September 8, 2019
My favorite part of the Mary Poppins movie is when the kids, Mary and Burt all jump into the sidewalk picture Burt has drawn with chalk. That’s a perfect living out of one of my fantasies. Because I have no art knowledge whatsoever, when I go to art galleries, I am most drawn to paintings I want to jump into. Sometimes it’s as simple as a tree that beckons or maybe a little English cottage scene. That idea of momentary escape and total immersion in a peaceful or delightful other reality is often appealing when life gets overwhelming and everything feels like just too much. And as you’ve already discovered, sometimes I like to do this with sermons too. It’s a different way to experience a familiar scripture text, if we attempt to jump into the story on the page and find ourselves in these words and in this place. So that’s what we’re going to do this morning with this Mark text.
Speaking of feeling overwhelmed, Jesus has every right to be stressed out and burdened as we come to him in this passage. After teaching the crowds of people, he and his disciples have retreated across the lake for a break. But that night as they are on the water, making their temporary getaway, the winds shriek and they almost drown. Only Jesus’ words finally calm the storm. They alight on the other side of the lake and are met immediately by a man possessed by many demons. Jesus casts them out and into a herd of swine. The pigs, some 2,000 of them, controlled by legion evil spirits, rush down the bank into the lake and die. There are a few witnesses so disturbed by what they see, they ask Jesus and his friends to get back in their boat and leave. And so the weary crew sets sail back across the lake to the crowds still awaiting them on the other side.
Jesus steps out of the boat and masses of people surround him. He gets no break, no chance to even get sorted out before he has this synagogue ruler fighting his way through the crowd in order to fall at Jesus’ feet and plead with him. Jairus says, “My little girl is dying. But I know if you come with me and put your hands on her she will be made well.”
Let’s stop here for a moment. This father is now grasping at straws. His daughter is dying, but he refuses to give up hope. He is desperate to move heaven and earth in order to get his child the help she needs.
I was talking with my sister the other day about how parenting seems to do alarming things with one’s perspective. I am shocked and appalled when I hear about the lengths parents will go to, interceding with a teacher on their child’s behalf, dressing down a coach if their child isn’t treated fairly or even verbally abusing referees when their child is given a penalty. Shocked and appalled and also at times uncomfortably uneasy.
Now for the most part, as a parent, I’ve learned to hold my tongue. But there have been exceptions too. If you sit beside me at a basketball game, you might hear some of those exceptions. But what I really can’t get away from is while I usually do a pretty good job keeping my mouth shut, you should hear the conversation taking place in my head – wow!
Because as a parent I lose objectivity. My child is the front and center actor on my stage and I perceive everything else accordingly. I am a mother. I love my children fiercely. I want life to be fair and to bless them with the rewards I think they are deserving of. I want to protect them from all hurts and injustices. And I get so wrapped up in these thoughts at times that my perspective gets really warped, skewed. Can any of you relate? And the kinds of honors or recognition I’m talking about here, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t even that important.
Now, as a parent, put yourselves in Jairus’ shoes. Your child is dying, but you simply cannot accept that reality. It is unacceptable. She holds too many of your hopes and dreams for the future. She is life to you. You love her so much you can’t even comprehend life without her. And so you go, you run, you throw yourself at whatever hope for healing is out there in your grasp. That’s what Jairus does. He throws himself at Jesus’ feet.
And then he uses an interesting word. In verse 23 he says, “put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” The Greek word here for healed is “sozo”. Sozo has three different meanings in the New Testament: to save from death, to heal, and to save as in salvation, being born again.
This same word is also used in verse 28 and in verse 34. Jairus uses this word, the woman who is healed uses it and so does Jesus. Now, we too often tend to spiritualize the idea of Jesus’ saving power, connecting it with our soul and the inner transformation we experience when we invite Jesus into our hearts. This isn’t wrong, but it is incomplete.
Last week I talked about the profound movement of the Spirit we see unfolding in the gospels in the midst of the ordinary, the frequent, the familiar. Jesus’ saving power is spiritual, but the spiritual is not separated from or isolated from the physical, or the mental or the emotional. Jesus wades right into the whole mess of human frailties and he saves, healing and restoring body, mind and soul.
Jairus’ asks Jesus to come save his daughter and Jesus comes. But almost immediately, there’s an interruption. This gospel story is also recounted in both Matthew and Luke. According to Luke’s account, the crowds are so thick around Jesus, he is at the height of his popularity here, they are gathered in so tight around Jesus the Luke text says, “the crowds almost crushed him.” And there in the press of the crowd a woman with an incurable and dehumanizing disease touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak believing with all her heart that this simple touch will heal her. And it does. She can actually feel Jesus’ saving power coursing through her body, healing her. And somehow Jesus knows it’s happening as well. He can feel some of this power leaving his body. When you stop to think about it, isn’t that wildly and wonderfully cool?!
