Mark 5:21-43, Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
This passage from Mark is one I personally find very moving and very inspiring. The passage is really two stories put together. In the first story, a man of some stature approaches Jesus about his little girl. She is terribly ill, “to the point of death” we are told, and later in the story the man is told that she is dead. We understand this father. He is desperate, truly desperate for healing for his daughter. He is desperate to the point that he doesn’t care that many of the other synagogue leaders and people in power are suspicious of Jesus and even want to have him killed. He doesn’t care if he makes a fool out of himself in front of people who may be in his temple and may lose some respect for him, possibly making his position as leader in the synagogue difficult. He doesn’t care because this is his little girl he is concerned about, and she is dying. So he comes and falls at Jesus’ feet and he begs Jesus. We are told that he begs Jesus repeatedly. “Please, I beg you, come and heal my daughter. Just put your hands on her, please, so that she may live!”
His desperation pushes him beyond caring about anything else except getting healing for his daughter. His despair pushes him to an act that would otherwise be seen as very courageous, as very bold, maybe even as outrageous. His love for his daughter caused him to concretely grasp hold of whatever he could to claim LIFE for his daughter.
Jesus is moved by the man’s desperation. He is moved by the man’s pleas. And he is moved by the man’s act of faith in approaching Jesus in this way. We are told that he goes with the man to see his daughter.
At this point the story is interrupted by a second story. In this second story a woman who has been hemorrhaging for twelve years approaches Jesus. In those days to be bleeding meant that you were unclean. She would have been a complete outcast, totally isolated from her community because of her status as diseased and therefore untouchable. She has done everything that could be done in those days to help herself. We are told she has spent all she had, every penny, going to doctor after doctor for help. And all of it has only made her worse. She too, then, is desperate. This time not for someone else but for herself. And she too is motivated by that desperation to be courageous. She pushes her way through the crowd, “infecting” all those people, since (remember) she was unclean because of her hemorrhage, and she reaches out to touch this holy man, knowing that her touch basically makes him unclean as well, a great affront to a religious person. “If I can only just touch him, I know I will be well.” Unlike the father in the first story, she does not ask, she instead “takes” it – reaching out and touching him without speaking to him or asking for healing.
But she gets caught. Jesus feels the touch and asks the crowd about it despite everyone’s confusion since, as his disciples said, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘who touched me?’” And then the women performs another act of great courage: she comes before him trembling, falling down before him in shame and fear: and then she tells him everything, she admits to touching him, she tells the truth.
Jesus is again touched and moved by this woman’s courage and faith. He is moved by her honesty and by her desperation. He tells her to go in peace, he tells her that her very trust that he could hear her has made her well. She was healed because she reached out to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT.
While Jesus is talking to the woman we are suddenly thrown back to the first story. Some people approach the synagogue leader “even as Jesus is speaking” to tell the father that his daughter has died and that there is no more to be done. But Jesus calls them to even deeper faith. He still goes, and he raises her from the dead. This story is told in Matthew, Mark and Luke and is the first resurrection story in each of those gospels. The first to be resurrected in the New Testament was this little daughter, this girl child, not someone normally considered important in that time or place. Yet important enough to God to be the first to be raised from death.
In each of the three Synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the two stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage are told together. These stories are told together because they are both part of the same commandment. Jesus’ second commandment to all of us is to love our neighbor as ourselves. Mostly in church we focus on how much we need to love our neighbors and care for them as much as we care for ourselves. But this story invites the reverse as well. We are also called to love ourselves and take care of ourselves as much as to love our neighbors. We are called by these stories to reach out for healing, for our loved ones, yes, for our
neighbors that we don’t even know – yes, AND for ourselves: to be courageous, to be bold, to even be outrageous and reach for the things we need to LIVE. We are called to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT.
I want to point out that Jesus asks everyone to be quiet about what he has done. He declares that the girl was not dead but asleep. Why? Well, in part, no doubt because the sooner he drew attention to himself, the less time he would have on earth to heal and proclaim his message. But I believe there is another reason that is equally important here. Jesus was restoring this little girl to her community. Restoring her. But if she became known as “the girl that was raised from the dead” she would not have been fully restored to the community. She would have taken on solely that identity. She might have been used as a political pawn: someone to be scorned by those who did not agree with Jesus: a lesson to be raised up by those who would have made her life difficult. And an idol for those who followed Jesus. No, his request to be quiet was for her sake as well. We are called to live fully, to grasp life fully: and the courage that it takes to do that with integrity and with fullness should not be underestimated.
