I am grateful for the invitation of the Brunswick Presbyterian Church who invited me to preach for their worship services on September 18 and 21, 2014. This sermon is based on Mark 5: 21-43 and was preached as it is shown here with slides integrated onto the screens in worship, preaching a bit of the sermon at a time, along with working through the passage one bit at a time.
I want to begin by thanking Elizabeth and the Session for inviting me to preach today and to join you for worship. I told Elizabeth in August that the Gospel of Mark is my favorite Gospel. My second year in seminary I took a course dedicated to this one Gospel. We spent the entire class only working through Mark. We spent time in many different commentaries, classroom conversation and prayer. That class changed me. And it grew my faith.
As you know and have been hearing so far in this series, Mark is both the shortest Gospel in terms of length and also the earliest Gospel in terms of dating. So it is thought to be the most accurate depiction of the life of Jesus and also the community around Jesus that he intended to serve, minister to and ultimately—save. It tells us important information about the problems and stressors of that community, many of which mirror the community you and I live in—one that is hostile to the radical, egalitarian, nonviolent and prophetic message of Jesus.
We live in a world community that is addicted to violence. We are both victims of violence and in some cases participants in it. And we live in a community that is addicted to treating some people and some parts of the Creation as “less than” others.
We have these things in common with the people Mark’s Gospel is concerned with and that the gifted writer of the Gospel works so hard to tell the story about. For our community and for the community of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is radical and Jesus is unwelcome. Because he insists on the rights of the poor and the disposed above others. Because he refuses to participate and engage in violence. And because he speaks truth to power.
Jesus takes risks of faith.
And that is the theme of my meditation today on this passage in Mark’s Gospel. A Risk of Faith.
So, let us listen together to God’s Word for us today, which is offered to us as a gift and an opportunity for deepening and growing our discipleship.
Whenever a passage begins in this way in Mark’s Gospel,
Jesus making a transition from one location to another via a body of water
it means only one thing:
something important is about to happen.
Something radical and something prophetic.
Mark is saying here,
“Pay attention! I am about to tell you something important. Pay attention!”
We are introduced in these early verses to the first
person of importance and the
first issue of imporance for the writer of Mark’s Gospel.
Jairus and his daughter who is dying.
Like any of us, any parent with a sick child, Jairus is deperate.
What lengths would you go to to find healing for your child?
And so Jairus comes to Jesus to plead for help.
Jairus is described as a Temple leader, a member of the Jewish ruling class.
He is different from the crowds that are already gathered around Jesus.
In Mark’s Gospel, every time a crowd is gathered,
what Mark means to say is that the crowds represent
the poor, the lonely, the outcast.
Jesus agrees to go and heal Jairus’ daughter and so he,
Jairus and the crowds set off in her direction to help and to heal her.
Jesus is not alone,
he is surrounded by a crowd and
Jairus in his deperation is now walking beside and accompanied by
a group of people he would never be with given the separation of social classes in that time.
In his desperation Jairus has thrown all of his pretensions aside.
He and Jesus walk together with the crowd….
Now the walk is interrupted.
Another person, sick and desperate looks for healing from Jesus.
This time an adult woman, for herself.
She is not part of Jairus’ social class, she is part of the crowd,
and so she is poor, she is one of the “unwanted” or “throwaway” people of her time.
Doubly-ignored, she is also a woman.
Just as so many in our community today are taken advantage of,
this woman has also been taken advantage of.
She has been sick for 12 years.
And during that time she has seen many “doctors” and they have treated her “badly.”
It is horrible to imagine what they might have done to her.
Already poor, these “doctors” have left her even more poor than when she began.
Not only is she a woman, she has been bleeding.
And so she has suffered the pain of isolation and separation from other people.
As dictated by the religious law of her time.
She is alone in every way.
She is ignored in every way.
She is desperate in every way.
She is in need of Jesus’ healing in every way.
In the moment she reached out for Jesus,
maybe touching his cloak just a little bit she feels the healing move through her body.
She instantly knows she is now well.
“Someone has touched me! Who touched me?”
Jesus knows he has just had an important encounter with someone very special.
This part of the passage tells us right away that we
are in Mark’s Gospel!
The Gospel might better be named, “The Gospel of the Stupid Disciples!”
Every chance he gets, the writer of Mark’s Gospel makes sure the disiples are put in a bad light,
or their lack of faith is represented.
They sound like us, don’t they?
“What do you mean you had a spiritual experience?
Those things don’t happen anymore!”
“What do you mean you are changed? I don’t see anything different about you?”
“Why are you praying for that insurmountable problem?
It’s not worth it, nothing is going to change, that’s been a lost cause forever!”
Jesus ignores the disciples,
And searches the crowd for the person who touched him.
