“Two Women, Two Stories, Two Healings”
July 1, 2018
Focus: Jesus heals two women in two opposite sets of circumstances and remains the consistent, indiscriminate Christ in both.
Function: The same, consistent Christ comes again and again into our brokenness and offers healing that grants new life.
Before I begin, I would like to say what a privilege it is to be with you again. For those of you who don’t know, my copastor colleague at Farm Church Ben and I have the joy of being the keynote speakers at the UPC family retreat at Montreat in the fall. Is good to see you’re familiar faces again. That was a great weekend! I also want to thank Margaret for the opportunity to share with you the gospel as spirit sees fit and within the limits of my ability. It’s a great joy to be with you.
Listen for what the holy spirit saying to you through today’s Scripture…
< read Mark 5:21-43>
Today’s scripture passage is familiar, I am sure. It is the healing of the two women. Two healing stories nested one within the other like Russian dolls. Both are obviously different situations, even opposite situations, but still remarkably similar. The first healing is initiated by the father of a 12-year-old girl. He is the lay leader of the local synagogue. Perhaps he is similar to the Clerk of Session here at UPC. In his culture, this man is respected; he has high religious profile; he is looked to as a leader; he is a person of means. When Jesus, a high-profile teacher, comes to town, this man of great prestige approaches, falls on his face in the dirt and begs the teacher to come to his home and lay his hands on his daughter, who is dying. It is the bold act of a desperate father who, undoubtedly, has tried everything at his disposal to provide healing for his daughter.
Jesus agrees to go and as he turns to go, he is interrupted by another request for healing. This one is not an overt show of respect, nor is it from a person of high prestige. However, she is a person of high religious profile, but in the most negative sense. She has been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years, which according to the religious law has rendered her unclean. This means that she cannot be touched. She is systematically excluded from the community because in the Jewish religious order, the unclean status is contagious. It spreads by touch. If you touch an unclean person, you are unclean too. If you touch an object that an unclean person touches, you are unclean too. It is like a status cancer that systematically excludes anyone who catches it. The remedy is to go to your rabbi, who then looks up the proper ritual and incantation from the law and you fulfill the ritual, which could take several days. In the meantime, you are quarantined, which not only came with substantial shame, but it could also prevent a person from working or living in their home with their family. It was total systemic social and economic exclusion.
Can you imagine what that would be like? You sit on a chair and someone has to clean it after you get up before someone else can sit on it. You lose your family, your home, your occupation. You have to leave the village. You remain untouched by another human until you got clean again. Can you imagine having been like that since 2006? Twelve years? She had tried everything: doctors and gurus and medicine men and crystals and hot yoga, gluten-free, dairy-free, the South Beach diet; nothing worked! And then she heard that Jesus was in town. So, she comes, unafraid, quietly sneaking through the crowd (Bumping up against all kinds of people and making them ritually unclean as well unbeknownst to them) thinking, if I can touch the hem of his robe, I believe…
There is a reason that these two stories are wrapped up together one inside the other. If you pull these two Russian dolls out and hold them next to each other and really look at them, you begin to see that there are a number of similarities that end up being opposites.
- Twelve Years of Privilege
- Symbol of Judaism: Positive
- Status of Judaism: The Heart of Judaism is Dying for Lack of faith
- High Profile Status: Sys. Inclusion
- Desperate: Everything to Lose
- Assertive Approach: Public, Explicit, Honors Social Etiquette
- Jesus Unclean: Touches Corpse
- Touch: Jesus takes her hand
- Crowd: Pushed Out
- Outcome: Private, Secret
- Life Restored: Physically
- Twelve Years Afflicted
- Symbol of Judaism: Negative
- Status of Judaism: The margins of Judaism is Being Saved by Faith
- High Profile Status: Sys. Excluded
- Desperate: Nothing to Lose
- Assertive Approach: Secretive, Implicit, Violates Social Etiquette
- Jesus Unclean: Touched by woman
- Touch: Takes Jesus with her hand
- Crowd: Pushing In
- Outcome: Called Out, Public
- Life Restored: Socially, Religiously
It is remarkable how many parallels this story has that end up being opposites. That is why these two stories are stacked, one inside the other. They are a commentary on the state of the culture, in this case ancient Judaism (which is not too different from our own, I may add), which systematically established a bifurcated society of respected, included, privileged group, who by good fortune had the ability to fulfill all the expectations of society, in this case the Jewish law. And a group of people afflicted by calamities many of which were beyond their own control, which resulted their systematic social and often economic exclusion.