He’s been slowly making his way forward with an anxious Jairus at his side, but at the touch of this anonymous woman, he stops and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” With that question, his disciples look at Jesus like he’s crazy. “You’re kidding right? You have people touching you all over the place.” But Jesus keeps looking around, looking for the person who called forth this healing power from him.
Can you imagine Jairus’ state at this point? He knows time is of the essence. He knows his daughter’s time is running out. And Jesus has stopped all forward movement and is asking who touched him. The man must be in agony. But this is an interesting feature of Mark. As Mark tells the gospel story, Jesus is interrupted often, at prayer, while he’s preaching, when he’s resting or walking.
How do you handle interruptions? I’ll admit it, interruptions are often hard for me. I have my day scheduled out in advance and if I have an interruption it totally messes with my agenda. And sometimes instead of being present with my “interruption”, I am working instead to manage this surge of stress created by the breakdown in my schedule. That’s not how Jesus does interruptions. You know, Jairus’ himself was an interruption. So we have an interruption, interrupting an interruption. Henri Nouwen writes about an older professor who shared this bit of wisdom. “You know, my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” Precisely.
Jesus didn’t see interruptions. Jesus saw people.
Jesus knew someone in desperation had seized onto him looking for help and he wanted to know who it was. He wanted to see this person and know her.
And I can’t imagine the courage it took for this woman to step forward. She had already been healed. She could have very easily slipped quietly away. She was a woman perceived most of her life as unclean. She suffered from a shameful illness that simply was not talked about in society. Despite these fearful obstacles, she responds to Jesus much as Jairus had only moments earlier. She falls at Jesus’ feet and with trembling and fear, she tells him “the whole truth”. And with his words and his acceptance, Jesus cradles her. There in front of a whole crowd of people shoving in to get a better view, there with Jairus beside himself in agony, Jesus stops and makes space for this lowly woman and he saves her. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
While Jesus is still speaking these words of love and grace over her, men from Jairus’ household come to break the tragic news, Jairus’ daughter has died. “Come with us now Jairus and let’s leave the teacher alone.” At this Jesus gets right there in Jairus’ face and basically says, “Look at me Jairus. Look at my eyes and hear what I have to say. I need you to be brave and to believe. She will be healed. Let’s go.”
Then Jesus disperses the crowds. He sends them on their way. The time for spectating is over. This heart wrenching grief Jairus carries does not need an audience. Only a few of the disciples continue on with them as they come to the house where people are gathering to wail loudly.
It was custom at that time, with a death in the family, for professional mourners to be hired to come and cry publicly. To give voice to the family’s anguish and broadcast to the community the tragic news. Jesus doesn’t appear to have a lot of patience with the show. He reaches the mourners and tells them to hush the racket because the little girl isn’t dead, she’s only sleeping. These paid professionals betray their lack of real emotion when their tears turn to laughter, scoffing at Jesus’ words. But Jesus firmly dismisses them, shooing them from the house and then the child’s mother and father along with Jesus and a few of his disciples go into the room where the little girl is lying still.
This entire passage has been building to this point of tension, of climax. Do the parents dare believe in the seemingly impossible? Do we dare to believe that Jesus, our Savior, has power even over the physical forces of death? Jesus gently takes the youngster by her hand and speaks to her with authority, “Talitha koum!” – which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” And immediately, this 12 year old girl gets up and starts walking around. Scripture just says those watching were astonished. But there is so much here left unsaid. Can you imagine the tears that followed, the relief, the hope breaking out, the rejoicing?
So many different raw emotions must have flooded that little room as a precious daughter is raised from the dead.
And Jesus, how did he respond? I have to think he was smiling and laughing and weeping right along with the parents because that’s what God does. God comes along beside us in relationship and shares our journey, whatever that might be. I think Jesus was sharing their joy. And maybe in an attempt to inject some humor, or groundedness, I don’t know, he says, “I think your little one might be hungry. Maybe you should get her something to eat.”
And that’s it. The story is over. But the truth lives on. Some two thousand years later we still rejoice with this happy mom and dad whose precious daughter was saved and we give thanks and celebrate. We celebrate a Savior who loves people so much he is willing to heal a rejected unclean woman who dared reach out to touch him. We celebrate a Savior who loves children so much he is willing to raise this little girl from death and restore her to her parents. We celebrate a Savior who loves us so much he is willing to step into our ordinary, our frequent and our familiar to shelter us, to comfort us, to love on us and save us in so very many different ways.
“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For [we are] convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.