Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.’ So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Mourning and Dancing
Having a crowd of people somewhere does not guarantee that those people know anything about what is going on. There are plenty of reasons why crowds gather. Sometimes, it's out of boredom and curiosity. They see something strange going on and decide to check it because they legitimately have nothing better to do with their time. These folks are mostly looking for a good show. They have no other investment in the outcome. They just want to be entertained. Be it a car accident or a flashy guy doing magic tricks, it doesn't matter. Just give them something worth watching. I think some of these people would have definitely been in the crowd that day. I mean, they had probably heard about what had happened on the other side of the sea. If that was any indication about what was going to happen here on the Jewish side of the water, this Jesus fella would put on a good show.
Did you hear what happened over in the country of the Gerasenes? Jesus ran into a man who was demon-possessed to an exceptional degree. The stories about this poor guy make him sound a little like the Incredible Hulk. He was too dangerous to live among the regular folks. He lived in the most isolated place he could find, the cemetery. He was so strong that he could break through chains and shackles with his bare hands. He howled in pain and grief all day and night. Well, you know what Jesus did when Jesus saw him? He realized that he was possessed not by just one demon but by a whole fleet of demons. Jesus exorcized those demons. You know what happened next? They jumped into a whole herd of hogs. No, seriously, two thousand of them, and those hogs ran right off a cliff and drowned in the sea. And, you know what else? The people in the community were so freaked out about what happened that they asked Jesus to leave town. The only one who appreciated it was the man who had been possessed, and he told everybody what Jesus had done for him.
Now, imagine that you've just been sitting around looking for something to do and you hear this story. Wouldn't that make you want to show up at whatever dock this guy was going to pull up to just to see what was going on? No wonder there was such a crowd. They'd heard a good story and figured they'd get to see a good show. Last time, he exorcized a bunch of demons and 2,000 pigs jumped off a cliff. I can imagine them high-fiving their buddies and saying, "Wonder what he'll do this time?" These are the folks who show up and don't know what's going on. They just want a good time.
Some other people showed up at the seashore that day, too. But, they weren't just looking for a good time. When they heard the story of the Gerasene demoniac, they heard more than a story about a monster and possessed pigs. They heard something that gave them hope. Jesus didn't have to tend to that poor, possessed man. He was not Jewish. He was deeply disturbed. He was violent and terribly lonesome. He lived among the dead. Even just one of those afflictions would have been enough reason for some people to turn away from him. But, Jesus didn't look away. He didn't try to run the man off. He simply saved him from the demons that tormented him and asked him to tell others what God had done for him. Jesus looked a sick, unclean, violent foreigner right in the face and he saved him. He did not allow the cultural norms that would have forbade their interaction to stop him from treating this man with compassion. And, there were some people back on the Jewish side of the sea who desperately needed compassion. They joined the crowd, too. Two of them, one seeking healing for his daughter and one seeking healing for herself, become the center point of today's gospel reading.
How desperate must Jairus have been to come to Jesus to heal his daughter? Though this is early in Jesus' ministry, he has already gotten in trouble with the scribes and temple leaders. Jairus himself was an administrator in the temple. He would have known that Jesus' reputation among the leaders in the community was not a good one. People had even accused Jesus of being possessed himself. Jesus was no physician. He was barely a carpenter. But, Jairus' daughter was sick. And, even though he had been taught that his sons were to be prized above her, he could not stand by and watch her die. He would do anything he could to save her, even if it meant turning to an wandering faith-healer... even if it meant angering the other leaders of the synagogue... even if it meant looking like a fool. If Jesus would save the foreign demoniac, maybe Jesus would save his daughter. He had to try. So, he waded through the crowd and threw himself at Jesus' feet.
What happens next is not exactly clear. The crowd doesn't seem to know what's going on. Who knows what the disciples are doing. The translation reads that "he went with him." It's unclear whether this means that Jesus was convinced by Jairus and followed him or whether Jairus followed Jesus, trying to convince him to help. Either way, the crush of people is still crowded around Jesus waiting for him to do something cool. In the midst of all this chaos, we meet a woman. She is not named. She is not even initially seen by Jesus or his disciples. She may not want to be seen. It may be easier for her if no one sees her. But, I think she came looking for Jesus out of a very similar sense of desperation as Jairus did. But, she is not worried about a loved one... she is trying to save herself.
