Sunday, June 24, 2012

Healing in the Midst of Life & Death. Homily for MARK 5:21-43

Homily for 7.1.12
MARK 5:21-43 (see below)
Year B






The Lectionary Gospel reading for this LORD's Day offers us Mark's Gospel at its best. Displayed is Mark's clever sense of drama, and how it comes crashing in on us today, offering a heightened conflict, clear characters and crisp dialogue. 

Here is the story of, "one of the synagogue officials," which
 according to R.T France meant that he was an elder of the synagogue who carried responsibility and authority in the local synagogue, which was probably in Capernaum. (The Gospel of Mark, pg. 235) 

His name was Jairus, and his coming to Jesus and his falling at the feet of Jesus means to tell us of his acute distress, for nothing gets to the normal heart as quickly as our troubled children.

Jairus' daughter is dying, and medicine being what is was in the ancient world (as we shall see) offered him no cure. No, he sees the only hope for his daughter was this young prophet who was a teacher and a wonder-worker.


So, the text tells us that he comes to Jesus and pleads:

"My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." He went off with him,and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him."
Jairus' pain and desperation can only be imagined, unless of course you have been in this situation. And so, along with the crowds hungry for what? a sign? a spectacle? Jesus and Jairus head for the sick child.

On the way, when there must be no hold-up and no hindrance, Jesus is delayed; Jesus is hindered. Someone from the crowd touches Jesus' clothing.

So, Jesus stops and asks,

"Who has touched my clothes?" But his disciples said to Jesus, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'"
I love the disciple's response: "Are you nuts, look at the crowd, everybody touched your clothing." But, that is not what Jesus meant. The power to heal had left Jesus, and he felt it. I have little understanding of what this meant, other than to acknowledge that Jesus, operating totally under the power of the Holy Spirit, sensed the healing and movement of the Spirit had gone from him to another. 

In fact, it was a woman who had touched Jesus, an unclean woman. Again, Dr. France is helpful here:

"To be [flowing blood] for twelve years must surely describe some sort of menstrual disorder, even if the exact nature of the complaint cannot and need not be identified. Menstrual impurity is a prominent concern in the O.T....[&] defilement through contact with even a normally menstruant woman was to be scrupulously avoided." (pg. 236)
Like Jairus, this unnamed woman no doubt sees Jesus as her last and final hope. Mark explains to us what she had experienced in her troubled life:
"She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse."
But,
"She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, 'If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.'"
And, what happened?
"Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction." 
Quite a victory; quite a consolation after all those years of suffering and isolation!

And that was when Jesus, sensing that healing power had left him, asked who had touched him. Bravely, this woman admits her act.

"The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, 'Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.'"
Notice the contrast between Jairus and the woman, the contrast... 
  • religiously -- clean and unclean
  • socially -- upperclass and lower-class
  • of gender -- male (preferred) female (tolerated), 
yet Jesus agrees intends to meet both their needs. 

But, there is a problem. Jesus' delay with the woman has cost Jairus dearly. His daughter has died.

"While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official's house arrived and said, 'Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?'"
I simply cannot imagine this feeling, but I have seen others experience this first-hand. Jesus says the most curious thing, however
"Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, 'Do not be afraid; just have faith.'"
I do not know how Jairus heard these words of Jesus. Did he have faith? Did he really lose his fear? I don't know, but at least he did accompany Jesus to the house, whereupon arriving the mourners were wailing with the shrieks of death. I have heard those shrieks and they are not to be forgotten. There is nothing like those sounds.

Then Jesus says:

"Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep."
And Mark tells us:
"...they ridiculed him." 
 And why not, we all know dead is dead. But, Jesus will have none of it so: 
"he put them all out."
That is, he sent all the mourners away, except the chief mourners:
"He took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, 'Talitha koum,' which means, 'Little girl, I say to you, arise!' The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around."
What do you think happened then? Tears? Surely. Celebration? No doubt. The outside mourners must have wondered what in the world was going on in the death-room. Why all the laughter? 

I think the poet of Psalm 30 sums the mood of the room very well:
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;  You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness,

12 That my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.
But, of course, even as we rejoice for the woman who was unclean and isolated and who was made whole, and even as we celebrate the incredible gift Jesus gave to Jairus and his wife, not to mention their daughter, I am always left with a tinge of sadness. I am always forced to ask GOD, what about all the other women? and, were there not other children who died that day as well, perhaps even in Capernaum? What about those parents and those children?

As I was struggling in prayer over this in the present text, I was led to two thoughts:

First, we are forced to acknowledge the reality of the particularity of the incarnation. That is, Jesus, like us, is locked in time and space and, like us, is able to help only those in front of him. This is a good lesson for us. We can only do what we can do. We can only touch those we meet along the way. Like Jesus, our limitations mean we cannot do everything, but we can surely do something.

Second, we must see in these healings the promise of what is to come. Now, we live in the darkened plane, the time of hurt and pain and illness and destruction and death, but that is not the only understanding of the world. Yes, for the most part, despite the antics of the televangelists, people still get sick and children still die. But, this is not all there is, sometimes their is a healing (not as often as we would like) and sometimes our children are spared by what can only be called the providential care of GOD. All of which, like the healings in today's Lectionary Gospel reading, point to the moment of Jesus the LORD's appearing with the final and complete victory over the trappings of life as it now is. Life under darkness and death will one day, finally and totally give way to life as the Creator-GOD meant it to be. Even so, appear LORD Jesus.

__________________

MARK 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a large crowd gathered around him, and he stayed close to the sea. One of the synagogue officials, named Jairus, came forward. Seeing him he fell at his feet and pleaded earnestly with him, saying, "My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live." He went off with him,and a large crowd followed him and pressed upon him.

There was a woman afflicted with hemorrhages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse.

She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, "If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured." Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him,  turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who has touched my clothes?" But his disciples said to Jesus, "You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, 'Who touched me?'" And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction."

While he was still speaking, people from the synagogue official's house arrived and said, "Your daughter has died; why trouble the teacher any longer?" Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus said to the synagogue official, "Do not be afraid; just have faith." He did not allow anyone to accompany him inside except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they arrived at the house of the synagogue official, he caught sight of a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. So he went in and said to them, "Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep." And they ridiculed him. Then he put them all out. He took along the child's father and mother and those who were with him and entered the room where the child was. He took the child by the hand and said to her, "Talitha koum," which means, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!" The girl, a child of twelve, arose immediately and walked around. At that they were utterly astounded. He gave strict orders that no one should know this and said that she should be given something to eat.