This story always blows my mind.
The lasting image for me is that hand, coming out of the crowd, furtively, darting to grasp the hem, and then withdrawing. And I hear in the back of my mind, my mother’s voice, my Sunday School teachers voices, the voices of so many saying, “Don’t grab. Don’t take too much. (Maybe even subtly “Don’t take at all.”)
The suggestion for the title “Brushing up against Grace” from Seasons of the Spirit caught my fancy. But this is no accidental brushing up against anything. This is a premeditated grab. This is a scream into the silence. This is the desperate act of a desperate woman.
We don’t know her name, nor the name of Jairus’ daughter, for that matter. We only know them by their medical conditions, and their associations. One is young, one middle-aged at least. One is well-connected, one has spent all she has trying to be healed. One is the pinnacle of society, one is the dregs—for to bleed in many cultures is to be unclean, needing to be sequestered, shoved away from anyone else. One is incapable of asking for help, one is taking matters into her own hands.
And there they are in Scripture, forever enmeshed, making me pause at the beauty, the wholeness, the inclusion of it all. One could spend a lifetime teasing out the intricacies and layers of this story. Today we can just follow a thread or two.
Brushing up against God—or better yet, grabbing for grace. Is it ok to grab for grace? Everything I have been taught rebels against that. We shouldn’t grab. We should always let others be served before we make our plate. We should follow the rules. We shouldn’t rock the boat. We shouldn’t make it all about us.
And here is what I hear this story saying to us. You have been sold a bill of goods by a society (call it patriarchal, call it racist, call it life-stealing) that doesn’t want anyone grabbing but those on the top. The rest of us should just get out of the way.
Now we have one of those “top tier” people in this story. Jairus is one of the leaders of the synagogue. Jairus is one of the important people, one of the prominent citizens. And to his credit, Jairus isn’t the villain in this story. Jairus is a worried father, of a little girl—which speaks much about him in this world where being female wasn’t as important as being male.
Notice that Jairus not only goes to the teacher, the healer, the one getting all this press, he falls at his feet—he prostrates himself, he is willing to give up his status, his reputation, everything if only Jesus can make his daughter well. He begs Jesus, repeatedly. One can imagine the tears, the strained voice. Not the usual image for a religious leader in scripture. But desperate times require desperate measures. And we can imagine the joy when Jesus agrees to come to the house, to lay hands on his daughter, to heal her.
I’m fascinated that I have never seen this as grabbing grace (unlike the bleeding woman), even if Jairus uses his position to get access to Jesus. Maybe it is because Jairus is asking on behalf of someone else, and that someone else is a child. Does that make it less grabby?
But as Jesus is going to Jairus’ house, to heal Jairus’ daughter, the crowd is pressing in on him—you know what it’s like to be on a crowded subway car, or down front in the crowd at a concert, or mashed together at a large rally. People get in your space. You get jostled, and touched, and poked, and all other manner of bodies being near bodies.
And if Jesus hadn’t have been Jesus, he would have ignored the press of humanity, been laser-focused on his important task, going to the house of Jairus to lay hands on his daughter. But a woman who had been bleeding (they are nice in saying hemorrhaging, but we know she’s been bleeding) for so long she can’t even remember when she wasn’t, this woman grabs for grace.
The lesson says she touched his garment. We often think/hear that it was the hem, thinking that she would have bowed low, or been on the ground. But I loved the picture that suggested that maybe it was the tassle, the fringe, the part that would have been swaying, as they were moving, fast, through the press of people, to get to Jairus’ daughter. Whatever part of the garment, (it does say cloak in this reading) we wish to imagine, it wasn’t as if she stood in Jesus’ way and grabbed his shirt.
She stole up behind, and “touched” his clothes, because somewhere she had gotten the idea that you only needed to be near Jesus, only had to reach out your hand, only had to brush up against him or his clothes, only had to be in the periphery, only had to have a casual encounter, to be healed.
And it was true. She touched, and the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she had been healed. And then, Jesus stopped moving. “Who touched me?” he asks. And the disciples are trying to move him along, Jairus is beaconing him forward, Jairus’ daughter is gravely ill, and you want to know who touched you?
But Jesus stands still, turning this way and that, looking into the crowd, insisting that he know who had brushed up against him, who had wanted grace and healing and peace and wholeness.
I wonder if we too need to imagine Jesus standing here. I wonder if we too often slink around, being in the vicinity of Jesus, making a quick move now and then, to touch the clothes, to brush up against grace. I wonder if we think it is enough. It is enough to want to be the best we can be. It is enough to show up in church. It is enough to put something in the plate. It is enough to give a small portion of our time, our talents, our treasure, ourselves, to God’s kingdom. It is enough to hang out on the sidelines. It is enough to pray when we really need to. It is enough to grab and go.
And Jesus says, “Who touched me?” Jesus calls us out to come front and center. No matter that it has interrupted an important task. No matter that we don’t have the standing or the status or the wealth or whatever others might have. No matter that we have been sick, or in prison, or lost our way. No matter. Jesus doesn’t want us to just grab and go. Grace and healing requires something else.
And the woman steps forward, in fear and trembling, knowing that she has broken all kinds of rules, and interrupted this important journey, but she tells her story. Maybe in gasps. Maybe in broken language. Maybe in such quiet tones that Jesus has to bend close to hear. But the story is told, and Jesus isn’t mad. Jesus smiles and blesses her, “Daughter” he calls her—how long has it been since anyone wanted to be related to her?—“Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” In other words, what you tried to touch, to brush, to grab in anonymity, I call out to the whole world—You were right to grab for grace, You were right to want to be healed, You were right to think you mattered. You are alright, You acted in faith, and you have been made whole.
And now comes word that Jairus’ daughter is dead, and the people from his house query “Why trouble the teacher any further?” But Jesus responds “Do not fear, only believe…” And you’ve heard the end of the story, with his “Talitha cum” “Little girl, get up” the daughter is resurrected from her bed and joins her parents again.
Whenever I delve into a healing story in the Bible, I fear that we will take it as a talisman—say this, do that, grab and you will get. Jesus did provide healing and new life to these two females in the story today—but we know that there are stories that don’t have that type of ending. And it doesn’t mean that God wasn’t near. And it doesn’t mean that we did something wrong in grabbing or not grabbing or not praying hard enough, or anything else one can imagine.
I hear Jesus words, “Do not fear, only believe…” Believe is ok to grab for grace. Whether you are seeking grace for yourself or grace for another, put yourself at Jesus’ feet. It will never lead you wrong.
The message I hear for today is:
Whether you are young or whether you are old,
Whether you are male or whether you are female,
Whether you are seen as important or
Whether you deem yourself on the margins,
Don’t sneak around when it comes to Jesus
Don’t give up just because others tell you to
Don’t be afraid to pour out your story
But be bold and courageous.
For we are to grab for grace
and in love,
In our actions,
and in our dreams,
In our lives, from the beginning to the end.
Jesus is waiting and
Grace is just a touch away.
May it be so. Alleluia. Amen.