Jun 23 2009

Loving What We Don’t Have Time For

Mark 5:21-43

The text is the Gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, and the message speaks to us right where we live.

A great crowd has gathered about the very-busy Jesus. In its midst, he is approached by Jairus, “one of the rulers of the synagogue,” a very important man. “My little daughter is dying,” Jairus cries out; “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well.” The anguished father kneels before Jesus, humbling himself. It’s hard to imagine a more urgent or heart-rending request. There is no time to waste! So Jesus goes with him, the huge throng following in anticipation.

But there is an unexpected interruption along the way. Lost in the crowd up until now is a woman who (culturally speaking) has little apparent value when compared to Jairus’ child: she’s not from a prominent family; she is poor; she’s been hemorrhaging for twelve years. Mark describes in detail her “compounded” pain: she has suffered under many physicians; she has spent all that she has in an effort to get better, she has not benefited but rather her condition has grown worse. On top of all this, the purity code in the Book of Leviticus dictates that she should be segregated (Imagine someone pointing her away with the words, “The Bible says . . .”). Hope would seem in very short supply.

She nevertheless seeks Jesus out. It may be her own humility, or more likely her humiliation, that causes her to approach Jesus covertly, coming up behind him and touching his cloak. “If I touch even his garments, I shall be made well.” Also, heart-rending words. Such faith! Such hope! A power at work in her life, which is lifting her above the humiliation.

“And immediately the bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.” It is not only her physical situation that is transformed; it is how she feels about living life in her own skin. And the scene doesn’t end there. Jesus has a very human encounter with the woman. She shares her story with him, the “whole” story, and Jesus responds by telling her how lovingly she is seen in the eyes of God!

There’s a problem, though, isn’t there? Receiving the whole truth of someone’s story will require care and listening; it will require appreciation, sensitive response, and a drawing forth of that which is precious. It takes time. But Jesus shouldn’t have any time, should he? What of Jairus, his waiting daughter, the expectations of the masses?

Aware that power has “gone forth” from him, Jesus stops, turns, and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The response of his own disciples is impatient and incredulous: “The crowd’s all pressing in around you and you ask, “Who touched me?” C’mon, you’ve got something more important to do!

But Jesus stays with the woman. Mark writes: ‘The woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.” The truth about twelve years of bleeding. The truth about being poked and prodded and diagnosed and passed on from physician to physician, her dignity sacrificed to futility; finally set apart. The truth about losing her place in the community, and all of the friends who disappeared. The truth of having feelings, of having things she loves, places that are special to her, dreams, simple delights that she can no longer share with anyone else. The truth of wanting to honor her own God-given worth in spite of what she has been told about herself, of wanting to share her life, even just the simple things, with other people in whom she might also behold and honor beauty. The truth of wanting to touch and to be touched. Her faith not just in Jesus’ divinity, but also in his humanity.

He says to her, “Daughter, go in peace; your faith has made you well. Be healed of your disease.” It’s not just her disease, but her dis-ease, that is transformed. And Jesus calls her “daughter.” You see, there is no longer only one daughter (Jairus’) who matters in the story, but two! This child of God is worthy of the Lord’s full attention as well; she is beloved. The realm of God will be revealed right here in the intimacy of their human relationship. And it is not just the woman’s physical bleeding but also her emotional bleeding that Jesus is healing. This is salvation. Her self, her life, her personal experience, and her pain are all honored, on earth as they are in heaven.

Jesus is most fully himself in moments like these. In affirming the woman’s humanity and deepest God-given identity, he affirms who he himself is in God’s realm. When he has time for her, he has time for himself. And time for God.

That’s how it is when we reach out and touch Jesus, and when we draw close and allow him to touch us. We become more fully ourselves. And we discover that even in the most demanding days we have enough time for God and God’s children. Time to listen, time to feel, time to risk, time to share, even time for us. Because it is in these relationships, it is in this salvation, that we discover our own “daughterhood” and “sonhood.” And our faith enables us to realize wholeness.

Now that the woman once “lost in the crowd” has been restored to true daughterhood, and only now, will Jesus move on to the salvation of the other daughter, the daughter of the synagogue. I think the story is telling us that the first must take place before the second can. That’s because this story is meant to be about more than individuals. It’s about communities; it’s about the church. What Jesus and Mark are telling us is that only when those on the margins, those pushed to the outside, are restored to their God-given place in the fullness of humanity, can Christ’s church understand the fullness of its own identity and practice its true vocation.

Jesus is still speaking the words of new life to the woman who bled for so long when people come from Jairus’ house to say that his daughter is dead, that Jesus’ mission has no further purpose, that Jesus’ misplaced priorities have caused the tale to end badly. But Jesus says to the father, “Do not fear; only believe.” Now is the time. Jesus dismisses the crowds, and the much smaller group goes on to the house, where people are weeping and wailing. He tells them that the child is just sleeping, at which point they laugh sarcastically. It is the absence of faith that sharpens the pain of the story at this point. Jesus sends them outside, at least temporarily, and with the child’s parents and the disciples, he enters and completes his mission. He touches the girl. He takes her by the hand and lifts her up. And just as the garden tomb would not be the end of the story of life for Jesus, so this story of life takes on a new chapter, through faith, through belief.

At twelve years old Jairus’ child is now just entering maturity. After twelve years the woman who touches Jesus’ garment is healed. So, the completion of twelve years for each of the “daughters” heralds a new future in Christ that they will now share together. In Christ, your suffering and slow bleeding are claimed and healed and transformed into the fullness of life God is offering and Jesus embodies; Your growing and maturing are not the fading days of youth but the ripening of the season of the Lord.

We are loving, yearning, sensitive people, yet so often busy, and distracted. Jesus knows this condition personally. Yet from the midst of it, Jesus embodies the deepest love, discovering both the time and the faith necessary. So may we.

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