A sermon preached at St George’s Preshute
1 July 2018, Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Wisdom of Solomon 1.13-15; 2.23,24 & Mark 5.21-43
In the three-year cycle of the lectionary, this year we work our way through Mark’s Gospel. In the early chapters of Mark’s Gospel, we learn about Jesus’ identity. In the last few weeks, we have already heard how Jesus challenges the authorities by ‘working’ on the Sabbath; we see him in his capacity as teacher when he speaks in parables, and how he shows his power in the stilling of the storm.
This morning, two healing stories feature, and so I would like to explore what they reveal us about who Jesus is, and in that light, who we are, and who we are destined to be. To do this, I’d like to look at the story from three different perspectives. Firstly, looking at Jairus and the woman, whose name we’re not told. Then by looking at the role the crowd plays in the story, and lastly by focussing on Jesus himself.
On the surface, the Gospel reading us how Jesus has the power to miraculously heal and bring people back from the dead. Maybe I am being too apologetic here, but I do find it hard to understand the passage on this level. I have to admit that I find it hard to believe in miracles where people suddenly become better, and are cured against all odds. I don’t want to deny that this has happened and is still happening, but there are of course also a lot of cases in which is hasn’t happened, and so often we see what feels like untimely deaths around us.
Looking at the reading from these three different perspectives, focussing on Jairus and the woman, the crowd, and Jesus himself, I think we can start to see how an encounter with Jesus can be transformational. For me, this is what healing is about.
Most commentators nowadays agree that the two stories, the healing of the woman suffering from haemorrhages and the healing of Jairus’ daughter are two separate stories, deliberately woven together into one story by the evangelist. In this way, both stories become an even more powerful tool understand who Jesus is. Looking a bit more closely, we begin to see that this whole passage is full of contrasts and commonalities.
Firstly, let’s compare Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, with the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak. We see a man, and a woman. A person who was highly regarded because of his position, and a woman who by the sounds of it had lost everything in trying to find a cure. A man at the centre of society, and a woman at the fringe.
However, what both have in common, is that they look for Jesus and in that act make themselves incredibly vulnerable. We read that Jesus was surrounded by a great crowd of people. Imagine for a moment what that would have been like: Jesus at the centre, all attention focussed on him, expectantly waiting what he will say or do next.
The leaders of the synagogue were not at all sure about who this Jesus was, and whether he should be taken seriously or not. Was he a threat, or really the long-expected Messiah? Amidst those questions, it must have taken a lot of courage for Jairus, to publicly fall down on his knees and beg Jesus in front of all those people for his daughter to be healed. Jairus had a lot to lose.
Also the haemorrhaging woman made herself vulnerable. Although she may have felt there was not much to lose anymore, it also must have taken her a lot of courage to join the crowd to see Jesus. As she was bleeding, she was seen as unclean, and therefore people were wary of touching her or being touched by her.
Whereas Jairus very publicly looks for Jesus’ support, the woman does it almost secretly. But as soon as she touches Jesus’ cloak, she is not only healed, but Jesus notices as well, and asks ‘Who touched my clothes?’. Instead of trying to hide, trying to remain anonymous, the woman comes forward and now, like Jairus, also falls down on her knees.
Looking at the story from this perspective, then, shows that entering into a relationship with God, entering into a relationship with Jesus is something that requires us to make ourselves vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to fall on our knees and pray, especially when a whole crowd of people is watching.
That brings us then to the second perspective on the story, looking at it through the lens of the crowd. I would like to suggest that the crowd in the story represents the community. That can be our Church community, or the community we live in here in Manton and Marlborough, or other communities we belong to.
Being part of a community gives us a sense of belonging, of safety, warmth and love, but it can also bring with it pressures and doubts. Who are we within the community? Do we have a role, and what is it? Are we like the woman on the edge of it, or do we find ourselves at the centre? Do we feel we are always giving, or do we feel that our gifts can no longer be used? Does the community encourage us to have a relationship with God, or do we feel we need to withdraw to have a genuine encounter?
I don’t think as a church we are always very good crowd. Yes, often we are, supporting each other, visiting and encouraging each other. However, I think most of us feel awkward when suddenly tears well up in our eyes during a service, when we are touched by something we hear, say or sing. And probably in our embarrassment, we try to hide it, and hope that by the time we come to the end of the service, we will have collected ourselves again.
Shouldn’t the Church be the first place where we feel we can be vulnerable, and express and grow in our relationship with God? I think a real challenge for all of us.
Lastly, let us look at Jesus himself. As I said at the start, it is the aim of this passage to tell us something about Jesus’ identity. Again comparing the two separate healing stories, we notice that Jesus heals both intentionally, when he takes Jairus daughter by the hand, and unintentionally, when the woman touches his cloak.
I think this tells us something about the abundance of God’s healing and grace: it is accessible at all times, in all places, for everyone. Jesus, God, cannot be limited to a certain scenario. On the contrary, one could even say that this passage shows that the unexpected takes precedent over the expected. That is what God’s nature is like: also we can be touched in the spur of the moment. We don’t have to always plan ahead, but sometimes we too just have to reach out in hope and faith.
So, that leaves us with some things to ponder. Do we dare to make ourselves vulnerable to encounter the healing love of Christ? Do we as a Church, as a community, encourage each other to do exactly this? And finally, do we pay enough attention to, so to say, see Jesus and reach out, even when we least expect to be healed, to be loved?
Maybe we can find a final word of encouragement in the reading from the Wisdom of Solomon, as it is all too easy to focus on the things we can do better. Here we read that God created all things so that they might exist. So are we created, and not just to exist, but to flourish, to love and to be loved, and so to evermore glorify the name of the One in whom we find our life: Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.