Healing Beyond Touch
What is the most desperate you have ever felt? I am not talking about the kind of desperation or anxiety driven by the need to pass a test, be approved for a loan, or realize a personal dream.
I’m thinking about the feelings you might experience in a life and death situation, your own or even more strongly - a situation involving a loved one – particularly a child.
Today we have such a story of desperation – two stories really, that are intertwined in the telling.
One of them is the story a young girl, the daughter of Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. While we don’t know the nature of her illness, we do know that she is near death - and her father is desperate in that breathless, heart-stopping way that verges on hysteria and hopelessness and feels like a death in and of itself.
On the banks of the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus and the disciples struggle to move about freely for the crowds hemming them in, eager to receive some of that Good News Jesus has been talking about, Jairus runs up to him, throws himself at Jesus’ feet, and begs Jesus over and over again to come, to touch his young daughter, who is desperately ill to the point of death, and to heal her; to keep her from leaving him; to keep her from dying.
I imagine that most of us can empathize with the man’s desperate pleas. We can all probably appreciate the fear, the absolute terror, and the need that drive him. And so, he begs, he pleads, he falls to his knees – he will do anything for his daughter to live. Won’t Jesus come and save her?
But, as Jesus turns to go with Jairus, in the midst of a hundred desperate, grabbing, reaching, open hands, there is one hand that touches the hem – just the hem of his robe, extracting the power she needs to become whole.
She is a woman perhaps in middle age. Unlike the younger girl, she seems to be alone, with no one to plead for her or help her. She will do anything to be healed.
The illness that afflicts her has taken its toll in more than a decade of suffering; she has endured long years of seeking the help of physicians, magicians, or anyone else who might be able to restore her to health.
Her chronic hemorrhage has rendered her ritually unclean, an outcast by her synagogue and her community even as she becomes sicker and sicker. This illness has drained her life from her; seeking a cure has drained everything else, leaving her alone, destitute, and nearly hopeless. She would have been valued by no one, accepted by no one, befriended by no one.
Standing between this desperate, fear-driven father of a daughter whose life seems to be over after just twelve years of living, growing, twelve years of developing into this girl who is now on the cusp of promise and plenty, and the impoverished, ailing, isolated twelve-years bleeding woman, stands Jesus.
He is a healer. He is the one who denies death its power; he is the one who restores life. Jesus is the one who goes beyond what is sensible or ‘acceptable’ to deliver God’s love, mercy, compassion, and healing on those who stand in the margins.
A leader in the synagogue, Jairus has power and wealth. His daughter, of course, benefits from these, and while Jairus fears losing her, he has every expectation that Jesus will come, along with whatever power he possesses, to heal his daughter.
The woman, by rights, can have no expectation of anything – kindness, compassion, or healing. Shamed into silence by the prejudice, judgment, and bad religion of the day, she should make her request and hold her hope in private.
But, as she reaches out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe… his power turns her expectations into a prize larger than life itself – larger than the life she was reaching for when she dared to try to touch his robe.
Just then, a messenger comes with the worst nightmare one can imagine – announcing the death of the young girl. Yet, as we read on, we see the power of Jesus manifest in life restored to her.
A twelve-year marginalized woman, and a twelve-year old girl: Each one of them is precious in God’s sight: each of them with a beautiful story of healing to be told. Each receives the gift of healing – it is the power of Jesus alone to heal.
The two daughters and their mutual twelve years bring each to a place where physical barriers and religious taboos must be broken in order to reach Jesus – and Jesus shows that he is not bound by any laws to keep him away.
The number 12 is common to both stories; It stands as a sign that there is abundant life in Jesus. This interwoven story clues us in that Jesus is on the loose in the world with divine power to restore life — abundant life for everyone.
At the end, those who doubted and those who laughed are left in speechless amazement.
For those who suffer, wait, are isolated in their suffering, are stripped of life through disease or disaster, or sit with the intense longing that only those who have suffered deep loss can know, this text brings hope.
Jesus is and always will be present, available, compassionate, and death-defying. Jesus reorders who is “in” and who is “out” in the economy of God that insists on abundance, and denies the powers that choose sides or diminish God’s beloved children as anything less than deserving of grace by God’s own judgment.
This story seems particularly timely right now, as we are coming away from a time of pandemic and the restrictions it placed – and still places – upon us. One of the conditions this pandemic imposed upon us is one of isolation. Like the woman with the hemorrhage, many of us have endured a time of intense isolation.
What happens when such isolation becomes the norm, as it did throughout most of the past year? What happens when social alienation takes shape and becomes commonplace, even expected?
Given our experience of this year, we might have a better understanding and compassion on those who, like the woman in our text, suffer from the isolation of judgment or not being able to “measure up” to being worthy of God’s healing grace.
The key to understanding this text is located in this word, “abundance.” God grants us his mercy, grace, forgiveness and love unconditionally and extravagantly. In God’s presence we receive an abundance of his healing, miraculous love.
I hope that when Jairus embraces his resurrected daughter, he also embraces a new vision of who God is, and what God values. In Jairus’s story, Jesus demands that we not see death where he sees life. In the bleeding woman’s story, he demands that legalism and judgment give way to love every single time.
In each story, Jesus restores a lost child of God to community and intimacy. In each story, Jesus embraces what is "impure" (the menstruating woman, the dead body) in order to practice mercy. ach story, a previously hopeless daughter “goes in peace” because Jesus isn’t a pronouncer of death; he is a giver of new life.
This is wonderful Good News to share today, on a day when we welcome a new member into the life of community at each service. At the early service we will welcome one who may have difficulty being physically present and we will pray for her healing. At the late service, we will welcome one through the Sacrament of Baptism. In both cases, God’s abundant love and compassion will be prayed for them and for this congregation as we are made more full through their welcome and presence.
Mark awakens us to the abundant healing grace of God in Jesus. In Jesus, there is hope, life and community for all.
When we experience the abundance of God’s grace, we can’t help but take Jesus seriously. In Jesus, God has a way of transforming our doubt and dismissive laugher into tears of joy, our skepticism into speechless amazement and wonder. May it be so, each and every day. Amen.