July 22, 2012
Rev. Tara Woodard-Lehman
These are desperate times. Our schools, neighborhoods, families, and churches are jammed packed with hurting, hungry, desperate people. One way or another, we are all desperate.
In a culture addicted to violence, we’re desperate for peace.
In a world hungry for retribution, we’re desperate for reconciliation.
In the wake of senseless acts of terror, we’re desperate for meaning.
When jobs are scarce and money is tight, we’re desperate for hope.
And as long as debilitating disease and illness persist, we’re desperate for healing.
We are desperate, and we live in desperate times. And, as our Gospel story reminds us: desperate times, call for desperate measures. Especially when it comes to matters of faith.
This morning’s gospel tells us two stories about people who are really, truly, desperate. One describes a powerful leader- seeking healing for his daughter.
The other tells of a marginalized woman- seeking healing for herself.
Between these two stories are four main characters. Jesus, the healer. Jairus, the ruler. Jairus’ daughter, the dying girl. And a poor, unnamed, bleeding woman.
The scene opens with Jesus on the waterfront. After stepping off the boat, he’s swarmed by a great crowd. Somewhere in that crowd, is Jairus. Every synagogue was under the authority of a council, and every council was presided over- by at least one ruler. Jairus was one such ruler. The people looked to him for governance and guidance. Jairus had expectations to meet, people to lead, and a reputation to protect.
But for Jesus, the verdict was still out.
There were the curious - who considered Jesus a novelty.
There were the skeptical - who considered Jesus a fraud.
There were the star struck - who considered Jesus a celebrity.
There were the disciples - who, at the very least, considered Jesus a teacher to learn from, a friend to eat with, and a leader to follow.
And then, there were those who were just plain desperate. Like the ruler Jairus. His daughter was gravely ill, and it would take a miracle to pull her through. Kicking propriety to the curb, Jairus falls on his knees at the feet of Jesus, and shamelessly begs. In fact, the scripture says, he begs repeatedly.
Picture it: A dignified ruler, groveling at the feet of a rabbi with a questionable reputation: “My little daughter is at the point of death,” Jairus cries, “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” Jesus promptly responds to the ruler’s plea. But on his way to heal the daughter of the privileged ruler, Jesus is interrupted by a marginalized woman.
Like Jairus, the woman is also desperate. But the similarities pretty much stop there.
Unlike Jairus, the woman has no money, no power, and no real standing in her community. We don’t even know her name. We only know her as “the woman with a flow of blood.” Not a very flattering title.
Likely suffering from menstrual bleeding, she’s considered ritually unclean. And since she spent her very last dime on doctors, she’s now broke, on top of being sick. Physically weak and socially vulnerable, the bleeding woman is shoved to the margins of her community. Silenced. Invisible. Forgotten.
She can’t simply stroll up to Jesus and ask him to heal her. Nor can she throw herself at his feet and beg. Someone could “out” her. Then she’d never get to touch the healer!
Unlike Jairus’ daughter, the bleeding woman has no advocate, no one to stand up for her, no one to grovel on her behalf. And because desperate times call for desperate measures, she has to take matters into her own hands. Weaving through the crowd, the woman sneaks up on Jesus from behind. Extending her hand, she touches his cloak.
She’s healed immediately. She’s certain. She can feel it. But Jesus also feels something. Without missing a beat, he spins around and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” Trembling, the woman tells him everything. Jesus responds with these words: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Make no mistake, Jesus’ response isn’t just feel-good, kind-hearted sentimentality. It’s much more than that. By calling the woman his “daughter,” Jesus assures her, and those listening in, that she actually does have an advocate, and it’s him. She may not be the daughter of a privileged ruler, but she is the daughter of the Son of God. And he’s willing to go to bat for her, even if it means putting some privileged folks- on hold for a while.
But not forever. Jairus may be privileged, but he’s still desperate. And his daughter’s still sick. So as soon as the bleeding woman receives her healing, the men continue toward the little girl. On their way, some people run up to Jairus, insisting his daughter’s already dead. Overhearing this, Jesus tells Jairus: “Don’t be afraid, just believe.”
Moments later, the Healer hunkers over the girl. She’s 12 years old, soon able to bear life. But right now, she’s barely alive. Jesus touches her hand and tells her: “Little girl, get up.” Whether a dramatic resuscitation, or flow-blown resurrection, we don’t know. Some sort of a miracle occurred. Either dead or close to it, when Jesus touches the little girl and tells her to get up, she immediately starts to walk about.
First the bleeding woman. Then the little girl. All in a days work, for Jesus. But the woman and the girl weren’t the only ones healed that day.
Sure, most preachers and commentators emphasize the physical healing of the woman and the girl. And rightly so. Those were dramatic demonstrations of divine power. Plus, it makes for good storytelling.
But not all healing happens that way. For reasons I can’t pretend to understand, sometimes the bleeding doesn’t stop. Sometimes the little girl doesn’t get up. Sometimes healing doesn’t happen- at all.
Other times, it does. But in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes miracles happen when we’re not even looking for them. Sometimes we experience healing when we don’t even know we’re sick. I have a hunch that’s the kind of healing Jairus experienced.
After all, Jairus’ name literally means “He will awaken.” And in this passage, Jairus awakens to the truth of who Jesus is -- the Author of Life itsel
Maybe Jairus’ healing wasn’t as obvious as the others, but it was just as miraculous. The ruler was healed through an act of surrender: a faith-filled yielding to a power greater than himself. It’s the kind of healing made possible when one is desperate, vulnerable, and weak. The Apostle Paul put it this way: “In my weakness, Christ’s strength is made perfect.”
So, where does that leave us?
Obviously, we live in a culture that values strength over weakness. We cling to cultural myths of self-reliance and self-determination. We resist seeking healing, in fear of being found out. We try to disguise our brokenness, and pretend we have it all together.
But here’s some really Good News: We don’t have to live the lie. We don’t have to pretend like we have it all together. This is church. We can tell the truth.
In God’s counter-cultural kingdom, we’re invited (actually we’re instructed!) to be honest about our wounds and candid about our weakness. This may mean putting our reputations on the line, but it’s worth it. As God’s Story tells us over and over again, it’s better to be desperate, than deceptive.
Besides, God sees us for who we really are, anyhow. Weak and vulnerable. Fragile and sick. But God’s beloved children, just the same.
So come on.
Let’s sneak up on Jesus from behind, or throw ourselves (like fools!) at his feet. It doesn’t really matter who we are, or how we get to him. If we’re really desperate, we’ll encounter him. And we will be changed. Who knows, maybe we’ll experience some healing, too.
It just might be in ways we don’t expect.
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