The Revised Common Lectionary skips the evocative story of Legion and his many demons, and their demise in a herd of pigs who could not swim, much less fly. (Luke’s version will come up in Year C.)
Instead we skip ahead on the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time to Mark 5:21-43, another “sandwich passage.” As I said a couple weeks back, that’s my own term for where the Gospel has two related stories to tell. Instead of placing them one after another, the first is split into two (like the bread) and the second is told in the middle (like the BL&T).
The stories are both about healing. Jairus, the synagogue leader, has a dying daughter, and an unnamed woman has suffered from a bleeding disorder for a dozen years.
But as with so much in Mark, the stories are there to teach us about the nuances of faith — three lessons of increasing difficulty. Along with them we learn about Jesus’ response to faith.
Lesson 1: Faith prompts a really confident request
In the first lesson the word “faith” is not actually mentioned. We see Jairus, faithful leader, member of the social elite, approach Jesus through the crowd. He has an urgent request: Come and lay hands on the sick girl.
But even without hearing the word we see faith in the action. Jairus is confident that his beloved daughter will be well again if Jesus come. Faith is trust. And, trusting, faith asks for help.
We also see the result of faith in Jesus’ response.There is not the slightest hesitation: Jairus asks and Jesus goes.
It isn’t preachy or pushy, this story of faith. But it gives me confidence in prayer — If he came so quickly for Jairus, maybe he’ll come for me as well.
Lesson 2: Faith is attempting to reach Jesus despite all
This poor woman — she suffered in her body for more than a decade.
Bodily suffering was only increased by her attempts to find healing — she spent all her savings on doctors, but nothing helped. She “endured much” from the attempts to cure her, and everything made her worse.
That rings true, as many a cancer patient can tell you. Whether you draw the lot for surgery, radiation, or chemo, sometimes the treatment can feel like a whole ‘nother plague.
And as if bodily suffering were not enough, social stigma followed: ceremonial uncleanliness. What must her life have been like when everybody knew what she was going through, and felt they had to avoid her?
Her faith looks like the opposite of Jairus’. The leader of the synagogue could approach Jesus openly. The bleeding woman had to sneak around.
But she did have the confidence of faith, despite it all. Even more than Jairus, really. She didn’t claim the right to speak to Jesus. She didn’t think Jesus had to come to her home or touch her ailing body — surely she doubted he would do so.
If only she could touch his clothes. That’s all she wanted. That would be enough for Jesus to heal her. That’s faith.
And it didn’t stop there. Think what she went through to reach Jesus. There’s a huge crowd, probably all holding up their phones to get a pic of the savior. How can the woman get through?
- Bowed down so her face wouldn’t be seen
- Dodging between the people
- Zigging left and zagging right
- Edging closer and closer
She could hear Jesus’ voice. She knew which one he was. Then a foot away at last, she touched the loose fabric of his tunic.
And it was done.
She knew it. She could sneak away and start her life over.
Jesus knew it too. But he wasn’t content to merely heal her body.
Think of Jesus’ response to this outcast:
- He called her out
- He looked at her
- He spoke to her
- He made room for her to tell her story
- He called her his daughter
He publicly declared her healed, ending her rejection from the community.
Jesus praised her faith. He also did everything he could to make her whole, body and soul and in society.
So faith pursues Jesus against the odds, and for every possible reason. Because we need healing even if it is refused to us with every possible excuse.
We, the rejected and ashamed and broken, can know and trust that Jesus welcomes, respects, and heals.
And as his Body on earth, we are given his own ministry of welcoming, respecting, and healing our rejected ashamed and broken neighbors.
Lesson 3: Faith has to be nurtured
When Jesus was ready to head on to Jairus’ house, the bad news came: Jairus’ daughter had already died.
This is not a circumstance where the confidence of faith comes easy. For those of us who don’t happen to live in A.D. 30 or so, with Jesus in the flesh walking around among us, the news of a death is final.
But Jairus did happen to live in A.D. 30 or so. And Jesus had agreed to heal his daughter.
Surely Jesus knew how impossible Jairus’ situation seemed. If the leader had not yet collapsed in grief, he would any minute now.
Jesus speaks an impossible word of encouragement:
Do not fear, only believe.” Mark 5:36, NRSV
And of course he’s right. Jesus endures the laughter of those grieving at Jairus’ house because Jesus has already answered Jairus’ faith. He knows what he’s going to do.
And he isn’t going to let any scoffers into the room. His three closest disciples can come. So can Mr. and Mrs. Jairus. I doubt any of them had a great deal of confident faith at that point, but at least they had a vested interest in the project.
Jesus touches the girl, speaks to her, raises her to life.
Then he tells her to go be an ordinary little girl again — have a snack and go play.
What’s the lesson? I suspect the lesson is that Jesus’ faith matters far more than our own. Jesus totally believes in what he is doing. And he does what he can to nurture Jairus’ faith:
Do not fear,
Easier said than done. But a familiar message: Just like back in the boat in the storm, Jesus wants Jairus to trust, and to let trust displace natural fear.
But whether Jairus really accomplishes that or not, Jesus has decided to heal the girl.
I wonder where in my life I’m confident enough to rush up to Jesus and ask for help?
I wonder where in my life I’m so ashamed I need to sneak up to Jesus despite every obstacle?
I wonder who in my world needs to be seen, and welcomed, and lifted to wholeness?
I wonder what in my world Jesus has already decided to do despite the fact that to my human eyes it seems impossible to believe?
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