The Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 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.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
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?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
This morning we come to, what I would describe as, one of those quirky moments in the Revised Common Lectionary. We use the RCL to guide us through the readings for each of our services. We are continuing in the Gospel of Mark and we are going to stay with the first slide this morning for quite a while. You are familiar with it by now right? Mark Following the Son of God.
But don't let me get distracted by that image. Let us move on with my message this morning.
Last week you will remember we read the story of Jesus calming the waters of the sea. Knowing the Scriptures, as you all do, you would normally expect that we would follow that story with the story of Jesus' encounter with the demoniac.
That is one of those stories I am sure we are all familiar with. Jesus reaches the shore of the lake, after the storm, and is immediately confronted by the man possessed by demons. I don't know about you but it doesn't seem like the disciples can experience more challenging circumstances in one day. Battered and bruised by the storm and then by Jesus questioning them for their fearful response to the storm they come to dry land and are immediately confronted a raving mad man. So, getting back to the part of the story we skipped. Jesus drives the demons out of the man and into a herd of pigs. The pigs then dive over a cliff. The villages instead of being happy to see the demoniac in his right mind drive, Jesus, away because he destroyed the pigs. In the section of the Gospel we read this morning we skip right over that story and we find ourselves with Jesus and the disciples back on the side of the lake that they started from.
Things don't slow down. Jesus climbs out of the boat and is immediately surrounded by what Mark describes as a great crowd. People are clambering to see Jesus. Somehow out of that crowd Jairus makes his way to Jesus and pleads with Jesus on behalf of his daughter.
Perhaps it is because Jairus is one of the leaders of the synagogue that others defer to him and allow him to approach Jesus with his desperate plea.
Jesus hears his plea and begins to follow Jairus to his home. Then out of nowhere, a woman reaches out and touches Jesus.
Jesus immediately stops and asks: "who touched me?" Does anyone else hear the echoes of the story from last week with the disciples in the midst of the storm? There is a similar atmosphere, but this time with Jesus in the middle of it all. People are jostling and jockeying for opportunities to be close to Jesus, perhaps they are shouting or calling out to him, trying to get him to notice them, trying to be the focus of his attention. Suddenly Jesus stops and he may well have put his hand out in much the same he did last week. Everything comes to a halt, all the clamor stops and Jesus asks his astounding question. "Who touched me?" The question rings out in the newly created silence. Like last week we find ourselves caught in the drama of the moment. Last week it "was peace, be still" this week he says "who touched me?" All to the same effect: SILENCE!
For our 2nd image for this morning, I chose a very stylized depiction of this moment. This an icon showing Jesus surrounded by the crowd and the woman lying at his feet. It is beautifully staged so that we can clearly see all the main characters in their appointed positions.
But in reality, the next picture probably depicts the situation a little more clearly. The woman is on the ground and reaching out, pleading for the Lord to respond to her touch. She is aware of her immediate need and for some response from the Lord.
Last week I used this next image as the one that we so often have in our minds for how we hope the Lord will respond to us. Jesus warmly smiling and offering his hand. Personally, I can see this as how I would expect that Jesus would respond to this woman. That his "who touched me?" is not an admonition, it is not a rebuke.
Now, the disciples are astounded by Jesus' words. In fact, I think the next image shows what the situation was really like. I hope you can make that out.
You can barely see the woman's hand through the throng of feet as she struggles to touch Jesus' garment.
What happens after Jesus asks the question "who touched me?" is really the point of this story in the midst of the story of Jairus and his daughter. Mark describes it this way: "But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
"Your faith has made you well." What an astounding thing to say.
What is this faith? Don't we all long to know the answer to the question? Don't we long to know how to say the right thing, or to do the right thing, or be in the right place to get the right answer that we need.
Sometimes I find it helps to know what something is by examining what it is not. To look at, to talk about, and to discuss what something is not can help us know what it actually is.
So, for just a few minutes I want to look at what faith is not.
I am sure there are folks here this morning who will know the name Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. Dr. Peale was known here in the States and around the world as the author of the book The Power of Positive Thinking. The Power of Positive Thinking: A Practical Guide to Mastering the Problems of Everyday Living is a 1952 self-help book by Dr. Peale.
Now, I know that there were people who were helped and encouraged by Dr. Peale and his call to deal with life's challenges with positivity. But we have to be clear, don't we, that is not faith.
Now, I am sure there are folks here this morning who also have heard of the so-called "prosperity doctrine." Or as it is sometimes spoken of in derogatory terms, the "name it and claim it" school of theology. Let us be clear, here as well, that is not faith either.
So where do we turn to find an understanding of faith and in particular the kind of faith that this woman in Mark's Gospel this morning exhibits?
If we had time we would read Hebrews 11. Perhaps I can encourage you to reads it sometime this week. Be prepared to be encouraged and uplifted. That is of course until you get to verse 35b through verse 38.
But the essence of what we are talking about is contained in verses 1 -3: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible."
This week I was given a quote that I am wrestling with. It drew from the writings of Augustine and Saint John of the Cross. It talked about how it is not until we are willing to accept the strangeness of God. Not strange, in a weird or bizarre way, but strange in the sense that we cannot fully comprehend God. "As Saint John of the Cross put it, it is only when God has become wholly and terrifyingly a stranger to us that we can ever really know Him as something beyond a projection of our own wants."
Perhaps it might be easier to understand this if look at a quote from one of the SSJE Meditations from this week: "It is the language of faith that sees and expresses these things. And it is the language of faith that we will draw upon in a few moments as we gather around the altar of God to bear witness to what God has done and to what God is doing in our lives, and in the whole of creation. It is faith that recognizes God at work in the created order, in the calling of Israel to be God’s people, in their deliverance from their bondage in Egypt, and in their journey into the Promised Land. It is faith that recognizes God at work in the giving of the Law and in the words of the prophets and above all, in the Word made flesh in Jesus, God’s Son. It is faith that sees God’s hand at work throughout human history, guarding and guiding and going before us into the future." The Nativity of John the Baptist – Br. David Vryhof
As we travel through this period of Ordinary Time, in this season after Pentecost, what are we learning about the language of faith? Then how are we exercising our faith in our desire to hear the words: "Your faith has made you well."