Sunday, June 27, 2021
More than we can ask or imagine
The Rev. Mark Wilkinson, Rector
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
June 27, 2021
We are in a section of Mark that most of us know fairly well. Jesus has done a series of parables about seeds and plants. He crosses over the Sea of Galilee when a storm erupts in the passage we heard last week. We then skip over the healing of the Gerasene demonic who is possessed by many demons who are driven out and into the pigs in the beginning of chapter 5. Today we return across the sea to Jewish territory and we have the famous double healing of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage.
This story uses a literary device of the day of forming a sandwich of two related but different pieces. The bread is the story of Jairus’ daughter and the hemorrhaging woman is the middle. At first glance these may appear unconnected but just wait, there may be several connections.
Now there is some background that you need to know to understand just what is going on here. Jairus is important leader of the synagogue. He is not one of the leaders who is giving Jesus trouble. Most of those were tied to the scribes employed by the Pharisees and were in Jerusalem for the most part and were not the local synagogue leaders. His daughter is 12, that is important to remember, and I will come back to that. It is worth noting that the number 12 shows up a couple of time and is an important number in the Jewish world as there were 12 tribes of Israel for much of their history. Jairus kneels and begs Jesus to heal his daughter, just come and lay hands on her so she may live he asks repeatedly the text tells us. This is not what we might expect from a leader of the synagogue to an itinerant preacher, but he knows who Jesus is and is desperate.
In terms of desperate we have the woman who breaks into the crowd and into our story. Why is the woman so desperate and fearful? This is related to the stigma of her disease which made her ritually impure because of the continuous hemorrhage. She would have been ostracized just like a leper. This is because anyone she came in contact with would be ritually impure and would have been impure up to a full 7 days. Because of her condition, she could not be in contact with her family or go to the synagogue. She has tried everything and spent all she had searching for a cure. There are many today who can identify with this frustration.
She is desperate and has led this ostracized life for the past 12 years. She is alone. She takes a bold chance and lunges into the crowd believing that all she must do is touch Jesus’ clothes, her faith is so great. She knows that anyone she touches in the process will be ritually unclean for a week, but she is desperate. She risks it all, worried about what others will think, but not caring.
Both come and fall at Jesus’ feet. They are not worshipping Jesus with this gesture. Jairus falls on his knees in supplication that Jesus come and lay hands on his daughter. The woman comes before him in fear and trembling for what she has done. Thankful that she is healed, but fearful
of how she will be treated. Again, Jesus’ healing shows no restrictions or limitations for class or gender. Both of them have great faith in what Jesus can do. Contrast that with the disciples last week in the boat or the people in the town where Jesus heals the demoniac. The towns people across the lake who tell Jesus to leave, go away.
The delay over the hemorrhaging woman gives time for the young girl to die and mourners to be called while the other drama plays out.
Now for some speculation of an unexpected tie between Jairus, the woman and the daughter. While my wife Wendy was studying for her Master’s degree at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio, she took a course on the Synoptic Gospels. One of her classmates was a gynecologist. When the class came to this story in Mark, he told the class that at childbirth there is a condition where the mother would continue to bleed for years. That meant that the woman in the story could be the child’s mother who has been ostracized from her family and community for 12 years. The family would have spent their money to help her, but at that time there was not much that could be done for her. As a Jewish man, and especially as a leader of the synagogue, Jairus would have been commanded by the Jewish law to have his wife leave her home and live on the outskirts of the community. Keep in mind this is the Jewish culture 2,000 years ago, not today. Now their 12-year-old daughter is dying. Jesus, after healing the woman, who could be the child’s mother, then restores the child to life. Jesus restores the mother to health and gives the daughter new life. Jesus has brought wholeness to the individuals, the family and the community. A family is restored. Creation has been restored, God’s kingdom has come in their midst.
This is sometimes the challenge in healing stories and when talking about prayers being answered. Often there are greater things afoot than we can conceive. Prayers are answered in unexpected ways, ways that are sometimes beyond anything we can conceive or ask.
At the end of the prayers of the people I have a choice of a variety of concluding collects that I can use on pages 394 and 395 in the Prayer Book. One says, “Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask: Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Notice this prayer starts with “to whom our needs are known before we ask.” God knows what we need even before we do. Margaret Gunther a very wise teacher and spiritual director wrote a book on prayer for the church teaching series. She says that our prayers are the second part of a conversation with God. Our prayers are a response to what God has put on our hearts. It is saying yes God we hear you rather than a “Hey God I have a problem I want you to fix and this is what I want you to do.” This collect asks that what we ask is accord with what God knows and to ask for things that we may be too blind to ask. When Jairus asks Jesus to come and heal his daughter he is not even thinking of his wife who has been absent from the family for 12 years.
There is another collect I often use which says, “Heavenly Father, you have promised to hear what we ask in the Name of your Son: Accept and fulfill our petitions, we pray, not as we ask in our ignorance, nor as we deserve in our sinfulness, but as you know and love us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord” The important line here is the request that God respond as God knows and loves us. Both prayers open us up to accepting the full and incredible love that God has for us. A love that is greater than our minds can imagine.
This week at VBS we spent four days talking about the power of God and how God helps us with over 40 children and another 20 volunteers. The message is that even in hard times God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are with us and supporting us. Doing more for us than we can ask or maybe even notice. One of the things we asked the children to do during the week was look for how God was working in their lives. I think that would be something that all of us adults would benefit from doing. Look for God’s presence each day. Take a moment to see where God touched your life during the day. By the way that is exactly what the Ignatian Examin asks us to do. So this is not a new idea and remains a good spiritual practice.