I know this can be hard. It is easier to ask for healing for our children, for example, than for ourselves. While it might be hard to see how this is true in our own lives, we all know people who complain endlessly about ailments but never take the steps to heal them. At one point in time this stand of enduring problems without fixing them might have been considered self-less. When my close friends’ aunt died, everyone said at her memorial service how giving and self-less she was. But what that really meant was that she refused to seek help when she needed it, she refused to take care of herself at all, when things went wrong, she still declined seeking help. And in the end that wasn’t really self-less at all. She loved the attention she received because of all her pains and problems. And she died early, leaving grieving and suffering children behind who would not have been motherless had she attended to her medical problems. We are called not to live marginally through attention for our problems. We are called to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT.
Many of you know the stories of Lance Armstrong, and of people like him, who have
become heroes for facing terrible illness and for fighting back against amazing odds. In Lance’s case, he was faced with, some estimate, a 3 % chance of surviving his testicular cancer that had spread to brain and lungs and had metastasized. But he decided to try an aggressive chemotherapy that ended the cancer. He then took the next step of deciding to enter the cyclist racing world again, a challenge he describes as even greater than the fight back from cancer. He had lost all his strength in his battle with cancer. Yet he decided to be cancer free was not enough. He felt the pull, the call, even, to become strong again, to learn to ride again. After his battle with cancer he won seven Tour de Frances, the most won by any individual in the history of the race. Lance chose not only to survive, but truly to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT.
Not all of us are Lance Armstrong. Not all of us can find that kind of healing or at least, find the support and the doctors such as were available to Lance. Sometimes, like the woman with the hemorrhage, we feel we’ve done all we can to heal ourselves. We’ve spent all the money, we’ve gone to all the doctors. And still we are no better. But Jesus calls us even then to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT. That can mean so many different things: it can mean selling what we have and in one final effort joining the peace corps or a mission group and serving with
the little time we have left. It can mean simply reaching out to help someone who needs it. It can mean taking the chance to heal a relationship that seems beyond repair: making the hard phone calls, writing the difficult letter. It can mean leaving a relationship that is not life giving, even though it may involve giving up security, to try to find a life that has safety and meaning and godliness. It can mean starting a new career, one that is truly following an inner calling. For someone else, it might mean planting a garden full of beautiful flowers or vegetables and fruits: helping bring forth new life and beauty. For another it might involve joining or starting a campaign for something that is really meaningful to you, getting more involved in the community. It can mean trying alternative medicine and healing practices. It can mean praying in a different way or with more attention and devotion.
The second scripture passage we read today came from the book of Jeremiah. And in it, despite all signs that Israel and Judah were about to be completely destroyed, Jeremiah is choosing something incredibly hopeful. He goes and buys a field. In the midst of the destruction of his country, his community, his faith body, he goes and buys a field in an extraordinary vision of hope. There are witnesses to this and the deed is put in a clay pot and preserved so that when they are in exile, they know that that field is waiting for their return. He puts a concrete action into the future: and by doing so makes the statement that the Israelites will be restored to their own land and that it will bear fruit. By the way, the place where he buys the land, Anathoth – that word means “answer to prayer”.
Richard Rohr says that the only thing that changes people completely are a combination of great love and great suffering. We have the great love: God offers that every single day. But suffering also comes and we have a choice about what we do with what we experience. How do we walk into the future when the world seems despairing, when our lives feel despairing? We choose: do we become bitter or do we get better. John Dewey said, “We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” And that is a choice that we make.
While Jesus is not here today, I believe that offer to grasp life applies to us still. We cannot touch Jesus, but we can touch the hem of his robe. Our faith tells us that Jesus is with
us, in this very room. And so, we too are invited to reach out and touch. We touch the hem of his robe by asking for the support of one another. We touch the fringe of his cloak by praying together in community. We see Jesus in one another, we see Jesus in fellowship, in prayer, in worship. We touch the hem of his robe by believing he is here among and within us and by having the courage to ask for help. We touch the fringe of his cloak by reaching out to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT.
Again, I’m not saying that means everyone will be healed from every illness. What I am saying is that all of us have been offered life, new life, whole life, through our faith. Whatever that looks like for you, Jesus invites us to reach out, to touch the very hem of his robe, for our loved ones, for our neighbors, for enemies, and even for ourselves: to grasp life, to claim it, to LIVE IT.