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Mark 5: 21-43
After my retirement, I happily discovered when I returned to the pulpit that familiar Scriptures are just as exciting and enriching as when I first preached. This morning’s passage from Mark is familiar, and still offers new insights which, if taken to heart, I expect will excite and enrich our lives of faith. Let’s approach the passage that details two very different encounters with Jesus from above, the bird’s eye view, keeping the story of Jairus and the story of the poor woman side by side rather than in sequence as we read them.
Side by side, here is what we see. Jairus is a ruler in the synagogue – one whose duties include conducting worship, selecting those who lead in prayer, read the Scriptures and preach. As something like a council president, he has a certain status. When he awakens, the household help is ready to attend to his needs; making the bed, setting out his clothes, assisting in his personal grooming. The poor woman has no such help. She occupies a lower, much lower, social status due to her condition. She strips her own bedding and is responsible for its washing, just as she is responsible for her own care.
Jairus eats his meal of grain or porraide at a low table joined by his wife, and perhaps other family members. There is a sadness about the meal, even though the porridge is supplemented by fruit from the fertile Jericho region, and cool water from the Roman aqueduct. The poor woman reduced to near poverty by her illness, has a less sumptuous breakfast for certain. Perhaps she is too sick or too depressed to bother to eat first thing in the morning? Although residents of the same city, they are worlds apart. Yet, each moves with quiet determination , or is it desperation, through their very different morning routines, like people too tired to cry any more, and ready to face the reality of another day of their grief.
From our vantage point, we can see Jairus and the poor woman leave their respective homes. Like mountain streams that flow down opposite walls of the valley, yet which meet in a single common river, they go in search of Jesus of Nazareth. Through the streets and market places, past shop owners setting out their goods, and merchants bargaining with one another, each moves through the town heading for the crowd that follows Jesus. The reputation of Jairus precedes him, and the people in the street open a way before him as he approaches. Such a strange loneliness he must feel as he approaches Jesus!
This is not the case for the poor woman, who tries to melt through the crowd, for should a man bump her in the jostling crowd he would be prohibited from entering the temple until judged ritually clean again through acts of sacrifice. She is isolated and alone in her suffering.
From behind him, she reaches down for the hem of his clothing that drags in the dust of his travels. Imagine her astonishment that she is healed! Imagine her despair upon hearing him exclaim, “Who touched my garments!” From the mountain top of her amazement she drops into the valley of the shadow of death. I wonder if she can look into his eyes as she tells Jesus what she has done – taken his power from him without his blessing. She is a thief now, as well as an outcast. But then she hears the words, “Go in peace,” and she is lifted up in the eyes of the crowd, the 12 year hemorrhage healed, and the well of fear in her heart is replaced with a wellspring of wonder!
A roller coaster of emotions follows for each. Jairus pleads for the life of his daughter while kneeling in the dirt. He is immensely relieved that Jesus agrees to his request. Then the miracle of the woman’s healing was a new high! But the crash that followed when Jairus learns the news of his daughter’s death was crushing. Jesus speaks his words of assurance, “Do not be afraid, only believe.” The confusion of death, commotion of grieving fills the house, and is in stark contrast to Jesus rebuking the mourners – “the child is not dead, only sleeping. The mourners laugh, because if it is one thing they know well, it is death. Then Jesus takes the hand of the child, helping her arise from her deathbed, ordering the staff to give her something to eat, for this is no ghost. This is a flesh and blood 12 year old girl.
Let’s pull back once again and see once more how the stories of these two streams of human experience flow into the water of life that is Jesus. The lowest of the lows, and the highest of the highs surround Jairus and the poor woman, as the lows and highs of life surround each one of us. The landscape of your lives is unique to you, but the landscape of Life is the same for all of us. Mountain peak moments often involve our love for another, and being loved in return. The dark abyss likewise often involves the loss of a loved one, the loss of self respect, the loneliness of fear. It is sometimes said that all roads lead to God just like many trails can be walked as you ascend the mountain. Can the same be said if the path descends into the valley, into the shadow of despair and death? I want a God to lift me out of the depths and into the heights of glory. I want to hear these words, “My child, your faith has made you well. Be healed of your dis-ease and enter into the life I prepared for you before the foundations of the world were established, and the stars filled the night sky” Amen.