Sunday, July 1, 2018
By Bernadette Moore – Gibson
Our Gospel this week sits on that point between faith and fear. The passage contains two stories that are, for very good reason, woven into one. The story holds more meaning than might first appear. This narrative of healing and restoration of life is full of contrasts and connections that weave the two incidents together tightly. You might say that these two incidents together help us to understand each of them. They both involve women in crisis – in fact, we don’t know them by their names but by their needs – both women are subject to the taboos around the mysterious power of life (blood) and the even more mysterious and seemingly unconquerable, the power of death. In Jesus time, neither a bleeding woman nor a dead girl should be touched, at the risk of conveying their uncleanness to others.
The number twelve is significant in Jewish thought, so it’s no coincidence that the woman has been bleeding (and therefore cut off from life) for twelve years, I think a good word for her is tired. A flow of blood for ten years would exhaust a person, as if her life force were draining away. On top of that would be the discomfort and, worst of all, the feeling of isolation that comes with uncleanness and the taboos around it. And yet Jesus ignores the taboo for the sake of relationship and, perhaps, honor. He doesn’t permit this touch to remain an anonymous, passive healing on his part; he lets himself be sidetracked from hurrying to the synagogue leader’s home long enough to find the person who has reached out to him with a touch that is more specific, more intentional, than merely jostling him in the crowd. Jesus felt and spoke to both her weariness and her deep hope. The other nameless woman in need is barely a woman, just twelve years old and ready to begin adult life. However, an unknown illness has struck her down, driving her father to extremes in his desperate search for help. He’s a person respected in his community, accustomed no doubt to being listened to by people not as highly placed as he was, people without his knowledge and the power that it brings. He was a leader, a religious leader, and yet this precious child’s illness has reduced him, weakened him, lowered him to the ground in front of a traveling folk healer in a last-ditch effort to prevent the worst from happening. This man’s name is known to us: Jairus. It seems to me that desperation, not faith, drives the synagogue leader to Jesus and his moment of faith comes a little while later, when the news arrives of his daughter’s death. Jesus then preaches the shortest sermon of his career: “Do not fear,” he says to the grief-besotted man, “only believe.” This sermon was not just for Jairus’ benefit, and not just for the early church Mark addressed, but for all of us who suffer from the human condition, who are up against things we cannot control.
I am always struck by how often interruptions are often invitations to encounter grace. Grace means that God has no task more urgent than to bend to assist those who seek help. For Jesus, the most important thing in that moment is to face the person who has touched him, to encounter her as a human being and not just as an anonymous touch. Jesus then continues on his journey to the synagogue official’s daughter. Unlike the noisy, dramatic, terrifying storm of people outside, it must have been a tender scene, in the quiet that surrounds the sorrow for a dead child, yet Jesus is once again calm and confident. Instead of raising his hand to command the sea to calm down, he reaches down to invite the little girl to rise up and live. And the little girl does get up and walks around, to the amazement of all. Jesus has to be the one to remember that she might be hungry after her ordeal, and tells them to feed her. He doesn’t miss the most ordinary, and compassionate, details. Miracles are not always what we imagine, and neither is healing.
I can’t help but feel that this Gospel is very appropriate for the life and times our nation is facing. There are many social taboos about cultural diversity which we must fight against. One lesson for me in this week’s Gospel is that Jesus ignores the taboo for the sake of relationship. I find myself praying with both faith and fear thinking of our country and our churches mission to invite all people to the table of God’s healing embrace. It is critical that we pray for Divine Wisdom at this critical moment, when rights are in conflict and easy solutions are not available. Around the world, nations struggle with their response to huge numbers of refugees seeking asylum and seeking opportunity. I am praying to the Holy Spirit to incite within our civic leaders the desire to preserve the basic human rights and maintain the fundamental human dignity of each person and family they serve, and to seek justice in their every decision and action. Our response to these questions must reveal, like Jesus, our deep compassion for all people. We must remind one another to see what Jesus sees, those nameless faceless people reaching out for touch, compassion and healing. We must not let fear drive the conversation. We are the body of Christ. We have opportunities every day to touch others and be touched by others. That is what the Kingdom of God is all about. And all it takes to spread that Kingdom knowledge is a simple touch. As Jesus said to Jairus when he heard that his daughter was dead, let us repeat to one another for encouragement this week, “Be not afraid, only believe.”
Bernadette Gibson is the Director of Pastoral Care at Old Saint Patrick’s Church.