to eat with her family. She certainly wasn’t allowed in the synagogue, and, as its leader, Jairus would have told the ushers to keep an eye out just in case she tried to come in.
What went through the minds of the crowd as they saw who it was that had touched Jesus? What would Jairus have been thinking? This had become a terrible tragedy. One could easily argue that Jesus himself had become unclean when the woman touched him. Normally, people might look the other way, but Jesus was headed to Jairus’ house, and Jairus was a religious icon in that community. He couldn’t afford to let Jesus come under his roof now that he had been ritually contaminated. He couldn’t let Jesus in to see his little girl, but the girl might die without his healing touch. What would happen? How would Jesus himself respond in this moment?
“Daughter,” he said to the woman, “your faith has made you well; your faith has saved you. Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” Surely those were startling words. Jesus had every reason to dismiss the woman in the harshest imaginable way. She had defiled him and not only delayed his work but perhaps derailed it completely. Yet Jesus looked at the woman tenderly and called her “daughter,” bringing her back into the fold of Abraham. I wonder how it felt to be in that crowd and stand in that marketplace and watch that woman step forward and then hear Jesus speak words of deep healing to her. It must have been enough to make one’s head spin.
But, then, an anxious whisper started to move through the crowd. Someone had overheard the servants from the leader’s house when they approached their master and gave him the bad news. It was too late. His daughter was dead. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus was among those who heard what they had said to Jairus, and, speaking as much to the murmuring crowd as to the leader of the synagogue, he said, “Do not fear; only believe!” I wonder how the crowd reacted to Jesus’ confrontational words. Were they confused? Did they have hope? Did they wonder why Jesus would call for faith in that moment? Faith in what? Dead is dead. Were they angry at the hemorrhaging woman for interrupting Jesus on his way to Jairus’ house? Did they wonder whether he could have made it in time if she hadn’t touched him? Did they blame her for the child’s death?
When Jesus got to the leader’s house and found the mourners already gathered to offer their sympathies and to show their deference to the powerful man, Jesus called them out for the commotion they were making: “The child is not dead but merely sleeping.” At this, the mourners laughed at him—literally they “down-laughed” or “ridiculed” him. They probably wondered why Jesus would say such a terrible thing. It’s a crime against human decency to pretend that someone’s child has not actually died, giving them a false and cruel hope. But Jesus put them outside and took with him only the parents of the child and his three closest disciples—Peter, James, and John—as he entered the house.
I wonder how Jairus felt when he saw his lifeless daughter for the first time. I wonder how it felt to watch Jesus approach her body and take her by the hand and speak gently into her ear. And I wonder how it felt to see the breath return to her corpse, to watch her get out of bed, to see her familiar smile, and to hold the one they thought that they had lost. And I wonder what the mourners felt when they saw the dead daughter walking, talking, and eating. I wonder what the townsfolk felt when they got the news that Jairus’ daughter had not died after all, that the visiting rabbi had gotten there in time, that the twelve-year-old girl was going to be alright.
This gospel lesson isn’t two miracle stories but one. It is one story of God’s work in the world sandwiched together out of two deeply connected episodes. Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman. One twelve-years-old and the other ostracized for twelve years. One on the cusp of becoming a woman and the other broken in the very thing that makes her a woman. Mark pulls them together to teach us something important about how God works and what God’s will for the world really is. He tells us this unified miraculous story to remind us how God’s love works.
How do we feel when it is our turn to be powerless? What’s it like when we are as desperate as Jairus or as desperate as the nameless woman? What’s it’s like to need a miracle so badly that we would throw ourselves at Jesus’ feet or risk everything to touch his cloak? And how does it feel when someone else steps in the way, intercepts our miracle, and pushes our need to the back of the line? How does it feel when the person who steals Jesus’ attention is known better for her moral failure than any kind of faithfulness? What’s it like when the miracle falls on the less-deserving, on the one who was only in trouble because she caused it for herself? How do we feel when our miracle gets delayed, when our prayers go unanswered, when we get news that it’s too late? And what does it feel like when we discover that it’s never too late, that Jesus hasn’t forgotten us, that God’s miraculous love has found us as well? In that moment, when we see that the light of salvation is shining on us, too, do we remember the woman? Do we remember how it felt when we thought that there was only so much of God’s love to go around and we blamed her for getting it first? Do we find room in our heart even for her?
People who believe in Jesus are people who believe that there is always enough of God’s love for everyone. And the people of this church have shown over and over again that they believe it—that they know deep down in their bones that God loves absolutely everyone and that there is no limit to God’s love. That’s what we stand for. That’s why we’re here. That’s why you called me to be your rector, and that’s why I said yes when you called. We know that God sees and responds to the needs of the world indiscriminately. We know that there are no distinctions or differentiations in God’s love. We know that; we believe that; but we still have work to do.
We know that God sees the world that way, but do we see it the way God sees it? Do we see that the needs of others are just as important as our own? Do we see that, no matter who they are or what they’ve done or where they come from or what they believe, they are as fully loved by God as we are? Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman. One must wait until the other is healed so that both might see the truth. In Jesus Christ, we see that God loves everyone exactly the same, and in the gospel of Christ, we hear God beckoning us to love everyone exactly the same, too.