He and the woman find each other and as Mark tells it,
she kneels before him, and she tells Jesus everything.
Can you imagine in this moment if you are Jairus?
You got to Jesus first when he got off the boat,
you told him first about your plight.
Isn’t a dying child more important than a dying adult who has already lived her life?
Jesus is wasting time, not just healing this woman
but stopping to listen and talk to her,
to hear her whole story, which is 12 years long!
“Come on Jesus!
Let’s move faster!
Isn’t my daughter more important?
Aren’t the needs of my child more important than this street woman!
Time is a-wasting!
Come on Jesus!
Let’s move faster!”
It is true that Jairus was at this point upset with Jesus,
because when people came to tell him that his daughter was dead,
they asked him to “stop bothering Jesus.”
Jesus noticed Jairus’ distress, the terrible way his own people,
even though he is a powerful man, that he was just spoken to.
These people, just like the community around the woman,
see Jairus’ daughter as unimportant, because she is a girl-child.
So her death is unimportant.
And they do not see the need to tell Jairus of her death in a kind way.
It is clear that they too, see her a woman as disposable.
Never mind that they are informing a parent that their beloved child is dead.
Jesus though, is different. You can imagine that he puts his arms around Jairus.
“Do not worry Jairus, ignore them. Trust me. We’ll work this out.”
Even when they get to Jairus’ house, he and Jesus are mocked for believing that there is still something to do.
Jesus gets rid of the people in the house who do not believe.
And he heals Jairus’ daughter.
The writer of Mark’s Gospel,
always weaving a second story underneath and around the primary story
lets us in on a secret:
Jairus’ daughter is twelve years old.
Now all the parts of the story make sense.
The two women are foils, one of the other!
One is young, one is older.
One is wealthy, one is poor.
One is twelve years of age, the other has been sick for twelve years.
One has a name, the other is unnamed.
One has a home, the other is homeless.
One has a family who advocated for her to be well,
the other has no one who even cares that she is sick,
let alone whether she lives or she dies.
One is known already as a daughter to a family,
the one woman, un-named
receives a new name as a daughter of Jesus!
What is Mark trying to tell us about the kingdom of God?
What is Mark trying to tell us about the life of
A community that follows Jesus?
The Temple system represented by Jairus and his family is broken
And throughout Mark’s Gospel he lifts this up.
It is a system build on power and prestige, on being the top dog.
On being the “preferred way” of engaging a religious community.
Mark seems to be saying something to that system
About death, despair, loss and grief.
Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter, but look at how quickly
Those around her lost hope and moved into despair.
Her illness was short-lived.
And then the woman without a name.
She worked and worked and worked
And looked and looked and looked
For healing for 12 years.
She never gave up, she did not lose hope.
She violated every rule in her life and her society by reaching out to touch Jesus.
Who does Jesus call his “daughter”?
The woman who has no status, no power, no prestige.
Who does Jesus scoff at?
The people in Jairus’ house.
Maybe this is the experience we are having today, in our congregations
In our country.
We used to be powerful. We used to be important.
And we still are in some ways.
But no longer in obvious ways.
No one flocks to listen to us, our voices are silenced.
And so when death or disappointment appears it is an emergency.
And we lose hope easily.
Sometimes our faith is very thin.
It is hard.
And I know those days because I have had them too.
We all have.
But what if suffering and despair was an everyday reality.
Suffering and despair like what the nameless woman endured.
Constant illness. Constantly being taken advantage of.
Constant poverty. Constant isolation. Constant harrasement.
For years upon years upon years.
I cannot imagine that. Can you?
I do not think I have the strength to withstand that.
And yet she is the “daughter” of Jesus.
She is the one where his preference sits.
She is the one whose example he lifts up.
I see this passage as Mark encouraging us to engage our communities in new ways.
To look at the parts of it that are beyond our places of comfort.
To go to the places where suffering is very present.
And stay there.
Not to fix. Not to solve. But to be a presence.
To sit and learn.
And to see Jesus in a new way.
Mark is telling us that we will not find Jesus in the places of power.
He cares about them and the lives of those who live there.
But he will not see them as his preferred place to be.
And for those of us who live in the places of privledge this is a hard truth to hear.
Jesus is calling us to risk our faith.
Just as he was calling people over 2000 years ago to risk theirs.
Risk what we think we believe for something new.
Something deeper, something harder, something challenging.
To risk in order to find.
To risk in order to live.
This is the challenge we are offered today.
Can we take it up?
Can we let go of all we hold dear and sometimes cling to so tightly?
To follow Jesus.
Who offers new life.
Again and again and again.
I am grateful for the work of Ched Meyers in his seminal book, Binding the Strong Man which so influences my understanding of Mark’s Gospel, and from whose exegetical work much of my storytelling in this sermon has arisen.