Power Going Forth
Trinitarian Congregational Church
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Anthony S. Kill
July 1, 2018
Texts: Psalm 40; Mark 5:21-43
The Gospel for today contains a story within a story. Jesus is on his way to respond to one family’s call for help and healing when another person reached out to him for healing.
It seems that even though there was intense opposition to Jesus’ teaching and healing among the religious authorities, the local people, even the local religious leaders, believe in Jesus’ power to heal, and look to him for help when no one else can help them anymore.
Jairus’s daughter is dying, and he comes to Jesus in desperation, believing and hoping against hope that Jesus has the Divine power that can stop death itself. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
Obviously, Jairus wasn’t alone in this faith in Jesus. Verse 24 says a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. They too were looking to Jesus for something, — or perhaps just for some sign that he really did have such spiritual power. But in the middle of that crowd, Mark has one particular person in mind.
Healing doesn’t happen to crowds, but crowds can be affected by a healing. Faith isn’t possessed by crowds. Faith is always individual, and grace is individual, and healing is individual. A person’s mind is changed, or their heart is changed, or their body is changed, by the powerful grace of God. But then whole families may be affected and transformed when individuals are changed. Whole churches may be affected, or whole crowds. Even nations may be affected and transformed. But change always begins with individuals, individuals who trust enough, hope enough, are humble enough, dare risk enough to take a step, take a stand, reach out for healing or for justice, to forge the way toward a new beginning.
The one individual that Mark has in mind in this story is a woman who had every reason to despair, to give up, and to never hope for a new beginning. She had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had obviously worked very hard to find a cure, and have her health restored. Mark even gets in his licks at the medical profession: “She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.” But this woman still had not despaired or given up. When she heard about Jesus, she said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” So she did. She came up behind him and touched his cloak.
Now remember, this woman’s illness was a flow of blood, a chronic gynecological problem. According to Levitical law, she was ritually unclean; she would have been cast out, shunned from social contact. And if Jesus had touched her, he would be ritually unclean as well. Perhaps that’s why she wanted to touch him so secretly, so unobtrusively that no one would notice.
Well, the woman got good news and bad news.
The good news is, it worked! “Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” Such was the power of Jesus, the healing power of God in Jesus, that just the touch of his clothing, received in faith, was enough to bring healing.
The bad news is, it didn’t work! She couldn’t get away with it. She couldn’t get a quiet, un-noticed secret healing. Jesus immediately knew that power had gone forth from him, and he stopped and asked “who touched my clothes?” Here he is, surrounded by a sea of people pressing in on him, and he asked “who touched my clothes?” That’s what his disciples reminded him: “How can you say who touched me? Practically everybody touched you!”
What happens next is even more remarkable. Jesus stops. He’s on his way to respond to the urgent and anguished request of the synagogue leader to try to save his daughter’s life. But he stops and turns into the crowd, to learn about this other person who had laid claim to his healing power. “But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.” The woman knew that she needed to tell Jesus everything, and she came forward. The two of them stopped and had a conversation right there. And apparently not a short one either. The woman told Jesus the whole truth. She was “in fear and trembling”, but she told the whole truth. How often do we hear “the whole truth” about someone’s life? How often do we tell the whole truth?
This little moment tells us a great deal about the way Jesus dealt with people. Not just important people, or people he was trying to teach, but the people he encountered on the road, and in the crowd. Jesus took time for this woman. He noticed her, and listened to her. He stepped aside from other important business to be with her. He let himself be interrupted by her and by her needs.
I know there’s a message for me in that. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen reflected about how hard it was to be a university professor when so many people were always knocking on his door or calling him on the phone, interrupting his work. Nouwen wrote, “I used to get agitated that I had to put up with so many interruptions to my work. Then I realized that the interruptions are my work.”
I know just how he felt. As a pastor, I often found that I would get frustrated when I was interrupted from something that I thought was important because of some issue that someone else considered to be more important. Only slowly did I come to realize that I needed to pay more attention to these interruptions They were often my most important work.
Is that ever true for you — with your children? with your relatives? with your neighbors? with your clients, or co-workers? with a stranger on the street? Who interrupts you in need of a touch of love or healing or compassion? Who interrupts you with a need for someone to listen to their whole truth?
Back to the text. Jesus hears the woman out, and then affirms her faith, and her healing. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” She has now become family to Jesus. She is a ‘daughter’. Her faith has gained her peace as well as healing. She is the only individual in the all the Gospels that Jesus calls “daughter”.
The one who probably had the greatest problem with this interruption would have been poor Jairus, the one who had desperately asked Jesus’ help for his daughter. While Jesus and the woman are having their conversation, up come the bearers of sad news. It is too late. Jairus’s daughter is beyond help. She is dead. Leave this good teacher alone. But Jesus overhears, and contradicts them: “Do not fear. Only believe” Just as the woman overcame her fear and trusted in Jesus, now Jairus is invited to do the same.
Jesus leaves the crowd behind, and takes only his closest disciples, Peter, James and John. Now the power of God in Christ must face a new test. And the test is not only death. The test is also the unbelief of the crowd. At Jairus’ house, Jesus confronts a commotion of mourners, weeping and wailing loudly. Scholars suggest that these may have been professional mourners, paid to keen at funerals. In any case, they don’t seem to be family. And their expressions of mourning quickly turn to mocking laughter, when Jesus suggests that this death is a sleep from which the girl can be awakened. Now I don’t think that Jesus is suggesting that this child is just having a hard time waking up that morning. Jesus is using sleep as a euphemism for death here, as is often done in the Bible. What is important about this expression is that it hints at resurrection. For those who believe in the resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of the Christian, for those who believe that God has power over death, then even death is a sleep from which we can wake up again to a new day.
And that commotion of mourners wailing away is a metaphor for all the unbelieving world who laugh at our belief in resurrection, those who would rather wail and weep at the sorrow of doomed fate than hope for new possibilities of life and salvation. Those who don’t believe that God can make a way out of no way.
Jesus sends them all away. He puts the unbelieving crowd outside, and taking only the parents and his three disciples, he goes to the child, takes her by the hand, and says to her in Aramaic, “Talitha cum” ‘Little girl, get up.’ And she does. She stands, she walks, she eats. And the people are amazed.
Part of the message of this passage is that Jesus’ healing power is available to anyone — the innocent child and the aging adult, the prominent leader and nameless woman all alone in the crowd. No one needs to feel too proud or too public, or too insignificant or too worthless to ask for Jesus’ healing The unclean female, and the respected male leader. — the impoverished lonely outcast and the well-known religious official both throw themselves at Jesus’ feet in their need, and Jesus stops for both of them, and hears their plea, and honors their pain, and grants the healing they request.
But there is a caution to this promise. The healing power that God makes available to us is not some magic wand that we can point and shoot. Both the woman and the child’s father had to take some initiative, and step out with some risk to prepare the way for healing to happen. They had to trust, and they had to act on that trust – even in a public way. Jesus’ grace and power were there for them. Jesus was ready to reach out and touch and heal for them. But they had to reach out and touch as well.
Remember the Gospel-rock hit in the early ’70’s that invited you to “Put your hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters. Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea, Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.” I know it was kind of hokey (especially after Neil Diamond got ahold of it) but I always liked that image, because it described a mutual action, a reciprocal action: You reach out, and Christ reaches out, and hands clasp. The touch moves both ways. Your healing, your resurrection, may not be like the two described in Mark’s story. But if you reach out to Christ in your hour of need, You will find compassion, encouragement, healing and peace. You will be touched by the saving and healing power of God.