Scripture - Mark 5:21-43
Mark 5:21-43 (NRSV)
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it.33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
For twelve years this nameless woman in our passage from this morning had suffered. Twelve years with a ceaseless flow of blood that rendered her unclean - which made her unable to touch anyone, unable to participate in the life of the Temple, unable to be in community with anyone lest they, too, become unclean and impure. Twelve years of perpetual doctor’s visits, spending every last penny she owned trying to find an answer, only to discover her condition was getting worse. Twelve years of constant, unending sickness and isolation - twelve years of being put to the side by everyone she encountered - twelve years of alienation and loneliness and desperation...until Jesus comes along….and instead of following the religious rules of her day, she pursues and encounter with Jesus. She reaches out to touch him, even though she knew she shouldn’t be defiling the crowds with her presence, even though she knew she was forbidden to touch any man in her condition, even though she knew her touch would render him unclean. She crosses all social norms to touch the hem of his cloak to be made whole again.
Jesus stops at her touch, knowing that power had gone out of him. He’s in the middle of a crowd - anyone could have jostled him by accident - but he knows something happened, and at his question “Who touched me,” she comes forward, fearful and trembling, after all she’s done wrong, perhaps she expected to publicly shame her or rebuke her, but she approaches yet again and told him the whole truth - her whole story comes spilling forth at the feet of Jesus. He listens to her, giving back her dignity and humanity after twelve years as this woman negotiated her body around others, dealt with other’s perceptions and prejudices and assumptions, kept back her full self from connection and relationship because of her condition. Jesus, instead of dismissing her, instead of casting her aside and admonishing her, calls her daughter, restoring not only her body but her whole being to community.
This story of this rebellious, transgressive healing is sandwiched between the healing of another nameless girl, known to us only by the relationship she has with her father - Jairus’s daughter. Jairus is a leader in the synagogue - wealthy in comparison to the destitute woman in the crowd - powerful enough to directly petition Jesus on behalf of his dying little girl. On his way to this man’s house, after this encounter with hemorrhaging woman, Jesus learns that the child has died, the messengers claiming that there is no need for Jairus to bother Jesus anymore. Would the girl still have been alive had Jesus not stopped to talk to the ailing woman? We don’t know. Regardless, Jesus is undeterred and enters the house to find mourners around the bedside of this little girl. When they mock Jesus for his pronouncement that the girl is “sleeping” - a common euphemism for death - he kicks everyone out except for the child’s mother and father and disciples - takes the girls hand and commands her to get up. In this case, it is Jesus who extends his hand to the girl - himself risking being made unclean by touching a dead body. This healing - resurrection, really - is a private miracle as opposed to the public spectacle just witnessed on the way, and Jesus orders secrecy around this event….as if anyone can keep quiet about a child proclaimed dead, whose funeral rites had already begun, coming back to life and eating and drinking.
What strikes me in both of these encounters is Jesus’s wholehearted presence with each of the people in this story - with the desperate father searching for healing for his little girl and Jesus’s ability to be with the family in the midst of the mourners who laughed at Jesus’s proclamation of life where they saw only death. Jesus unwavering commitment to this woman who had been covered in shame and who needed someone to hear her story and heal her. In both, Jesus not only performs physical healing, but restores each - the twelve year old girl and the woman who bled for twelve years - to community and fellowship. In each case, Jesus moves past the constructed boundaries of what is “impure” - this menstruating woman and the dead body - to practice compassion. In each story, a hopeless daughter can live and go in peace again because Jesus treats each one as a member of his family - finding value in each of them where no one else will.
I can’t help but connect this story to what’s been happening along the southern border of this country - and the ways that many Americans have made assumptions about their stories, about why they’ve come here and about their character because of the way they chose to enter the United States. Those in power have constructed narratives that make many in our country unable to listen to the stories of violence, pain, terror, that individuals and families are fleeing - often at great personal cost. Stories of gangs terrorizing and abusing single mothers and children, of domestic violence and high crime rates, unstable communities and violence that oftentimes came about due to previous United States involvement in their governments. These are the truths that immigrants carry with them into our country, but few are able to listen; instead, our government equates them to animals, criminals - fit for cages, with children continued to be held separate from their families. It’s clear how the principalities and powers are working to devalue the life of people crossing into our country - taking away their humanity, isolating them from community, treating them as less than and other. Compassion and empathy have been lost in the enforcement of law and order. Where there should be life and hope, our political system has been pronouncing death and despair.
In response to these and other horrors, Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, reminds us that “if it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it cannot be claimed to be Christian.”
If it doesn’t look like love, it isn’t Christian. Period.
Jesus valued compassion and mercy over the rigid religious law of the day. Jesus took the time to affirm the humanity of those his society considered less than and other - bleeding women, children, tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers and beggars and those whose very existence his culture sought to ignore and dismiss, whose very laws dehumanized and erased. Jesus instead lived by love. What does that love look like? It looks like one whose heart went out to the cries of a grieving father, who touched the hand of a sick child. It looks like one who risks defilement to touch the bloody and the broken. The one who insists on the whole truth, however falteringly told. The one who listens for as long as it takes. The one who brings life to dead places. The one who restores hope. The one who turns mourning into dancing. The one who renames the outcast, “Daughter,” and bids her go in peace.
It’s the same love that calls us into one family - that makes us all brothers and sisters - no matter who we are and where we come from, whether we live on this side of the border or the other.
We may live far away from the atrocities committed by our government at the border, we may feel powerless in the face of such devastation. But we can be love - in the conversations we have with friends and neighbors, reminding others of the common humanity of those our government has sought to dehumanize, strengthening and encouraging each other when we get tired or burdened by the weight of the news we hear day after day.
Love looks like us - the followers of Jesus in the world - reaching out to touch the untouchable, listening to the stories of the dismissed, and choosing to act with love even and especially beyond the bounds of social construction.
Jesus’s love is subversive and transgressive and radical, breaking boundaries and barriers. It is not always a safe and comforting love - but a love that demands action - a love that cries out for us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us - it’s a radically different way of being with one another in our world. It’s a love that heals and restores those whom everybody thinks are worthless. It’s a love that doesn’t conform to the rules and regulations of this world. It’s a love that shows us the way forward to a kingdom of peace and justice, of undeserving grace and mercy, of wholeness and redemption.
Later in our time of worship today, we’ll be taking Communion - a meal that binds us as a family, where we take the body and blood of Christ. It’s a meal that unites us in our common humanity, a meal where we believe all are welcome to be fed. But also, it’s a meal that is more than just bread and juice. You know the saying “you are what you eat?” well, in this meal we are taking in Jesus. In this meal, Jesus is becoming a part of us….and in response is this call to let Jesus flow through us - to be that love - to be Christ in the world today.
As we come forward to receive - let it be your commitment to live this life of love. To be the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Jesus. To be a witness to this radical, boundary breaking love. To stand together as the body of Christ, to be a people who point the way to the one who brought life to dead places...and to be a people working and serving and shouting and singing our way toward greater compassion, mercy, justice and peace in the world. This is my prayer for us, the church, the people of God this day. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.