A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho
Feb 2, 2020
In the first few chapters of Mark’s gospel, Jesus has been traveling a lot. Last week, if you recall, he had to calm a storm as they were traveling from the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee to the “other” side, the foreign side. He’d been teaching and healing on one side and after the storm was calmed, he healed on the “other” side too. He drove demons out of a man living among the tombs and sent the demons into a herd of pigs.
His healing was gratefully received by the former demoniac. But his townspeople were less sure about it. They begged Jesus to leave the neighborhood.
While they may not have liked a man who was demon possessed, at least they knew what they were getting, right? Jesus’ acts of healing up-end the way the world is supposed to be, and that is threatening to some. When we hear these healing stories about Jesus, remember that not everyone was excited about another person’s healing.
After Jesus is asked to leave the neighborhood, he does. He heads back across the Sea, apparently storm free this time. And he walks ashore to find throngs of people waiting for him.
Because there are lots of people who desperately need healing and they press in on Jesus to be healed. I’m not Jesus, to be very clear, but since the news of our medical debt relief project has hit the news, I’ve had moments of feeling overwhelmed and crowded in by people in need of healing. They need help with their debts. And I can’t help them.
Jesus could help people, but I wonder what it was like for him to face the desperate crowds.
In this story, we have two healings. One is Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, at the point of death. Jairus asks Jesus to lay his hands on her so she may be made well and live.
Jesus leaves the needs of the crowd to attend to the needs of one little girl. And it is as he does that, another woman, one of many in the crowd, seeks healing for herself. She has been sick as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive. She had endured much, under many physicians.
And she had heard about Jesus.
Someone had told her about Jesus.
Think about who told you about Jesus. And consider who needs you to tell them about Jesus. Not because you’re worried about the state of their soul. That’s God job, not ours. Tell them about Jesus because they may need healing now.
This woman had been ill for a long time. And maybe the person who told her about Jesus knew all about it. Or maybe not. Sometimes our need for healing is visible and obvious, like Jairus’ daughter at the point of death. Sometimes it is hidden and private, like the hemorrhaging woman.
Because someone had told her about Jesus, she knew that if she could just touch the hem of his garment, she’d be made well.
And so she touched him, with intent to heal.
And it worked.
Jesus, immediately aware that power had left him, asked who touched his clothes.
The disciples said, “Jesus, buddy. Who didn’t touch your clothes? You’re kind of a big deal and in the middle of a rather large crowd.”
I support their cluelessness in this moment.
Jesus, however, keeps looking around in the crowd. And the woman knows that he knows. And she pushes the crowd out of the way, falls at his feet, and tells him the whole truth.
Mark doesn’t tell us what she said, but like the woman at the well in John’s gospel, we’re told their conversation was ‘the whole truth’. Jesus was asking for a testimony, for her to share her story of being made well.
Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed.
And in the time he was talking to the woman, Jairus’ receives a report that his daughter is dead. So Jesus leaves the daughter who had touched his garment and heads off to the other daughter. When he gets there, he takes Jairus’ daughter by hand and tells her to get up.
In both of these stories, and throughout the gospels, Jesus was willing to be interrupted. He’d been doing one thing when Jairus fell to his knees and begged for healing for his daughter. Jesus changed his plans to go to her. And Jesus was even willing to be interrupted en route to this life or death situation to find out who had touched his robe.
Do we have time to be interrupted?
There are moments when I’ve pushed myself against a deadline so close that I do not have time to be interrupted, and I can be frustrated when interruptions happen when I’ve planned my time poorly. I try to leave interruptible time in my schedule during the week, not because I need to go heal people like Jesus did, but because many of the best interactions in my week are the ones I didn’t know would happen, when people stop by my office in the week and we get to catch up.
I often write my sermons in coffee shops, where I won’t be interrupted by the things around my house that can distract me. When I have a sermon to write, I discover a love of organizing my sock drawer. But I am occasionally interrupted at the coffee shop too. Recently, a young man came up to me and asked if I had time to talk with him. He’d seen my bible on the table and had some questions about Jesus and wasn’t a church person.
I’ve spoken with him a few times. And I don’t know how it has been for him, but I have enjoyed our conversations and am thankful he took the initiative to interrupt me. Being interrupted can lead to sacred and healing connections.
Jairus was a leader of the synagogue, and the situation his daughter was in was critical. So he was a leader who was used to asking for what he needed, and his need was urgent and dire. I can imagine he didn’t think much about whether he should interrupt Jesus. I suspect he just did it.
But our bleeding woman. I wonder about her. She isn’t named for us in the story. She’d been bleeding for 12 years, which must have excluded her from parts of society and kept her from being a commanding leader like Jairus. She’d been to every doctor and spent all her money on cures and nothing had helped. We know people who have been in similar situations, and keeping their hope alive is a challenge when nothing is working, nothing is bringing healing.
I wonder how hard it was for her to take the initiative to reach out to interrupt Jesus. She doesn’t actually want to interrupt him. She knows he’s busy. She probably thinks, ‘who am I to think he would want to hear about my health problems?’.
Women today face similar challenges. I was raised not to talk about the fact (begins to whisper….) that women bleed every month. The culture around me taught me to not make people uncomfortable by bringing up ‘women’s business’. Like in a sermon. Like right now.
It makes no sense, really. Women’s bodies create human life because we bleed. But people get uncomfortable when it’s brought up.
This last spring, a group of junior high girls from the Bronx made a podcast about periods. They were tired of people telling them to keep something that happens to every woman quiet, like it is a shameful secret.
“We wanted to shine a light on this subject because it’s something that’s kind of hidden away,” says Raizel Febles, 14. “You kind of are ashamed for having it, which sucks because it’s something so natural and so normal”. So they made a podcast about it — called Sssh! Periods — and it’s the middle school grand prize winner in the first-ever NPR Student Podcast Challenge.”
They beat out 6,000 other entries. I think the woman who touched Jesus’ garment hem would be glad to hear about these middle school girls. In truth, they channeled her self possession to do what would bring their lives healing. They were able to be more public than she was, which is healing for the whole community, when shame is what we silence.
In truth, we don’t know why the woman in our story was bleeding. It could have been crohn’s disease, or cancer, or who knows what. But we do know that the boldest she felt she could be was to just touch the hem of his garment.
One daughter is dying—and we can boldly ask Jesus for help with that. But the other daughter is also in need of healing and I wonder how the disciples felt when Jesus stopped and asked for her testimony. Jesus, we’ve got more important places to go. Like right now. She’s been ill for 12 years, she can wait a day.
I love that Jesus won’t prioritize one person’s healing over another’s. In God’s kingdom, there is space for everyone to bring who they are to Jesus for healing. And there is power enough for everyone.
In our economy, that’s not quite true. We prioritize who gets healed all the time. I have good insurance, and so I could get a flu shot for free this fall. The people we are holding in detention at the border—no flu shots for them, almost no access at all to health care. We feel differently about a 16 year old homecoming queen and straight A student getting a kidney transplant than we do about a man in prison getting a kidney transplant.
And maybe in our world, we choose to have our priorities about who gets treated and who doesn’t. I still wish we could change our system so we have room to heal more people. But Jesus won’t choose. He heals them both.
We are both people in need of healing, as the woman and Jairus’ daughter were AND we are the Body of Christ, able to offer Christ’s healing touch to the world. Let us go seek healing and offer it to a world so desperately in need of it. Amen