When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, 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. 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.” Immediately her hemorrhage 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 around 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.
Plans are a funny thing. In 2004, I had it all figured out – well not everything, but at least I knew where I was headed. I was going to be an engineer. I spent 5 years studying for that very purpose and graduated in 2008. It is now 10 years later, and I have not worked a single day as an engineer in that time. The only way I can describe it is that that God had something different in mind for me.
What do we do when our patterns are disrupted? What do we do when things happen that are out of our control, different from the way we thought things would go? How are we supposed to respond?
The today’s gospel reading from Mark is a story of contrasts. Old and young, rich and poor, expected and surprising. It is a story about the miraculous healing of two women, who couldn’t be more different, linked only by their suffering and healing. But ultimately, it is a story about faith. Having faith in God, in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, when it seems as though all hope is faded.
To begin the story, Jesus and his disciples are approached by a man named Jairus. Now Jairus was a leader of the synagogue, a man who would have commanded a lot of respect in the Jewish community. Jairus has come to ask for Jesus’ help, for healing for his daughter. We can almost hear the pleading, the sadness in his voice “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so she may be made well, and live”. “Help me” he seems to say. “Help my little girl”. So, Jesus and his disciples go with Jairus.
It is at this point where the story takes a dramatic turn, as we are told about the plight of the haemorrhaging woman. She has been suffering her condition for 12 years. She has been to many doctors and physicians, but they have been unable to improve her condition. Yet doctors cost money, and she had spent all she had, but there was no progress. In fact, her suffering has worsened.
The unfortunate reality is that this woman – similar to the Syrophonecian woman from last week – has no social standing in the Jewish society that she is in. Firstly, she is a woman, so she is automatically seen as inferior to men within the Jewish society of the time. She is poor, as all her money having been spent on trying to cure her condition. She is alone; there is no one like Jairus around to plead her case for her. And because of her haemorrhaging, she is deemed ‘unclean’ by the Jewish purity code. She would be seen as the lowest of the low, and she is about to do something incredibly inappropriate, something almost unthinkable.
We are told that she has heard about Jesus, and she believed that Jesus could heal her “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well”. So, she did. She touches Jesus’ cloak. And this is the point where all the rules have gone out the window. The Jewish purity codes found in Leviticus insist that anything or anything that comes into contact with the “unclean” woman must also be deemed “unclean”. But the woman ignores this, and violates the purity code by touching Jesus’ clothes, thus theoretically making Jesus unclean. Yet that’s not what happens – instead the woman made clean – she is healed.
Jesus knows what has happened, that he has been touched, that power has gone forth from him, that somebody has been healed; so he looks around, and asks his disciples “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples do not know, so he continues to look around.
At this point the woman, knowing she had been healed, comes forward, shaking, trembling, full of fear, falls before Jesus, and tells him the whole story. The story of her illness, that she was the one who touched his cloak, and Jesus listens. And when she was done Jesus gives his approval of their impromptu encounter. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
As part of our formation for ordained ministry, we had the privilege of attending a hospital chaplaincy orientation at Westmead Hospital. Over four days we heard from chaplains and doctors, nurses and specialists. We heard about what each of the departments do, and what role pastoral care plays in the hospital system. It should be no surprise that that pastoral care becomes a huge part in the holistic wellbeing of patients. But there’s one revelation that I experienced that I wanted to share with you. As we talked with the chaplains, they told us that when they go and visit a patient, they intentionally don’t look at the patient’s chart. To me, this sounded rather strange – I mean, wouldn’t it seem obvious that to care for the patient it would be important to know what their situation was? But the chaplains explained that whilst doctors and nurses do an excellent job in addressing the patient’s physical wellbeing, the busyness of a hospital environment means that they only have a limited time to meet with patients, and so the emotional and spiritual wellbeing can sometimes be neglected. Chaplains don’t look at the charts because they don’t want to see the illness, or injury, or disease; they want to see the person as a whole. They don’t want to define the person they’re caring for by what’s wrong with them, but to just talk to them as they are.
Does this sound similar at all? It seems that Jesus models this method of pastoral care in the today’s passage. It would have been so easy for Jesus, after he had healed the haemorrhaging woman, to move on to the next task. And yet, what happens? Jesus talks with her, he takes the time to hear her story, to listen. He addresses her whole wellbeing: physical, emotional and spiritual. This snapshot of pastoral care is so very important for the church to hear, and to live out.
In the haemorrhaging woman, we also see the embodiment of faith. She truly believed in the power of Jesus, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well”. In the most surprising circumstances, we find someone who believes who fully and truly believes in Jesus, and the Good News he has been sharing.
Back to the story, and back to poor Jairus. He was a spectator to the whole event. What must he have been feeling? Yet he does not get involved. He waits. And then the worst happens. “Some people came from the leader’s house to say “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further”? But quick as a flash, Jesus steps in and offers Jairus some comfort, gives him some hope. “Do not fear, only believe.”
