Valerie Kelley is a retired educator and congregant at St. Hilda St. Patrick. She has served on the Bishop’s Committee and is a former Senior Warden. The sermon for Sunday, June 27, was preached in response to Mark 5.21-34. This sermon was based on the manuscript below.
Who do YOU identify with the most in this Gospel passage from Mark? Father Joseph often asks us this question during Bible Study, and Mark gives us two strong, memorable main characters: First, we have Jairus, the worried father who is a synagogue leader – a man with great status in society both by virtue of his gender and his role in the temple. Jarius begs Jesus to help his daughter, and Jesus touches her and brings her back to life. Jesus asks the girls’ parents to believe – to have faith– and their daughter lives.
Jairus is a clear contrast to the other main character – an unnamed strong female, the hemorrhaging woman. She has been let down, swindled and abandoned by physicians and by society. She’s poor. She’s unclean. She’s completely out of options. She reaches out to touch Jesus as an outcast – afraid of his knowledge. And she is healed.
Jairus and the ill woman – who both have such strong faith in Jesus in this story – are described in detail, but they are only 2 people out of the many who populate the passage. Mark seems determined to hit us over the head with the unflinching faith of these two people. See! This is what your faith can do!
But we also have the disciples, a jostling crowd, as well as the revived 12-year old daughter and her mother. Why are they in the narrative? Peter, James, and John are named, but they’re not held up as models of faith in God. Are they still questioning? Wondering what is going on? They seem kinda confused. What about all the people in the crowd? Maybe they’ve just heard rumors about an itinerant healer. Are they just looking for entertainment? Surely some of them are also experiencing their own crises. The people in the crowd are who I most identify with in this passage.
Why are these additional people in the story? I wonder if it’s so that we can know, through them, that no matter where we are in our own personal faith, God’s absolute love and healing are always available to us.
I’ve had moments of feeling like I’ve touched Jesus’ hem. I’ve had many times in my life where the power and love of God has left me healed and profoundly comforted. But that’s not always my experience. I wish I could claim the unflinching, absolute faith of today’s main characters all the time, but usually I feel more like I’m pressing in on Jesus like the people in the crowd. Watching. Wondering. Seeking.
Faith. How do we describe it? The Gospel story is quite clear that faith is not the blind following of accepted social or religious practices. Mark tells us that Jesus is ignoring important cultural mores of the day. A bleeding woman would have been unclean, and unable to enter the temple or participate in society. Touching a person who is dead would also have been considered unclean, and yet Jesus took the hand of Jairus’ daughter. Clearly the message to the 1st century audience would have been that strictly following religious laws and local customs were not requirements for true connection with God.
Mark also makes it pretty clear that faith is available to people of all backgrounds. Knowing and trusting in Jesus isn’t just for the privileged elite, like Jairus. Even the people that society looks down on – like the ill woman – are equal in the site of God.
So, as I ponder this text – Maybe deep faith is an aspiration or goal, but not necessarily the main point of this Gospel. I feel like I – as a reader – am supposed to notice what many characters in the story can’t seem to see – the power and love and healing that God provides for everyone, free of charge. Always.
Many of us know that maintaining true faith in God’s healing love can be hard and confusing. So many aspects of human life get in the way. The disciples are distracted by the demanding crowd. Some people tell Jairus not to disturb the teacher. Don’t bother him! Some laughed at Jesus because they didn’t think the young girl could be healed. There are so many obstacles to faith, and God knows that these obstacles are real.
I don’t know about you, but my own obstacles are many. Miracle stories like this one still make the 21st century me a little twitchy. In addition, I worry that a passage like this can too easily push us from the important message, “we are all individually loved and restored by God,” to, “if my faith would just be stronger, I should/could/would… have power to change everything I don’t like in my life. Some readings of stories like this can tip us into uncomfortable magic wand Jesus territory. And yes, as you can tell, getting God out of my head and into my heart is an ongoing challenge.
Given that so many things in life distract us and get in the way, how can we open our minds and hearts more fully to the healing love of God?
It seems to me like Mark is trying to cut through all the noise. What’s most important? We shouldn’t be distracted by a set of beliefs or norms that we’re required to sign up for. God is available for everybody, whether we recognize it or not. The disciples and the crowds in this story show us that faith isn’t necessarily an ending. It’s a process. It’s about watching, wondering, and seeking. It’s about prayer. It’s about noticing the obstacles. Faith is not about adopting the correct theology, but cultivating an inner attitude of surrender and openness to the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hopefully we can look at the main characters in this Gospel – who are in truly desperate circumstances — and see how belief in God’s mercy can translate into every day miracles in our every day lives. But let’s be clear. That mercy exists no matter where we are in our faith journeys. Despite the obstacles. Even when we forget to notice that we are surrounded and healed by God’s love.
Christ is meeting us where we are, and meeting us with grace. Each person in the crowd that day in the 1st century was looking for something. They didn’t all believe the same thing. They probably didn’t all hear the same rumors about a roving itinerant preacher. But they are watching, wondering, searching. The text doesn’t tell us all their stories, but we know them because their stories are ours. God’s power and love and healing surrounds them. And Us. Free of charge. Always.