By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
Mark 5:21–43 (NRSV)
A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed
(Mt 9:18–26; Lk 8:40–56)
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
A common thing I hear when I am out talking with people is that they need to get their life together before they can come to church. It saddens me when I hear those words. Because it is as far from the truth. This is a prominent idea that runs through our human experience, because we seem to find acceptance and value in our performance. If I act a certain way I will impress people, and if I impress others then they will accept me. If we really think about it, these performance theories are how we accumulate friends, how we determine our value as a student in school, how we advance in work, and even how we win the hearts of our spouse. It is no wonder when people feel as if they have caused a disappointment, where they happen to appear less than perfect they assume they have lost value.
We have all had instances where some sort of mistake or lack of ability has caused us to feel inadequate. It might be something real or even a perception not based in reality, but the emotional response is the same. Something did not go as planned and we felt that it was our responsibility and we feel like a failure.
I cannot even begin to tell you how often I have had those feelings, but there are a few examples. The job I had just prior to moving to Kansas City was a branch manager for a rental car company. I had moved from a Manager in training to a branch manager in about a year and I was proud of myself. I was put in charge of a brand-new location, in a city this company had not had service in before. It was exciting. I went out contacting various body shops and regional airports letting them know what we had to offer them. I contacted businesses and presented the benefits of using rental vehicles. And the branch did not grow. I worked long hours, I cut costs to the bear minimum, I personally covered shifts so I would not have to hire more people because we just needed to get the customer base up enough to justify the expense. I worked hard, and after a year we were not making a profit. I had to sit through weekly conference calls where I was told how poor I was performing, I had to provide documentation on what my plans were to increase the business, yet it seemed like everything I did was not helping. I felt like a complete failure, even though there was a steady increase of sales each month, in comparison to branches in similar sized communities I was growing faster than they did their first months. For a year I struggled, until I finally had to admit rental cars were not what I was passionate about and I needed to find something else to do. I felt like a failure but there were many factors involved in my failure. The number one factor was I was starting a branch in a small town, in the middle of a recession that hit the auto industry hard. Most of the struggles I was having were not things I did, but it was the economy in general. When the last reports were entered, and my work was done I looked at the statements and I found that even through all my struggle, I was only $300 from breaking even that last month. If we were to have stayed open one more month and the trends remained the same the first month of the second year would have been profitable. Yet I felt like a failure.
I bring that up because my emotional response did not consider all the factors involved. I was so worried about making a profit, I was unable to testify to the reality surrounding the business, we were growing steadily. And the largest problem was outside of my control, and that problem was that the company had to sell several cars, so I was competing not only with the competition within the community but also with my own company for vehicles to rent out.
My example of struggle pales in comparison with the story we read here in scripture, but I hope it will provide an avenue to give us some empathy with the characters we read about. Mainly that we can recognize that at times we cannot always control or change things.
Jesus and his disciples sail across the sea, this voyage is the return trip from the one we read about last week. Last week they were heading toward the Hellenistic center of the land the Romans referred to as Palestine. In that area they met a demon possessed man who was so violent and wild that he would literally break chains apart when the community attempted to bind him. Yet when Jesus approached this man was released from bondage and the demons were driven out of the man and they then possessed a herd of swine which they inspired to run into the sea. After that the community both feared and revered Jesus, yet they asked him to leave because they could not lose any more pigs.
So, they return to the western shore of the sea of Galilee, this time they did not encounter a threatening storm, so they arrive safely. When they arrived on the shore, a great crowd had already gathered to meet him, and there was one in that crowd named Jairus. Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, so he exhibited great faith and was righteous. But Jairus’s daughter was deathly ill.
This was something that happened nearly 2000 years ago, and because of that illness was seen differently than it is today. They did not know that microscopic organism caused infections, or that people could have allergic reactions to certain types of foods. When someone was ill they attributed that illness as divine judgment for some transgression. For a leader in a synagogue to have a daughter who was deathly ill to many was a sign that maybe this man was not as righteous as they thought. He is in a struggle trying to preserve and protect the life of his daughter, and at the same time protect his own livelihood. Imagine what he might be feeling. He had done nothing wrong to his knowledge, yet he felt like a complete failure.
I also want to note that we know his name. In the many stories of the various encounters with Jesus we do not know the names of those involved. We might be told their position in the community or in the religious establishment, like a scribe or Pharisee, but rarely are we given the name. This time we know the name of this leader of a synagogue, Jairus. Why do we know his name? Because these stories were written to testify to the life of Jesus, and if someone wanted to ask they could talk to them, or someone who know them. This same story is mentioned in Matthew and Luke, and both Mark and Luke call Jairus by name. Luke tends to do this because he says he interviewed the people to give an accurate account, so Jairus must have been around after the death and resurrection of Jesus to personally ask. I would venture to say that Jairus became a leader within the early church. Yet, at this moment in the story, Jairus was not feeling like a leader among men, he was broken, worried, and terrified. His daughter was sick, and he was a failure because he could do nothing to help her. But he knew one thing, Jesus had healed others, so he did not care what people might think, he did not care that some of the leaders in Jerusalem had called him the prince of demons, he had no other options, so he would ask for Jesus’s help.