Do you know what the most repeated command is in the Bible? It is “do not be afraid”. There something wonderful in the realisation that the one thing that God asks of us more than anything else is to not be afraid. In this case, Jesus offers these words as a comfort Jairus and calls him back to faith, at the moment when he had quite understandably given it up. His daughter is dead. I cannot even imagine grief and pain of the moment. But Jesus holds firm. He is not about to give up on Jairus, or his daughter. “Do not fear, only believe”. I think these words are something that we all need to hear from time to time. So simple, but so very important. “Do not fear, only believe.”
So Jesus goes with Jairus, along with Peter, James and John, back to Jairus’ house. And the house is already in mourning. “people weeping and wailing loudly”. And here, Jesus makes the most ridiculous of claims “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Can we blame them? They know she is dead, and yet this strange man comes into the house and claims that she is just sleeping? It truly sounds ridiculous! But Jesus sends them out, and takes Jairus and his wife, and the disciples to where the child was. He took her by the hand. Now, remember earlier as we thought about the haemorrhaging woman, and the violation of Jewish purity codes? Well, if you thought that was bad, think about what the purity codes might say about corpses! But once again, Jesus decides to ignore the codes, takes the child by the hand, said to her “Little girl, get up!” and she does, she gets up and begins to walk about.
Jairus keeps his faith. He believes in Jesus, in what Jesus is capable of. He came to Jesus with the faith that Jesus could heal his daughter. This is astounding on its own, that a leader of the synagogue would come before a lowly teacher and ask for help. And even at the most difficult time, when his daughter had died, Jairus, with the help of Jesus, holds onto his faith. After the news that his daughter was dead, he had no reason to take Jesus to his house. He had no reason to let Jesus clear the mourners from his house. He had no reason to go with Jesus to the side of his dead child. He had no reason to do any of this, if he didn’t believe. But he did, and just as for the haemorrhaging woman, his faith is rewarded. His daughter was brought back to life.
There are 3 aspects of this story that I would like to invite you to spend some time thinking, talking and praying about.
First, we must not let the rules of society, the structures of life come between us and God’s will for us. Jesus provides us a clear example of the way in which we are all called by God to live. Jesus heals two women, showing us that Jesus wants us to embrace an equality of gender that the world often disregards. The women could not be more different in their situations, yet the healing hand of God is given to them both. Rich or poor, old or young, privileged or outcast, none of these should be barriers for us in sharing the Good News to people. Jesus even goes as far as to disobey religious traditions of purity in order to heal both these women. When the rules and regulations that we make for our world, for our country, for our churches, for ourselves become a barrier to the life-giving, all embracing love of the Triune God, we seriously need to consider where we stand within those rules and regulations and speak out against all injustice that plagues our world.
Second – we must be visible Christians. Although the haemorrhaging woman is healed in secret by her faith, the story doesn’t end there, because Jesus refuses to let the woman remain invisible. Instead, he calls her out. “Who touched my clothes?” and she knows that she has no choice but to reveal herself. Her faith is no longer just personal, it is now public. The world knows in what she believes, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Saviour of the world. It is not an easy thing to do, to drop your guard, to make yourself so vulnerable. It is no surprise that she came to Jesus in fear and trembling. Yet this is what we are called to do. To profess our faith, to proclaim the Good News to the world. And throughout September, you will have the opportunity to think more deeply about the concept of evangelism, and how we can all share our own stories of faith for the growing of the Kingdom of God.
And finally, a challenge – sometimes we get so focussed on the plans that we have for our lives that we don’t allow time for the spontaneous events, for the surprises of life. I mean, of course, we need to think about what’s coming up next, the next meeting, the next task. But if we allow ourselves to be so wrapped up in our own plans, we leave no room for God to surprise us. As Jesus and the disciples walked through the crowd with Jairus, the disciples did not notice the woman. Even when Jesus asks “Who touched my clothes?”, the disciples are still unaware, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”. The disciples were so focussed on what was coming next, that they could not see that something important was happening now. Let us learn from the disciples’ mistake and be vigilant to God’s surprising call for us, not just in the things we can see, the things we know about, but in the things that are hidden. Let us not let our plans and our schedules blind us from God’s will in the here and now.
West Epping is in the midst of significant change – Radhika and I will be moving to new placements in Leichhardt; John will be retiring. That’s not to mention the changing nature of the community around this place. But whilst it might seem like the best idea to move as quickly as possible to get a new minister, to get things moving again, to get things back to the way they were – my challenge is – don’t rush it. Take the time to really discern what God might have in store for West Epping. Challenge yourselves to not just ask about what is needed at West Epping, but what does West Epping need in order that it can be the body of Christ in this community? And be ready to be surprised, because it’s quite likely that what’s ahead is not what has been before. It’ll be something new, something different, something special.
In the name of the Risen Crucified One, Amen.