Sermon on Mark 513 February 2010
We have just heard the story of a remarkable woman and a man who was willing to risk everything for the daughter whom he loves. This particular passage is often thought of as a story of two women – but Jairus’s daughter is never named and has from a certain perspective, a passive role – it is the story of her father, Jairus, that is the amazing one. Then the woman with the haemorrhage, again is never named, but the words that Jesus said to her still live on – Your faith has made you well – words that have been repeated in many and various ways throughout the centuries.
* * *
We begin by having a look at the story of Jairus. I mentioned earlier that he was willing to risk everything for love – I don’t believe that I’m exaggerating. Jairus was a respectable man, a leader in the local synagogue, a man that many would have looked up to and gone to if they had problems, difficulties or just needed someone to talk to – this man, so highly respected, in front of a large crowd, when he saw Jesus, approached him, fell at his feet, and begged him for help. It is very easy for us to miss the powerful impact that this would have had on the community. If you can imagine Archbishop Sentamu, Archbishop of York, having been part of the discussions to excommunicate a member of the Anglican Communion, to cast out someone from our midst because they were shown as a blasphemer, a law breaker, considered mentally unstable and suspected to be a devil worshiper; Sentamu, running up to this person, falling at their feet (bearing in mind that today this would also be televised) and begging them for help; if you can imagine the impact, the controversy, the horror, then you might have some idea of the emotions running around in that crowd. . . . But Jairus, threw ‘caution to the wind’ and did the only thing that he could think of to help the child that he loved – and what a reward! Even after he finally arrived home, with Jesus in tow, and being told that his daughter was dead – faith was kept alive; the unthinkable, the unbelievable happened, his daughter was healed – Jairus’ faith was rewarded in full – for his faith had been what had healed his daughter!
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The woman who was haemorrhaging is much more difficult to try and parallelise – in our modern Christian society we don’t have any laws on whether someone is unclean or not, we have advanced so much in science and medicine that generally speaking, there isn’t a disease or illness that we are too afraid to approach someone with or touch them – but life was so different then. This woman would have been shunned by society; there wouldn’t have been a friendly neighbour to keep an eye out for her, or cook the odd meal, she was the ultimate outcast. However, she risked not so much everything for herself, but everything for everyone else as they would be unclean by her merely touching them – even if they were unaware of the touch, they would still be unclean according to the temple laws. In that picture, this woman, this second-class citizen, this outcast reached out to the one man who she felt could help her. She reached out and touched God himself – but remember that Jesus’ response was not “I have healed you” or “This is God’s miracle”, but left her and us with the immortal words, Your faith has made you well.
* * *
The common denominator was the healing by faith. For me this mirrors something that Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in his sermon some weeks ago – God is weak!
He went on to explain how it is not that God is incapable of doing anything, but without us, he is weak – many, many people throughout the bible and the centuries since, have been asked by God to help him . . . for me this is expressed beautifully in Teresa of Avila’s bookmark -
has no body now,
no feet on earth,
Yours are the eyes
Christ looks compassion
into the world.
Yours are the feet
with which Christ
walks to do good.
Yours are the hands
with which Christ
blesses the world.
* * *
Jesus, the Son of God, God made flesh, the Word that was from the beginning, did not heal the woman or Jairus’ daughter on his own – but it was in the action, or interaction of us, the mysterious woman, the father worried for his daughter, that enabled the healing, and healings to happen. God reveals his symbiotic relationship with us in this story, and St Augustine many years later expressed this so well –
Without God we cannot
without us, God will not.
* * *
Exegesis on Mark 5:21-43
There is something about this passage that speaks of Christ’s divinity, His theophany – the manifestation of Jesus’ true identity, calling. As we look at this story of awe and wonderment, this illustration of a healing miracle, we will explore in detail three verses in particular and what relevance they have for us today, and what point(s) Mark may have been trying to make/share with his fellow believers and believers to come, including us.
In 5:22 we see an example of the contradictions that often appear in Jesus’ ministry. The relationship with the local synagogue was not the best, through out the first few chapters of Mark, Jesus is counter-cultural with the normal protocols of synagogue life - how a proper Jew should behave. Examples of this conflicting relationship are shown in 2:7, 2:24, 3:4, 3:21, 3:22, 3:30: Jesus is shown as a blasphemer, a law breaker, as one who ignores the rules of the Sabbath, as out of him mind, and consorting with the devil.
All this is building up to the image of how Jesus is perceived – yet in the midst of all this negative publicity he is approached by one of the leaders of the synagogue for help. D E Nineham in his commentary ‘Saint Mark’ also sees this remarkable act of Jairus and wonders if “Mark’s first readers would know what conclusions to draw. The Jewish authorities might affect to think Jesus an impostor, but there were those among them who, when trouble forced them to face realities, could not help admitting his power and even begging for its exercise, with a public display of humility which showed that they really recognized its character and source”. Jeffrey John in his book ‘The Meaning in the Miracles’, also commented on Jairus, “Despite his senior position as leader of the synagogue, and in stark contrast to the actions and attitudes of the other ‘rulers of Israel’, he publically falls on his knees before Jesus and humbly declares his belief that Jesus can heal [his daughter].”
Both John and Nineham help to illustrate that it is not only that Jesus helps those with whom society would shun, but those whom He encounters or who seek to encounter him somehow reflect the inner essence of who Jesus is. For Jesus there is no social separation, there is no black and white situation – and there shouldn’t be for us either. If there is someone who needs love, healing, attention, then as followers of Christ we need to seek a way to help them.
When we reach 5:25,42 we find that we have been quite deliberately given a number – 12. What is the significance of the 12 years? Mark is not a writer to put this kind of detail in if it were not important. The woman who secretly approached and touched Jesus had been suffering for 12 years, the daughter who was lying sick and dying was 12 years old . . .
12 – the age of maturity, when a boy becomes a man; a girl, a woman
There is, I believe, a strong connection between the two women. It is no co-incidence that the older woman is coming to the end of her ‘monthly cycles’ and the other is at the beginning. The two are healed almost at the same time. There is an assumption that the woman with the haemorrhage was an old woman, there is no need for speculation about the age of the girl because we are told she is twelve. If we go along with this theory, then we can see an even stronger connection between the two women – one coming to the end of her life, one very much at the. This is not an example of two healings, but of one that has two parts. I do realise that this is speculative, but as I have found no reference to the significance of the number 12 in this passage, it seems important to point out this possibility.
5:34 Faith is the centre of this story. The woman approached Jesus in faith, a direct action – the father approached Jesus in faith on behalf of his daughter, a 3rd party.
Tom Wright in his book ‘Mark for Everyone’ also talks of this symbiotic relationship between Jesus and the faithful:
“was it Jesus’ power that rescued the woman, or her own faith? Clearly it was Jesus’ power; but he says, ‘Your faith has rescued you.’ The answer must be that faith, though itself powerless, is the channel through which Jesus’ power can work.” Jeffrey John in his book ‘The Meaning in the Miracles’ talks about faith in relationship, “the healing is only confirmed when Jesus has explained that her faith – her response to the person of Jesus himself – is what has made her well.” It is not enough for someone to just reach out and touch Jesus, there is a need to have relationship, for Jesus to be able to reach and out and touch . . .
Jesus is shown in Mark as presenting people with the coming of God’s Kingdom revealed in acts of healing, rather than presenting himself. The passage we have been looking at initially shows us two miracles that have been intertwined. But I believe that it is in fact one miracle that is played out in two halves. We are shown that Jesus has no interest in social divides; no concern about what we think of as unclean, untouchable; no interest in glorifying himself in front of others – the healing of the girl was done with very few witnesses. For me there is a very strong message about how we inter-relate with others’, how we reveal God’s message to with world.
D E Nineham Saint Mark (Penguin Books 1963)
Tom Wright Mark for Everyone (SPCK 2001)
Jeffrey John The Meaning in the Miracles (Canterbury Press 2001)
Teresa Mary CSC