“Our Stories are Connected” A sermon on Mark 5:21-43

In Sermons by Natalie Webb

Our text today tells two very different, but intertwined stories: a parent desperately trying to save his daughter, and an unnamed woman desperately trying to save herself.

First, we have Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, who comes to Jesus, groveling at his feet. Jairus is a man of great privilege: respected, well-off (as we see later in the description of his house and hired workers), a religious leader in the area. But his privilege does not exempt him from pain, or from fear. Despite all his privilege, he’s unable to help his 12 year old daughter, his baby girl. In the end, he’s just like every other parent who has begged God to help their child.

The crowds that are pressed in around Jesus make way for Jairus to pass through. “My little daughter is at her end. Help. Save her.” Jairus is the only religious leader in the gospels that seems to really see and accept who Jesus is: He bows before him, he asks for salvation, he has faith. It’s amazing what desperation can do. Without a word of response, Jesus goes with Jairus. There’s not a moment to lose, but the crowd surrounds them, making it difficult to move quickly. They don’t have time for this. And then…

Jesus stops in his tracks. “Who touched me?” A strange question to ask as he fights his way through a crowd. He’s being touched at every moment – “pressed in upon,” according to Mark. Come on, Jesus, we’re in a hurry here! But this was no ordinary touch – something happened with this touch – power went out from Jesus, without him intending it to happen.  Jesus refuses to go on. He seeks out the one whose need causes her to reach out to him. Jesus seeks out the one whose need causes her to reach out to him.[1]

And there she is – the woman comes forward, falls at Jesus’ feet, and tells him the whole truth: She had been sick for 12 years, with a constant flow of blood. She’d seen all the doctors, done all the treatments, to no avail. (And it’s no wonder, since one rabbinical document lists, among other treatments for menstrual disorders, things like frightening the woman and feeding her grain found in mule dung.[2]) This woman has suffered for over a decade. And on top of her physical suffering, this particular ailment has ostracized her from her community. According to the purity codes of the Jewish Law, women who were menstruating were unclean, and sent into isolation. One ancient Jewish text warns that even close proximity to a menstruating woman can cause death.[3] And touching a bleeding woman was totally taboo. According to popular opinion, it could even cancel out the healing powers of a wonder-worker.[4] Hmmm…

This woman was not just isolated and deemed unclean once a month, but for 12 years straight. A woman with this kind of ailment was called a Zaba – literally an “oozer” – perpetually unclean, quarantined, a threat to anyone in her proximity. For 12 years, she tried and failed to receive healing. Her condition only got worse. So in our story, her presence among the crowd, pushing through them to get to Jesus, is scandalous. She exposes everyone she touches. She risks nullifying Jesus’ healing powers with her own supposed dirtiness. Her very presence in our story is unlawful. This is what her culture and religion has taught her: she’s illegal. How dare she push her way to the front. Why didn’t she just get in line like everyone else?

This woman is bold, she’s disobedient, she’s at her wits end. So she risks everything, including perhaps the comfort and status of those around her, for one last chance. “If I can just touch his clothes, I will be saved.” She touches his garment, and she feels in her body that her bleeding has stopped. She feels in her body her healing.

And everything stops. Can you imagine how Jairus feels? “Let’s go, Jesus, we’re wasting time! She’s a selfish, line-cutting, nobody. Focus on me! I did things right! Focus on my little, innocent daughter!” But Jesus stops. He finds the bold woman. He connects with her. He calls her daughter. He speaks words of peace and healing and salvation over her. And just as she experiences healing and restoration, Jairus gets the devastating news that his daughter has died. Jesus doesn’t stop for pastoral words, but barges into the house, past the mourners, and takes the dead girl’s hand: “Little girl, get up!” And she rises. Not even death is strong enough to stop Jesus’ saving power.

* Something important is happening here that often gets overlooked: Jesus is breaking the Law. By having contact with a Zaba, an “oozing woman”, and by reaching out and grabbing the hand of a corpse, Jesus is explicitly disregarding two very clearly stated purity codes from Leviticus and Numbers.[5] As Christians, we believe that Jesus’ life and actions reinterpret and even change the Law and our relationship to it. We do not follow the Jewish Law or the law of any nation blindly. We look to Jesus Christ to show us the way of righteousness, justice, and salvation. Not the Law.

Jairus and the bold woman in our story today could not be more different.

-He is a parent. Her illness has likely prevented her from that role.

-He is a man of privilege – with name and title given. She is a nobody – an unwoman.

-He is a religious leader. She has been cast out by her religion.

-He is wealthy. She’s spent everything she had on failed attempts at cures.

-He approaches Jesus with a formal request. She pushes her way forward and doesn’t ask permission.

Nevertheless, they are connected. Their stories depend on each other. The woman has been suffering for 12 years – the entire length of time of Jairus’ 12 year old daughter’s life. Both, in very different ways, express incredible faith. Both fall at Jesus’ feet. Both experience God’s salvation, God’s healing, through Jesus. The woman and the little girl were both unclean (because of bleeding or because of death), and in both cases, Jesus blows past the religious rules, breaking the law to help them. Jesus calls them both daughter. Their healing, their salvation, is not in competition. It is not at odds. It is inextricably connected. And so is ours.

 

I wonder how this story would be told today? Perhaps instead of a synagogue leader, Mark would write about an immigrant father, begging God to save his little daughter’s life from the gangs in El Salvador, from illness brought on by the journey north, from being separated and lost in a system somewhere. Perhaps instead of a bleeding woman, Jesus would be interrupted by an American woman with a terminal illness, whose visits to the doctor cost her everything and made her situation worse, who has been sick for so long and has such constant need that those around her avoid calling or checking in. Their stories are connected.

Or perhaps Mark would write about a Texas military wife, pleading at Jesus feet for her spouse to come home safely, for his wounds to heal. Anxiously clinging to Jesus and rightly demanding his full attention. Mark might interrupt her story with the story of a trans man, pushing his way through the crowds that do not want him there – that consider him unclean. Forcing his way through for just a slight touch. Their stories are connected.

Our stories are connected. As different as we are, as different as the ways we come to Jesus are, whether with dignity or without, with privilege or without, we all come to Jesus in our desperation, we all fall at his feet, we find God’s salvation in him. Jesus looks into the face of each one of you, and everyone who is so so different than you, and calls you all daughter, son, beloved child.

Lilla Watson, an Indiginous Australian elder, artist & activist, writes “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” The stories in Mark’s gospel need each other. Our stories today need each other. In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes Isaiah to describe the purpose of his ministry. He says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberation to the captives, sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Sometimes when our world seems so divided, it can start to feel like my healing and your healing are at odds, like your liberation is an interruption of mine. But in our stories today, Jesus shows us that as different as we are, our liberation is bound together.

Covenant – may we look around at all God’s children, all the world’s desperation, all the orthodox and unorthodox ways people are reaching out for help, and recognize that our stories are tied together. May we, like Jesus, speak words of peace and healing. May we, like Jesus, lift each other up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Adapted from a phrase by Joel Marcus, Mark, 369.

[2] b. Sabb. 110ab

[3] b. Pesah. 111a

[4] cf. Hekhalot Rabbati 18

[5] E.g. Leviticus 12:7; 15:19-33; 20:18; Numbers 5:1-4.