There is so much to make us afraid. Here in our gospel reading we meet two people who are in terrible circumstances.
First, Jairus. He is a ruler of the synagogue. He is someone of importance. His problem is that his 12 year old daughter is at the point of death, and he decides to approach Jesus. A question that comes to my mind is that the little girl has been alive for as long as the diseased woman we are about to meet has been ill. Is this a coincidence? Is there a suggestion that the girl has been ill all these years, but now has taken a decisive turn for the worse? Also, we know that Jesus has been in dispute with religious leaders in quite a few synagogues. What has been the stance of Jairus up to now? Has he been forced into a rethink and a climb down? Is this bravery or desperation?
The good news is that he has come down to the lakeside where Jesus has just got out of the boat after travelling back across from Decapolis, and he has found his way to Jesus and humbly made his request and Jesus has agreed to come! The not so good news is that the crowd wants to come too, and as they press through the narrow streets progress is slow as Jesus is mobbed. Will they get there in time? Does Jesus understand the gravity of the situation, just how ill his daughter is?
It gets worse. Jesus stops for a chat. And so we meet our second character. The unnamed woman has been subject to internal bleeding for 12 years. This is painful and debilitating, but in their culture it was also isolating. In Deuteronomy 15 we read that any woman with a discharge of blood is ceremonially unclean for as long as it continues. Anything she touches or sits on is ceremonially unclean. Anyone whom she touches is unclean until nightfall. No wonder the woman disguises herself and creeps up on Jesus, as it were. In her desperation she clings to the possibility that Jesus can make her whole. In the anonymity of the crowd she reaches out to touch the hem of his robe. She knows instantly that she has been healed. But so does Jesus. He amazes his disciples by demanding to know who has touched him. In the midst of this rugby scrum he is aware that a healing event has taken place. And he stops. We learn here that the power of God is not a mechanical thing where we say our prayers, and either an answer pops out or it doesn’t. The woman had imagined that there would be power in merely touching Jesus, but Jesus is only interested in making a relationship with her. It is Jesus who is important here, not the precise words we use or the actions we take. We might even argue that the woman had a muddled and incorrect attitude, but that does not matter. She was reaching out to Jesus, and he reached back out to her. “Daughter, your faith has healed you.”
We can imagine that Jairus was aghast through all of this. His own daughter is dying. The moments are ticking away. This woman with her terrible condition has touched the holy man Jesus and made him ceremonially unclean, so does that mean that Jesus will be disbarred from helping? He is taking time to listen to the woman; trembling – she has fallen at Jesus’ feet and told him “the whole truth” – she’s giving him her whole medical history!
And then the worst possible outcome – messengers arrive to say that it is too late, his daughter is dead. It is time to give up. It has all gone horribly wrong.
Jesus overhears this. “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” The man’s fears had led him to put his trust in Jesus in the first place, and Jesus now invites him to redouble that trust. Not in the reputation of Jesus, or stories he has heard about him. Jesus is here, and says “trust me”. This is that fruit of the Holy Spirit that we call patience, or perseverance or longsuffering. We believe in God, at least on some level, or we would not find ourselves here. But there are times when that faith is tested almost, it seems, to destruction. We catch something of the flavour of that when Harry Potter is at his lowest ebb in the forest after visiting Godric’s Hollow, expressing his frustration at the clues that his mentor Dumbledore has left him to follow: “Look what he asked of me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don’t expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I am doing …” In that great morality tale, Hermione can only respond of the dead Dumbledore: “He loved you” Harry.
If you remember, the big question that Mark poses to us again and again is “Who is Jesus?” We saw in chapter four that the despairing disciples assumed that they would all drown when their boat was caught in a storm, but Jesus was there. The man possessed by a Legion of demons found deliverance when he encountered Jesus. The woman in her pain, shame, fear and desperation has found an answer to her fears in Jesus. And now, in the midst of his greatest trial, which seems to be getting worse, Jairus is being invited to find out for himself who Jesus is.
Jesus leaves the crowd behind and heads for the home of Jairus, only to find another crowd waiting. The professional mourners are in full flow and there is a racket. It is obvious from the other gospel accounts that she really was dead, although Jesus has used the metaphor of sleep to affirm that she will be raised. The crowd take the metaphor literally and laugh at him. Jesus despatches all of them, and the six of them gather around the girl’s bedside: Jesus, Peter, James, John and the two parents. Talitha is, I understand, a word for a young lamb or goat – he quite literally calls her a kid, and perhaps there was a twinkle in his voice as he said it: “Get up, kid!” And she does. She does not just lie there, taking it easy, but she bounces up and starts roaming around.
Jesus makes two requests. They are cannot expect to keep the news that she is revived secret, but they are not to talk about the details of what happened in that room. And will they please give this hungry young girl something to eat! Jesus was always practical.
Just as the disciples were in the boat, just as the crowds were in Decapolis after the deliverance of Legion, just as the woman was after being healed of her issue of blood, so the parents and the disciples are completely astonished. The answer to the big question “Who is Jesus?” will always have the effect of stretching us, astonishing us, making us re-evaluate and revise all of our ideas and priorities. God help us never to lose that ability to be surprised and elated by what God can do. God prevent us from ever settling for the humdrum, familiar, tame excuses that our religion can offer, to insulate us from encountering God and growing in him. At the times when circumstances seem most against us, be open for God to intervene and reveal himself in the freshest, most relevant manner. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near.
There is much to puzzle us and frighten us in this life. But we are not following clues left by a dead mentor (as was Harry Potter). That same Jesus that we have been reading about is here – what do we reply to the words “The Lord is here”? By his Spirit he is present in every believing heart, and he wants to touch us and bless us this morning. As we gather round his word, as we join together in prayer, as we break bread and drink wine in obedience to his command, so may we be open for all the he has for us this morning.
1. In Hebrew thought, death and disease were things that cut us off from God. What do you find that seems to separate you from contact with God?
2. What did the disciples learn, do you think, from these two episodes?
3. If you could touch the Lord, as it were, what need would you bring to him right now? Who will pray with you about this?