At that same time, we meet another person, a woman. This woman had spent twelve years in social isolation because of an illness. She had a hemorrhage for twelve years. I cannot even begin to think about the physical toll this took on her, to have a constant disease that cause the loss of blood in such a way that would make her “unclean” sounds devastating. I do not even know how she lived twelve years with this disease. She had spent all her money going to doctors, and none of them provided relief. For twelve years she lived in isolation. The state of being unclean at this time did not necessarily mean that she was a sinner, but it meant that she could not participate in religious activities, and anyone within her household would also be considered unclean if they encountered her, or anything she touched. For twelve years, she lived outside the community. She was unable to attend worship services with the other women. She also could not have intimacy with her husband or he too would not be able to interact with the men of the community. For the sake of their livelihoods she had to live in isolation, for twelve years.
Imagine if this would have happened today. My wife and I have only been married for fifteen years, if this had been her and if our society still lived by the same social rules, we would have only been able to enjoy our lives together for three of those years. The remaining time, I would have done everything for myself and potentially for the children that may have come during those first three years. And she would have had to take care of herself. I would have cooked meals for my family and she would have cooked her own meals using different utensils. For twelve years we would have been married but leading totally separate lives under the same roof. In today’s world this marriage would have dissolved soon after the illness began. Even then it might not have been uncommon for a marriage to have dissolved in similar circumstances. We do not know what her life was like, there is no mention of a family, only the suffering. She suffered, alone isolated from the community with a disease outside of her control. The only thing she had left was this hope that if she could only touch Jesus’s clothing she could be healed.
Two people, both broken. Both faced social criticism, both felt like failures, because they suffered through circumstances beyond their control. They looked at their lives, realized that they had done everything they could do, and decided that they had nothing to lose, so why not hope in Jesus.
I have friends that claim faith, yet they are isolated from the community of faithful because they feel they are not good enough. I have friends that reject faith, yet they struggle everyday feeling as if they are total and complete failures. I have friends that have been broken to such a degree that they felt the only escape from their torments and the torments of their families would be take their own lives. I have had friends that have cycled through relationships after relationship repeating the same thing repeatedly yet ask why nothing changes? And at times I am like those friends of mine. At times I feel I am not good enough to be in this building let alone speaking. We feel like we must perform, and our value is based on how well we perform.
The truth is our value has nothing to do with our performance. It has nothing to do with who our parents are, or what country we happened to be born in. Our value is that we are human beings, created in the image of God. And each of us has so much value that while we were still sinners Jesus came down from his throne in heaven, was born of the virgin Mary, lived within a community form the time of his birth for approximately thirty-three years, taught us, died on a cross for us, was buried in a barrowed tomb, and after three days rose from the grave defeating the sting of death and the curse of sin. We are valued so much the Jesus, God incarnate, came to live in our neighborhood with us. Yet we still say I am not good enough, or I am a lost cause.
Jesus did this all before we were good enough. We were no where close to good enough we were living completely contrary to God’s ways, yet He came to us. He came, and he calls us to follow him. Do we ever slow down enough to consider that? We continue to work ourselves up into a frenzy in our performances yet do we look at our true value? Do we just sit knowing we are loved not because we can do something, but just because we are humans created in God’s Image?
Two broken people came to Jesus when he returned from his voyage. They were not good enough in the eyes of the world. One was a leader within the religious community and the other was a social outcast because of an illness. Both felt like failures, and outcasts because of illness, and thought that they had no value because they were sinners worthy of divine judgement. They were not good enough to be there on their own, but Jesus provided restoration.
First the woman touches Jesus’s clothing. Remember she is unclean and anything she touches is unclean. So, Jesus would now be considered ceremonially unclean if he had the knowledge that she touched him. He stops walking and calls to her, those around him are confused. There is a crowd pretty much all of them have touched him at some point. Jesus persists, and the woman comes forward trembling in fear, because she is an outcast. And Jesus calls her daughter. While he is talking to this woman, someone comes to Jairus and tells him that his daughter has died, and to not bother Jesus anymore. Jesus looks directly at Jairus and tell him not to fear and to believe. Jairus, whose faith is in shreds hold on to his last hope and continues to lead Jesus to his house. The people at the house are weeping and Jesus tells them that she is only sleeping, and they laugh at him. Yet still Jesus looks at Jairus, and the same words ring in his ears, do not fear, only believe. He takes her hand and speaks tenderly too her, telling her to get up and she does. He then tells them to get her something to eat.
We all live in and through times of failure, defeat, despair and lack of faith. We feel as if we are not good enough, yet Jesus can restore our lives. Jesus can bring healing and hope. Just as he spoke to Jairus he encourages us not to fear and only to believe. Just like the woman who touched his clothes, our faith can bring healing. But to gain that hope we must stop looking at our own selves and our own abilities and performances. If we had the power and strength to overcome our difficulties we would have done it already, but we haven’t we still struggle, we feel like failures, and are often hopeless. Why? Because we do not like admitting that we need help. We like playing God in our own lives. We like to think that we can handle it all and we do not want to bother the teacher, our lord and our God. But Jesus is looking at us saying do not fear only believe. He is telling us let go of our despair, let go of our failures, let go of our illness, and let him help. Will it bring the healing we want? Maybe and maybe not, but it will bring healing and it will restore our hope.
As we enter this time of open worship and communion in the manner of Friends, I ask what are we holding back from Jesus? What are we trying to fix ourselves without his help, and the help of those within our community? Why are we holding back when all we must do is believe? It sounds easy enough, yet I know it is hard, it is sometimes the hardest thing we will ever do, but if we do let go and believe we will have restoration.