It is also a commentary on the nature of Jesus, who, you may have noticed, serves without hesitation both the haves and the have nots. In fact, it is remarkable how consistent and even Jesus is through both of these stories. He is attentive. He is authoritative. He is generous. He is powerful. There is no shame in his voice for either request for healing. He is unperturbed by the jostling crowds, the sarcastic disciples, the jeering mourners at the house, and most importantly, the fact that he is made “unclean” by both the hemorrhaging woman and the corpse of the dead girl. He is dialed into an altogether different frequency when he feels the one touch in a jostling crowd that is born out of faith; when he says without being there that the girl is not dead but sleeping. What these two Russian doll stories reflect identically, despite all of their differences, is that Jesus is utterly reliable, utterly consistent, and worth putting our faith in.
Sometimes preachers and commenters say of this passage that Jesus pauses on the way to Jairus’ house because he has a preference for the poor because he stops his walk to puts the poor woman ahead of the privileged synagogue leader. I don’t think that is the case here. He doesn’t stop because the woman is poor. He stops because he feels power leave his body; and that stops him in his tracks because only one thing could have drawn that power out: faith. He doesn’t say to the women, “Daughter, your poverty and suffering have made you well…” He says, “Your faith has made you well.” Jesus pauses on the way to Jairus’ house because he has a preference for those who are faithful.
And for those who are faithful, when they come to Jesus, healing is available.
Which raises a couple of important questions for the faithful, the first of which is about prayer. These healing stories always leave me wondering about my prayers for healing and if they are effective. And I have to remind myself what a wise person once told me: prayer is not simply a matter of bending the vector of divine will toward my will, my needs, and my hopes. It is far more profound. To ask something of God does not move God toward us, it moves us toward God. Prayer is an act of yielding myself into God. That is where healing is found.
The second important question that these healing stories raise for the faithful is what does it mean to be healed.
I used to serve as senior pastor of a tall steeple, downtown First Presbyterian Church in Kentucky, and there was a pediatrician in that congregation with whom I would have lunch periodically. I knew that I had a sermon I wanted to healing story of the healing story of Jesus coming up, so I asked her about the power of healing as a physician. She looked up abruptly and said, “As a physician, I can cure you. I can make your disease go away, if you take your medicine. But I have no power whatsoever to heal you.”
Then all of my pastoral spidey-senses started tingling. “Say more…” I said. She told me a story to illustrate her point.
Once she was working with a ten year old patient, who was clearly dying. But despite that, the child was bright and positive, and her parents, who were fairly old to have a ten year old, were not. “How are your parents doing?” the doctor asked. “Well, I keep telling them that no matter what everything is going to be ok.” And how’s that working? “Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t.” The doctor leaned in to me and said, this child could not be cured. I could not do anything for her except keep her comfortable. She had no cure, but she showed remarkable signs of being healed. The parents, while not needing a cure, are showing signs of needing some healing, and understandably so.
I once had a parishioner whose first name was Scot with one ‘t’ as in “I am from Scotland.” He was from an old Presbyterian family that went back centuries in Scotland, and he was very proud of his Presbyterian heritage. I was also a deeply faithful man. I recall one day walking into his hospital room as he lay dying of cancer. When I walked into the room, he opened his eyes and saw me, and closed them again. Then in a weak and broken voice, he quoted the first question from the shorter catechism of the Book of Confessions (that is how good a Presbyterian he was). He said, “Allen, what is the chief of man?” And I said, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” He said, “I’ve got that first part down, and I am working on the second…” There was no cure for Scot Marshall, but he showed remarkable signs of healing.
And I believe that what that means is that fear no longer has us in its grip. You might still be afraid in your situation, but that fear does not have power over decisions, over outlook, over actions, over expectations. To be healed means that you are operating out of your faith. That is why the assertive, fearless actions and words of Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman lead to healing: because they were grounded in profound faith, faith that in Jesus Christ healing can be found.
Undoubtedly, we all have ailments to confess that ache for restoration. Perhaps you are the parent or the child of someone who is ill and you are desperate for their restoration to health. Maybe you have lost someone precious, perhaps even a child, and you know all too well Jairus’ desperation, and maybe you long for the healing of those wounds. Perhaps you are quietly, secretly suffering, and you long to reach out and touch the hem of his robe and have your sufferings resolved. Perhaps you have been publicly shamed, systematically excluded, pushed away for something you said or did or maybe for something that was completely beyond your control and you are wounded and long for healing. Only you know the aches that you carry that long for restoration.
Good people of God, we are called to a deep, fearless, assertive faith in the one who also was wounded and bears those wounds for all who long to touch them, and it is precisely through those wounds that we are all healed. And it is good news.
All thanks be to God.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning;
Great is thy faithfulness
 Lindvall, Michael L. “Mark 5:21-43: Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3. (Louisville: WJK, 2009), 188.