The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks; Fifth Sunday after Pentecost—Year B (Proper 8); Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Lamentations 3:21-33; II Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43 Video
So, last week, Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee, and this week, he has crossed it again. When he gets out of the boat, a crowd is immediately around him. Jesus is a magnet for people; there’s just no escaping it. Then, one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and he begged him for help. Jesus’ relationship with traditional religious leadership is sometimes good and sometimes not so good, so it seems really significant that a leader of the synagogue would seek out this itinerant teacher. What would make a religious leader of Jairus’ position, with all the status that entailed, do such a thing? I’ll tell you what—his little 12-year old girl was sick, really sick, at the point of death, and when your child is sick, you’ll do anything—forget position, forget status, forget looking crazy or like a fool—a sick child will bring you to your knees; you’ll do anything for your child. Jairus had heard about this healer; it was a longshot, but longshots are what you do at that moment—“Jesus, please, just come lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, sozo, whole, and live.” And Jesus went with him.
But the crowd was large, and that crowd followed Jesus, and they pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years. She kept losing blood, and she had been to doctor after doctor. She had endured much, and she had spent all that she had. She couldn’t get better, and in fact, she got worse. Twelve years of hemorrhages—that’s exhausting; that sucks the life out of you; that takes every ounce of your energy. No doubt she suffered despair and depression every time she tried an avenue of treatment that then failed dashing her hopes. It was amazing that she had any energy left to pursue wellness at all. The fact that she had been to so many doctors indicates that this was a women with means, but all the money in the world couldn’t keep her from losing blood. She had tried everything that medicine could offer her; she was at the end of her rope. Chronic illness will bring you to your knees; it was a longshot, but she had heard about Jesus, and she just had a sense—“If I just touch his clothes, I will be made well, sozo, whole.” “Sozo”—that’s the root that gives us the word “salvation”—it’s about being healed and made whole.
Well, the woman came up behind him and touched his cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Jesus understand energy and power, and he knew that power had just gone forth from him. He started scanning the crowd, “Who touched me?”
The disciples, all they could see was a sea of bodies, and they were like, “Really Jesus? Look around; there are people everywhere, how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
But Jesus knew some exchange had happened—power had gone out of him which meant power had been received somewhere else. He looked all around to see who had done it; he looked all around to see in whom had that power landed.
The woman knew. She knew what had happened to her, and she wanted to disappear, stay silent, run away; she was afraid. And why? Because in that time, in that religious culture, a woman with a flow of blood was ritually impure, and if she touched a man in that state, she made him impure. Big no-no. She had reason to be afraid to step forward, but when that wholeness takes over in you, you can face your deepest fears. She was shaking, but she came forward and fell down before him and told him the whole truth—every last bit of it—which meant she also shared with him all the pain of twelve years of suffering and disappointment and exhaustion.
She probably expected to be chastised, called down, shamed—but that’s not what she got. “Daughter”—oh my goodness, she had been isolated in every way imaginable for twelve years—as the Common English Bible notes, “She had suffered physically, emotionally, socially, financially, and spiritually,” but the hardest had been the sheer isolation that came with her particular chronic illness—so, to be called “Daughter?” Oh my, how healing is that? “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” “Your faith, your trust, has made you well, sozo, whole; go in peace.” And this word for “peace” isn’t the typical “shalom” that we normally see, but it’s a different word for “peace”—it has “a sense of tranquility and quiet and rest and harmony that open the way to feeling safe and secure”—that’s the best news ever when you are completely exhausted and drained. “Daughter, go forth in this peace and be healed of your disease; be restored from this affliction” and with those words, Jesus knit that woman back into the fabric of community.
Meanwhile, Jairus is waiting. Wow, what must have been going through his head as he watched all of this? “What about my daughter, what about my daughter?!?” right alongside, “Wow, this guy is the real deal” which could only fuel his hope. But while Jesus was still talking, some people came from the Jairus’ 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, don’t be afraid, trust, trust.”
Jesus, always skittish of the sensational, allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, it was a crazy scene—people weeping and wailing, a huge commotion.
When he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making such a commotion? 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. That word for “amazement” is rich—“eksestame”—it has this sense of “being thrown out of position, displaced, thrown into wonderment, being amazed and astounded; it puts you out of your mind.” In other words, it completely reorients you. Jesus strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. Jesus wasn’t about the flash-in-the-pan; he was about waking up those who seem dead, he was about healing and restoring to wholeness, and reorienting lives; he was about feeding deep, deep hungers.
These healings are wild, and they shake us up. When your child is sick, you long for them to be well. When you suffer from chronic illness, you long to be made well. These accounts always raise the question, if Jesus did this for them, why doesn’t he always do it for us, and how do we make sense of it when people trust Jesus with everything they’ve got, and they do everything to touch his cloak, or surrender to him, and the child dies, or the illness doesn’t get better. I don’t know the answer to that.
But I also am not willing to explain these healings away—that might be the easier way because then we don’t have to deal with all the feelings that come when the cure doesn’t occur, but that feels like a diminishment of the divine power that flowed through Jesus, and that’s an awfully high price to pay to get all of this healing stuff sorted out in a way that my little brain can handle, and control. No, I’d rather allow for the mystery of that power to be there, and then wrestle with the ache that comes when things don’t work out the way I wish they would.
So, let’s let Jesus’ power stand, just as it is. Let’s let these healings displace us, throw us out of position. Let’s let these healings fill us with wonderment; let’s be astounded; let’s let them short out our minds.
And, let’s grapple with some pieces in these stories that we might have overlooked. That woman is hemorrhaging, losing blood, her life-force is draining away, and it’s been draining away for twelve years. There are lots of ways to have your life-force drain away. Where are you losing life? Where is your life draining away, slipping through your fingers? Where are you feeling exhausted and isolated and cut-off? Where are you feeling not well, un-whole? How many avenues have you been down trying to find that wholeness? What wholeness are you yearning to know? Maybe you can’t even form words around your need, but you don’t have to. Can you just risk touching his cloak? Can you trust that there is some power in him that really can flow to you, and that that power can make you whole in ways that will bring you peace and restore you and knit you back into a web of relationships where you can thrive?
Can you lay aside all your positions and status and identities and bring before Jesus your most vulnerable need, that place where you know you have no control and only longing? Can you trust that Jesus’ power is abundant, and that your need is worthy of his attention? Can you see that some things are not really dead, but only asleep, just waiting to be awakened? Can you risk the displacement that comes when that which you thought was dead really does wake up?
As we marvel at the woman who is healed from the flow of blood, as we stand in wonderment at Jairus’ little girl who wakes up, can we imagine Jesus healing us in all those places where we just aren’t well, all those places that so need to be made whole?
It never was just about that woman, or Jairus, or his little girl. It’s about our need to touch his cloak; it’s about our need to surrender our position and status and lay our needs naked before our Lord; it’s about our need to be awakened from our sleep and brought back into the fullness of life.
The crowd pressing in on Jesus might be large, and it might feel impossible, but that woman mattered to Jesus, Jairus mattered to Jesus, his little girl mattered to Jesus, and so do you. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC