Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21 – 43
Years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, as the writer of the Gospel of Mark began to write down stories and teachings of Jesus for the Christians in Rome he drew us a picture of how Jesus spent his time, what his priorities were and how he reacted to daily events. … how he responded to the people, how he sought to bring new life to those on the other side of life..
The reading from Mark’s Gospel today begins with Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee yet again. A crowd gathered around Jesus and through the crowd came a well respected leader of the community, one of the synagogue officials, who fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come at once and heal his daughter who was “on the verge of death”. All he asked Jesus to do was to lay hands on the child and he believed the child would be cured. Jesus must have felt compassion for the man whose precious child was dying, so he set out with the official and the crowd followed, pressing around Jesus. As they hurried to the child, Jesus suddenly felt someone touch his garment and he noticed the power flow out from him. When Jesus asked who had touched him, a woman admitted her action and told him why she had broken all the taboos. Jesus called her daughter and turned back to the mission of healing the dying girl. By the time he got to the Synagogue’s leader’s home, the girl had died and the house was surrounded by mourners.
The contrast between the two stories one of an unnamed, unclean woman and the young woman who is known by her father’s revered name is noteworthy. The woman who touched Jesus’ garment on the street had no husband, no father to give her status in the community and no money to make the required sacrifices. She was alone. Her illness made her unclean and meant that she transferred her impurity to anyone she touched. The doors of the temple and synagogue were closed to her. She was an outcast, an untouchable with no one to protect her, filled with the shame of the outcast — destitute and desperate.
Instead of being afraid that Jesus would be like the others, bent on maintaining the old prejudices and exclusive system, she reached out to Jesus and laid hold on what had eluded her. Touching the hem of his garment, was an act of desperation and an act of faith so that Jesus addressed her as “daughter” — his daughter — leveling the ground between her and Jairus’ daughter. She was no longer an outcast. No longer nameless. Now she was Jesus’ daughter. Now it was possible for her to “go in peace.” Her shame was transformed by the miracle of God’s loving kindness.
We are not told how long Jairus had struggled with his daughter’s illness. We do not know his thoughts as he set aside his dignity and pride and turned to the healer from Nazareth. But in the scene Mark gives us, Jesus had stepped away from the honorable Jairus to heal a nobody.
The first healing was very public and the second private — both are moments of tenderness and compassion. Finally arriving at the girl’s side, Jesus touched the girl’s body. First made unclean by the woman, now touching this child who had died, Jesus said to her “little girl, get up”, “arise, get on with your life” . According to Mark, the child was immediately restored to the community of her family.
Mark wanted his reader to experience the healing power of Jesus. But there is more to the story than the individual experiences. Jesus shifted the interpretation of Scripture held by the Temple leaders. To them “holy” had meant pure, spotless, without sin or blemish but Jesus used holy as God is holy to teach about compassion, to recall for his listeners the ches`ed of God, “the steadfast love of the Lord”, In the words of Jeremiah: “God’s never failing loving kindness which never ceases, never comes to an end, and is as sure as the dawn and will come like the spring rains that water the earth”.
In these two healing stories our attention is called to Jesus’ blindness to those legal, cultural, religious, socio-economic divisions that have so divided the people of the world. The writer of the Gospel of Mark wanted his readers to understand Jesus as a spirit filled healer who saw all men and women as beloved children of God with the power to choose. He was writing the Good News of Jesus Christ for that Christian community to which the apostle Paul had written to some 15 years earlier when in the midst of fear and real afflictions Paul reaffirmed his assurances for the Christians in Rome that Christ intercedes for all children of God — Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female – and nothing in all creation could separate them from steadfast love of the Lord. For the apostle Paul the underlying theme of his message to the world was the love of God for all creation — love that brings joy in the midst of despair, life in the midst of death and makes us all sons and daughters of God.
It is appropriate for our spiritual well-being here in the church that we pray regularly for the leaders of the nation and work for justice and peace. This week we not only honor those men and women who made the commitment and took extraordinary risks in 1776 to fight for the ideals of liberty and justice but who acknowledged God’s providence as the source of those ideals.
There is a strong link between the good news of the Gospel and the opening words of the Declaration we celebrate that remind us that we have all been created by God with certain inalienable rights and that among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I would be way off base if I were to say that Thomas Jefferson was influenced by this story in Mark’s gospel. Jefferson was known to have cut out of the Bible every instance of Jesus performing a miracle. But the profound belief that in God’s eyes we are all equal — as clearly manifest in the teachings and healings of Jesus, is also manifest in the writings of Jefferson though we know the struggle for equality was not accomplished in 1776. We know the struggle continues even today.
As we get out our picnic blankets and barbeque grills and sing patriotic hymns, it is worth remembering that you and I are not only citizens of this great nation, inheritors of an extraordinary legacy, we are Christians as well — sometimes we have done well and sometimes we have missed the mark. The test of a community’s obedience to covenant with God has always been “is justice done among the people?” It is not a question of what would Jesus do but what would Jesus have us do in the world in which we live.
The question we must ask ourselves daily is “How are we doing?” What do our calendars and checkbooks and emails and blogs say? How do we spend our money and our time and our energy? How do we treat our neighbors? Do we strive for justice and peace? Do we protect the vulnerable and respect the dignity of every human being?
I believe Mark’s stories of Jesus healing the two women are of great value to us today reminding us of God’s steadfast loving kindness toward all people, giving each status, value and voice; undoing the shame, calling us son or daughter, desiring health and wholeness and bringing new life, new hope, new possibilities for all the children of God. AMEN