29 June 2009

Pentecost 3

by Peter Case

June 28, 2009 10:00

St. Luke’s Burlington

Mark 5: 21- 43

Our gospel today provides us with not one, but two remarkable stories of miraculous healings. Indeed, these are not just any healings; they are truly spectacular. In the first case, we see the healing of someone who might be described as a lost cause – a woman who has spent twelve years and all her money looking for a cure. She has exhausted all possibilities. In the second case there is the cure of a little girl who has already died. Spectacular miracles indeed.

In some ways, the two miracles are quite different. One involves an adult, the other a child. One involves the healing of a chronic condition, whereas with Jairus’ daughter, it appears that the illness has been a sudden and acute one. Perhaps the most significant difference is that the healing of the woman takes place in public with a crowd of witnesses. In the case of the little girl, however, only her parents, Peter, James and John were witnesses and Jesus told them not to tell anyone. Such admonitions not to reveal Jesus’ true identity are common in the gospels, but especially in Mark. The authenticity and rational for this so called ‘Messianic Secret’ has been debated by scholars, but what we can say is that it is consistent with Jesus’ desire that his mission not be interpreted in an earthly or political way.

In the end, however, it is not in the differences, but in the similarities of the two healings that we find the power of today’s gospel message. Both stories clearly and resonantly drive home: 1) the sensitivity of Jesus to the human condition; 2) the importance of faith; and 3) the power of Jesus to restore us to health and life.

In both miracles it becomes abundantly clear how sensitive Jesus is to our human condition. In the case of the woman with the haemorrhage, Jesus is surrounded by a great crowd. People are pressing in on him from every direction. And yet, in the midst of all that, he is aware that someone has touched not him, but merely his clothes. When he turned around and asked who touched him, his disciples couldn’t believe it. “You see the crowd pressing in on you: how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” Our response might be: “Are you crazy? With all these people, you’re bound to get touched. It could have been anyone.” But despite the crowds, Jesus was aware of and sensitive to a single individual who had approached him in need. Anyone who has ever thought that God is too busy or too remote or too inaccessible to ever care or pay attention to their situation and needs should take encouragement from Jesus’ encounter with this woman. He stopped, turned and addressed her.

In the case of Jairus and his sick daughter, Jesus did not for a second resist the unplanned interruption and detour. Remember that Jesus had recently been teaching the crowds and, as we heard last week, despite a long and tiring day, he decided to cross the lake at night. He must have had a pressing agenda to make the crossing at night. Perhaps he had planned a day of teaching the crowds on the other side and wanted to get an early start. Whatever his plans were, he showed not the slightest hesitation in going with Jairus. A schedule was not as important as the call of love. People in need were always a priority for Jesus. This should serve as a reminder to us that detours are often part of God’s plan and that we too ought to be sensitive to the plight of others notwithstanding our pressing schedules or our sense of our own importance.

Both stories also clearly set out the value that our Lord places on faith. Faith was instrumental to the woman’s healing. So strong was her faith that she believed all she had to do was touch Jesus’ clothes in order to be made well. A cynic might say that it wasn’t so much faith as desperation. After all, she had spent twelve years and all her money going from one doctor to another in a fruitless attempt to be healed. Perhaps it is easy to jump to that conclusion because it is reminiscent of our own behaviour. How often have we, after fruitlessly exhausting all our earthly resources and all known avenues, concluded that a situation is hopeless and said, “All we can do now is pray”.

In the woman’s case, however, there is no evidence that she viewed Jesus as a last resort. While it is true that she had been searching for a cure for an extended period, Jesus had only recently started his public ministry and it is likely that she had only just heard of him. What is remarkable about her faith is that it was so strong despite all the disappointment that she had previously faced. Rather than resign herself to the hopelessness of her situation, she knew - based on what she had heard about Jesus – that she would be made well; if she could just touch his clothes. And so she pressed through the crowds. Jesus was very clear in his assessment of the situation. “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”

Jairus too showed incredible faith in coming to Jesus. In fact, without such faith, we have to wonder if he would have come to Jesus at all. Consider the obstacles that might have prevented him from coming and kneeling at the feet of Jesus. He was a ruler of the synagogue. He would have had prestige and standing. He would have been a supporter of tradition, and yet he was willing to humble himself before this itinerant preacher who was flouting many of the Jewish traditions. Despite his cultural, social and religious programming, Jairus was open minded and showed tremendous faith. Just like the woman, he knew that his daughter would be healed. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.”

Jairus’ faith was about to be tested for very soon, some people came from Jairus’ house with the news that his daughter was dead. There was a note of finality and resignation in the message. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” In other words, it’s too late. It’s over. There is no use. But this seemingly hopeless situation was an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate the power of faith. Jesus’ response to those who would give up – whether those of Jairus’ house or us – is: “Do not fear, only believe.”

Faith ignores the rumour that there is no hope and it is instrumental to letting Jesus’ healing power work in us and through us – transforming lives and restoring us and all creation to health and wholeness.

Finally, let us not overlook or forget the spectacular nature of these two miracles, which make clear the power of Jesus to restore to life and health those who have faith. The people laughed at Jesus when he said that Jairus’s daughter was not dead, but only sleeping. They knew better than this crazy fellow Jesus. They had seen death before and they knew that her fate was sealed – or so they thought. This hopeless situation, however – this dead end – was just the opportunity that Jesus needed to show the power of God’s love. Jesus ignores the sceptics and proceeds to restore life to the little girl just as he restored health to the woman whom no one else could help.

St. Augustine, a noted father of the church, was not always viewed as a saint. As a boy, he was undisciplined and idle. He was promiscuous and at age eighteen, fathered a child out of wedlock. What led to his transformation? In part, it may have been the sermons of the Great Bishop Ambrose, but the Bishop himself credits the faith and prayers of St. Augustine’s mother, Monica. For years, she never gave up on Augustine. She prayed for him ceaselessly and followed him from Africa to Rome. Ambrose reassured her saying, “It isn’t possible for a son of such prayers to be lost.” And so, as in the case of Jairus’ daughter, it was the faith of a parent that was instrumental in the child’s restoration.

My friends, Jesus has the same power to restore us to life and wholeness today. Whatever our burdens, whatever is weighing us down, whatever seemingly hopeless situation we are facing, Jesus has the power to restore us to fullness of life, if only we will put our faith in him. We may have to move outside our comfort zone or the norms of our conventional existence – as did Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. We may have to let go of our supposed sophistication as did the woman who said, “If I can only touch his clothes.” But if we don’t make that leap of faith, can we expect anything different or more than the result that we have always had?

It is entirely possible that others will laugh at us – either because of our faith or because of our actions or practices or moral standards that are driven by our faith. They laughed at Jesus, so why wouldn’t they laugh at us. However, just as Jesus ignored their laughter, so too should we. Remember, in the case of the woman with the haemorrhage and the little daughter of Jairus, it was Jesus who had the last laugh.

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