The gospel for June 27th (Mark 5:21-43) involves desperate people taking risks to get close to Jesus.
As the gospel opens Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other (the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee) side and a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 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.
Earlier in Mark's gospel, Jesus had run afoul of the Pharisees for letting his disciples pluck the gleanings from the field on the sabbath and for healing the man with the withered hand. Some in the Jewish religious establishment had already judged Jesus negatively.
So Jairus took both a “political” and personal risk in approaching Jesus. His role in the synagogue was roughly the equivalent of a warden in the Anglican church: a lay leader. Asking Jesus for help ran counter to the Pharisees’ emerging views of Jesus and would have set Jairus at odds with them. That would have been risky enough, but he also fell at Jesus’ feet in the presence of a great crowd: a sign of humble petition of this itinerant preacher that risked making him the object of ridicule.
His love for his daughter and his sense of desperation impelled him to take these risks. In 1st century Israel children were legally regarded as “property”, and males were more valued than females, so the man’s concern for his daughter also set him apart from the norms of the day.
Jesus responded to the man’s faith and went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him.
At this point, Mark begins to tell another story within the story of Jairus and his daughter. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages 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.”
The woman's menstrual bleeding, would have made her ritually unclean and required her to sequester herself. But because the bleeding was continuous, she could not hide. While she had been able to buy the services of many physicians, over the twelve years she had spent all that she had, so, in addition to being ritually unclean, she was now poor. Over the years, her plight must have become known to the community and she would have been shunned by others. She was poor, vulnerable and marginalized. Nonetheless, stories about Jesus’ power to heal had reached her.
While she did not intend to speak to Jesus, she believed that his grace was so powerful that even touching his clothes would cure her. In her desperation she just wanted to get close enough to him to brush his clothes, apparently intending to do so unnoticed. She risked the rejection of her neighbours and of Jesus to get close to him.
Mark’s description of the scene is cinematic. As the crowd moved forward towards the home of Jairus, she must have pushed her way through those following to get behind Jesus. We can imagine her face set in a mix of hope and despair and the scorn of the others she had bumped out of the way as they looked to see who it was that had pushed past them to reach Jesus and touch his cloak.
Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Her almost casual contact with Jesus restored her to wholeness instantly. Here healing was not “just” a fact, she experienced wholeness and well-being.
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 around to see who had done it.
Jesus' sense of himself and his awareness of people went beyond normal experiences. (Recall that when they first met, Nathanael asked how Jesus knew him and Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” John 1:48, and how he had told the Samaritan woman everything she had ever done John 4:39)
…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.”
She seemed to have expected a reprimand or perhaps even a withdrawal of the cure. Instead, Jesus praised her faith, calling her daughter, granting her a relationship with him. This additional gift of familial relationship recalls how Jesus had said that whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35)
At this point, the story of Jairus and his daughter resumes. 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…Jesus said to the leader, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John...When they came to the house…he saw… people weeping and wailing loudly… 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 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.
Jesus’ dialogue with Jairus and the mourners centred around faith. He encouraged Jairus not to fear, only believe. He dismissed those who had laughed at him.
His cure of the woman and the restoration to life of the young girl were also immediate. The woman experienced the cure and the young girl got up and began to walk about, leaving no doubt in either case of their health.
In the two episodes, Jesus demonstrated his partiality to the marginalized in society…the poor, ritually unclean woman and a young female child. He also showed his response to faith by going with Jairus to his home and by his spontaneous cure of the woman who had merely touched his clothes.
· How do you imagine the faith of Jairus and the woman in this morning’s gospel changed in the subsequent weeks and years? Did they ask for stories about Jesus? Did they follow him? Did they tell Mark their story? (How did Mark, who wrote decades later, come to know Jairus’s name?)
· After twelve years of feeling unwell, what did the woman, who had been hemorrhaging, experience? Was it joy, a tingling sense of well-being, guilt that she had “stollen health” from Jesus then been caught, gratitude, or something else?
· What is the relationship between despair and faith? Presumably, Jairus had tried remedies for his daughter before falling at Jesus’ feet. The woman had spent all she had on cures. Nothing had worked for either of them. Jesus was their last resort. Is that the way it is supposed to be? Is Jesus’ ‘cure’ sometimes something other than a bodily healing?