After several weeks of listening to the stories of David in the history called the books of Samuel—we are back in our gospel for year B—the gospel of Mark. Just a reminder about some Markan things—it is the shortest of the gospels—it often has Jesus telling people not to tell others what has happened, called the “Messianic secret”—and it uses the word “Immediately” at every turn to breathlessly speed through the story of Jesus’ life and death.
This section of Chapter 5 brings a screeching halt to that movement. The story is long and involved, having two competing miracle stories intertwined within one another—on the one hand, of Jairus’ daughter who is dying, and on the other, of a woman who is hemorrhaging blood. The story must have been an important one to the early church as it gets included in three of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here is what I heard it saying to me today—for us, and for our time.
We rarely see this interweaving of stories—particularly in Mark. It seems an interesting combination of characters—and leads me to my first point, the universality of healing. Jesus is at the beginning of his ministry—but this story shows that he is healing people from the upper echelons of society (Jairus is identified as one of the leaders of the synagogue) to the lowest dregs (that woman who has been bleeding for 12 years is an outcast—woman’s blood made you unclean, and so you weren’t supposed to be in the world, not near others, probably discarded from your family and from your community). So Jesus heals rich and poor—Jesus heals at the request of male and female—Healing is available to all.
I have no idea if the storyteller intended to make this point in a subtle way, but it is interesting that Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old, and the woman had been bleeding for 12 years. 12 is one of the magical numbers in the Bible—symbolizing most especially the 12 tribes of Israel. (Whenever all of Israel is invoked, the 12 tribes are mentioned). And so, with these 12’s running around, maybe Mark is trying to say what I have said, Jesus’ healing is available, not just to these individuals, but to all.
With “healing available to all” being the first point, it seems silly that we would have to make point two—and that is “Don’t let them fence you out.” Let’s be realistic. People are very good at dividing and conquering—at making what should be for all, only given to some. So even though Jesus seems to be quite insistent, throughout his ministry, that all be allowed to come, that all have a seat at the table, that all be permitted to sit at his feet—there are always those voices who try to shrink the all.
Think about this story—there are so many negative voices. Some that are not even chronicled, but are in the background—like the voices of society to this woman telling her not to come near anyone, not to touch anyone, not to really be a person anymore. Or the voices that were probably whispering in the ear of an important person not to go into the streets, not to ask some unknown healer to come, not to look so desperate, or so vulnerable.
On top of those unwritten voices, there are those like the disciples, laughing at Jesus suggesting that “someone has touched me.” I can hear them saying, “What do you mean, who touched you? The crowd is large--there are so many people jostling you that there is no way to answer that question. And anyway, I hear them saying, one person touching you isn’t important—stop being distracted from the really important work here—going to the synagogue leader’s house and healing his daughter.”
Or the voices of the entourage of Jairus, who make their way to the leader, as Jesus has stopped to deal with the woman in the crowd, to inform him that his daughter has now died, why bother the miracle man any longer. Even the laughter of those at Jairus’ house who have started the wailing of grief for their loss when Jesus informs them that the child is not dead but just sleeping. In each of these cases, people do not allow themselves to be kept from healing. It is as if they hear, they know, that healing is there for the taking, for the giving. Don’t let anyone else stand in your way.
And so, it was with horror and disappointment and sadness that this week I read about the Catholic bishops intention to make a statement to try to bar some Catholics who do not abide by their rules of conduct, to bar them from the Lord’s table. It is just the latest example of the human institution of the church seeming to miss the high standard set by Jesus. None of the denominations has a perfect track record in welcoming all to our fellowship and leadership roles. But this, along with the Southern Baptist’s recent insistence on continuing to exclude women from preaching and the LGBTQ+ community from being included is such a painful example of putting fences up to keep people away from Jesus’ healing. These are such prominent and visible examples in our culture, that it is going to take us personally, and us as a congregation, and us as a church, to push back on the perception that healing is not meant for all.
Along with believing in the wide open arms of Jesus, and pushing past any of the negative, restraining voices or structures that might keep us from being whole, this story teaches us that healing does not occur without effort on our part. Nowhere in this Scripture lesson does Jesus just wave a magic wand, and everything is better. There is no magic pill. (And we know this from our own experiences. Think of all those who have spent years going to AA groups to work through a process of steps, knowing that addiction is something you struggle with for a lifetime. Or think of those healing from surgery, or joint replacement, or stroke, or … [you fill in the blank]—most requires you do therapy, or to slog through pain, or to work on becoming the best you can be for right now.) What I’m trying to say, is that for healing to happen, we have to work at it.