Remember when I told you the list of things that would have made the demoniac an outsider according to Jesus' cultural norms? He was foreign, possessed, lived among the dead. Well, this woman had some intersecting identities that would have made her an outsider, too. She was likely Jewish, so she had that going for her. But, she was not a relative of Jesus' and probably shouldn't have been interacting with him on her own. She was sick, too, and sick in a way that would have likely rendered her ritually unclean. When it says that she was bleeding, it probably means that she had some kind of gynecological issue. It was a particularly serious one because she is described as having bled for 12 years. Not only would this have been an exhausting kind of illness, if she bled that regularly, she would not have been able to perform the rituals that made her ritually clean. Men would not have been allowed to be in physical contact with her as long as she was unclean. And, she was poor. She had spent everything she had to try to heal herself and nothing had worked. She was even sicker than she had been before. But, she had heard that Jesus had healed the foreign demoniac. She hoped that maybe she could be healed, too. She had to try.
Maybe she was used to people shunning her, or maybe she just didn't want to bother him, especially if he was speaking to a panicked Jairus. Either way, she didn't throw herself at Jesus' feet like Jairus did. She simply touched his clothes, hoping that a little of the grace would rub off on her. And, she was healed. Immediately. No more bleeding. And, she could have left at that moment happy, more happy than she had been in 12 years. But, suddenly, Jesus stopped. He knew that something had happened. The disciples were clueless. But he wasn't. He asked who had touched him. The woman could no longer hide. Like Jairus before her, she feel to Jesus' feet and fearfully told him her story. Rather than be angry that she tried to sneak some grace away from him, he praised her action and he praised her faith. He said "Your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease." He recognized her as a partner in this healing. It didn't matter how much grace he had. Had she not reached out for it, she would never had been healed. Thank God she had the courage to reach out.
And, yet, even in the midst of the joy of healing, comes mourning. We learn that Jairus' daughter has died before Jesus could get there. Jairus' friends say Jesus' doesn't need to come. And, since she has now died, her body is unclean. He probably doesn't want to come anyway. But, death doesn't stop Jesus... not this time, not ever. He says to the bereaved father, "Do not fear, only believe." Taking only a few disciples with him, Jesus' goes to her bedside. Even though the professional mourners have shown up, Jesus knows that this is not the end. He sees that this day will not be the last chapter in her story. He says to her, Talitha... little girl... talitha cum... little girl, get up. And, she raises just as surely as he himself will one day raise from the tomb. Jesus made sure that she had something to eat because resurrection can make somebody hungry. And, then, unlike the Geresene man, he tells her parents not to tell anybody what happened. But, like the women at the resurrection, they must have told somebody, because here we are reading about it 2,000 years later. It is, after all, very hard to not tell people good news.
Now, it could be tempting to try to make this story into some lesson about how having faith fixes everything. After all, in just a few verses, a chronically ill woman is healed and a child who seems to be dead has been revived. I think that is a mistake. Everyone in this room knows someone who has prayed mightily for healing and the healing has not happened. Our life of faith is more complicated than our requests for God to fix the problems in our lives. This story is more complex than that, too. Maybe the healing that matters the most here is that the woman is finally seen and recognized as one who can work with God to bring about her own healing. Or, maybe the healing that matters the most here is that of Jairus, who demonstrates his great love for his daughter in a patriarchal culture that valued boys over girls or his willingness to go against the wishes of his colleagues if it means that a little more compassion and healing can make their ways into the world. Or, maybe, this time, we can take our interpretive cue from David, who, in the face of great grace and blessing that he most certainly didn't deserve, chose to dance and shout out in amazement before God. May we be willing to reach out, even if it scares us; do what's right, even if it annoys the people in power; and not be afraid to sing praises when we know we've witnessed God's grace in action.
Resources Pastor Chrissy consulted while writing this sermon:
Kathryn Matthews commentary on Mark 5:21-43-
Preaching Mark by Bonnie Bowman Thurston (Augsburg Fortress, 2002)
Preaching the New Common Lectionary: Year B by Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, and Gene M. Tucker (Abingdon Press, 1985)
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.