I imagine that going to Jesus, in a public way, asking for healing when so many might be saying “This is God’s will” was work for Jairus. I imagine that leaving the outcast environment to worm your way into a crowd, close enough to Jesus to touch the hem of his garment, was work for the woman. I imagine that both of them had to hold fast to hope that there was something else, something better, something that could bring back life—holding onto hope can be such hard work.
And it didn’t stop there. The woman whose blood stopped could have slipped away, ignoring Jesus’ question, “Who touched me?” But she “fessed up” to what she had done—she told him the whole truth. With that work, Jesus tells her that not only has she been healed, but her faith has made her well.
And Jairus had to still believe there could be resurrection—he persisted, staying at Jesus’ side, taking him to his daughter, shooing out all the mourners, and received his daughter back again.
Now, whenever I talk about healing, and about miracles, I feel that I have to say, healing comes in many forms—and we don’t always get what we pray for or desire from God. This doesn’t mean that we can’t claim healing—in whatever time we have, in our present moments, or in the legacies we leave behind. All of the healing that we claim on this side of the divide is transitory. And we, along with all of creation, await the time when we shall all be whole and well in the presence of God.
I am fascinated that in this part of Mark, the times when the writer uses the word immediately, comes at the moment, or shall we say, the beginning, of change. All through the front part of the story, when Jairus comes to meet Jesus, when we are told of the woman seeking out Jesus “just to touch his garment” there is just normal flow. And then—as the woman connects with Jesus it says, “Immediately, her hemorrhage stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” Almost simultaneously we hear, “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And then more conversation—the woman and Jesus, Jairus and Jesus, Jesus and the mourners, Jesus speaking to the little girl. “And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about…”
It is as if in this story, immediately becomes the large neon arrow pointing to the instant when the wave has crashed on the shore, and begins to recede. It doesn’t mean there isn’t more to come, but something has happened, something we need to pay attention to.
Everywhere I looked this week, I saw stories that reminded me of this—that healing is offered to us all, that we can’t let others fence us out, and that it takes something from us as well. In this pride month, I want to shout out to Carl Nassib, the first active player in the NFL to speak out his truth this week. In an Instagram post he said, “I just want to take a quick moment to say that I’m gay. I just think that representation and visibility are so important. I actually hope that like one day videos like this and the whole coming-out process are just not necessary, but until then I’m going to do my best and my part to cultivate a culture that accepting, that’s compassionate…Sadly, I have agonized over this moment for the last 15 years.” I hope his healing has begun, and that his steps help others to understand some of the changes that need to be made for everyone to feel whole.
Claiming healing is complicated—as this in-depth exploration in Mark of two interconnected healings shows. Claiming healing pushes up against the way the world works—it pushes up against all the voices trying to drown out the love and power and dream of God for our world, and for us as individuals—it pushes up against our exhaustion of one more thing to do—it pushes up against our wilting faith, our puny hope, our acceptance of despair. Claiming healing is a lesson Jesus wants us to learn.
And even though healing is a process, even though healing takes time and effort, it is something that we do not do alone. Jesus is there—Jesus is rooting for us to take the next step, tell the next story, turn the next corner. Jesus is there to praise us even if we thought we had to steal a little of the magic for ourselves. For we often think we are just part of the crowd, just being moved along with everyone else—until Jesus stops and turns and asks “Who touched my clothes? Who touched me?” For that moment—we have all of Jesus, and if we tell our truth, he proclaims, “Your faith has made you well.”
This claiming healing is so ancient that Mark (and only Mark) records the very words that Jesus is said to have uttered in Aramaic “Talitha cum.” Little girl, arise. Isn’t that what Jesus wants for all of us. To know that he sees us. To know that he wills for us the very best. To know that he wants us to rise. Rise up from the struggles of everyday, rise up from the oppressive institutions that have bound us, rise up from the bonds of being small, or being outcast, or being downtrodden, or being sick, or being “not enough.” Talitha cum.
For we were born to claim our healing. Healing that God intended to be for all. Healing that Jesus embodied, reaching out to the poor and the sick and the blind, and the lame, and to all the least of these, as well as to you and to me. Healing that others try to claim only for themselves. Healing that calls out that we find a way under or over or around any barriers. Healing that sparks more healing, that sets us off on a journey, that insists that there must be another way, that love does win, that we have been bamboozled too long by those who separate and deflate and inculcate. Healing is our birthright, our intended state of being. Healing is our path to Shalom.
So friends, let us claim our healing. Today, and tomorrow, and the day after that. And Jesus will be cheering us on—all the way.
Talitha cum. Alleluia, Amen.