Crows Nest Uniting Church
Sunday 13 • 28 June 2015


2 Samuel 1:1,17-27
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43


Rev. Chris Udy



There are two stories
in our gospel reading for today.
One is embedded in the other,
and Mark wants us to hear them
as deeply connected.
They’re both about women being healed:
the outside story - the ‘framing’ story -
is about the 12-year-old daughter of a prominent man,
a leader of the synagogue - Jairus.
The inside story - the embedded story -
is about a nameless woman -
a face in the crowd -
who’s been bleeding for 12 years.
Both these stories are about honour and shame
and the way Jesus works for healing.
 
To find our way into these stories
we need to try to see the world
through very different eyes.
We find it quite hard to understand
a culture of honour and shame,
but for the world Jesus lived in
it was absolutely central.
Honour defined a man’s social status from birth -
and honour was primarily a male concern.
The work a man could do,
the people a man could speak to,
the roles and offices a man could hold
were marked out by his social status - his honour.
A man’s honour was also his family’s honour,
and it was a man’s responsibility
to enhance and defend and enforce
his family’s position and status.
Women carried the honour
of their husband’s or father’s family,
but they were also seen as vulnerable
and they made the men of their family vulnerable too.
Women were controlled
as a potential source of shame,
and it was also women who were made to wear
the shame of their family.
 
The two stories Mark tells are healing stories -
but the healing isn’t only physical;
it’s also social, and moral, and spiritual.
 
Jairus was a man of honour -
he had social status, a role in the community,
a position of power -
but his daughter was very unwell.
He came to the place where Jesus was teaching
and fell down at Jesus’ feet.
He was the head of the family,
so this was his role,
and he humbled himself -
shed some of his honour,
made himself vulnerable -
to get what his family - his daughter - needed.
“Repeatedly”, Mark writes, “he begged
‘My little daughter is at the point of death.
Come and lay your hands on her,
so that she may be made well, and live.’”
 
Jairus clearly loved his daughter,
but this conversation with Jesus
was also a kind of transaction.
Jairus dared to ask this favour of Jesus
partly because he was a man of honour -
in fact, he had honour to spare.
He gave up some of his honour to Jesus
by kneeling at his feet;
he was begging, but he was also confident
that Jesus would do what he asked - and Jesus did.
 
On the way to Jairus’ home,
in the press of the street,
Jesus stopped and turned around.
“Who touched my clothes?” he asked,
and his disciples replied -
“There are people all around you,
brushing past and crowding in on you -
how can you say ‘Who touched me?’”
But Jesus kept looking around
until a woman, terrified and trembling,
stepped out of the crowd,
and - just like Jairus -
fell at the feet of Jesus.
 
This woman had no man to protect her honour,
and she had no honour to spare.
For 12 years -
as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive -
she had been bleeding.
Constant bleeding made her an absolute outcast -
a person defined entirely by shame.
The purity codes said
she shouldn’t even be out in the streets,
and that everyone she touched or brushed against
was tainted by her shame.
She’d been exploited
by the physicians she’d consulted;
they’d taken all her money
but her bleeding had only grown worse.
Utterly powerless, completely alone,
she’d formed a plan when she heard about Jesus:
to risk being exposed and punished -
possibly even stoned -
for pushing through the crowd
to touch his clothes in the hope of being healed.
And that’s what she did.
Immediately, Mark writes, the woman’s bleeding stopped
and she knew that she’d been healed.
But then Jesus stopped to search the crowd
and her shame was suddenly exposed.
 
For Jesus, healing is never only physical.
Wholeness - the idea of Shalom, peace -
is as much about social and political
and spiritual restoration
as it is about physical symptoms.
It wasn’t enough for Jesus
that the woman in the crowd
should have her bleeding stopped,
she should also be healed of her shame
and restored to a place of value and respect.
So he searched for her,
and when she came forward,
he listened to her give an account
of what had happened in her life.
Then comes the most astonishing sentence in the story.
Jesus could - maybe even should -
have rebuked and condemned the woman.
The purity code said
that she had defiled him - shamed him -
stolen honour from him -
and he had a right - an obligation -
to take it back;
but instead Jesus said
“My daughter,
your faith has made you well;
go in peace, and be healed of your disease”.
 
This shunned and outcast woman
has been claimed as daughter.
She has been restored to a place of respect
among the people of God.
 
But all that took time -
and even as Jesus was speaking
to the woman in the crowd
a messenger came from Synagogue leader’s home.
“Your daughter is dead”,
the messenger said,
“Why trouble the teacher further?”
This has the makings of a tragedy,
or of a class battle.
Mark could have told this story
as a stark political choice:
Jesus sides with the weak against the strong;
with the poor against the rich;
with those who are put last
against those who put themselves first -
and there is something of that in Mark’s gospel.
Jesus could have chosen
to heal the outcast woman
at the expense and sacrifice
of the powerful man’s daughter -
but just as healing is never only physical for Jesus
salvation and redemption are never only political.
 
Jairus had been speaking
to the people from his home.
Jesus overheard the message that they brought,
but he said “Do not be afraid - only believe.”
When they came to Jairus’ home
they discovered the mourning had begun.
People outside were weeping and wailing loudly.
Jesus told them “The child is not dead - but sleeping”,
and all the professional mourners laughed at him -
but Jesus took the little girl’s father and mother
up to the room where she lay,
and for the second time that day
he risked dishonour and defilement
by touching what everyone else believed
was a body already dead.
“Talitha cum”, he said, which means,
“Little girl, get up”,
and immediately - Mark’s favourite word -
immediately she rose
and began to walk about.
 
It’s at this point in the story
that Mark reveals the age of the little girl.
She was twelve -
and the woman who’d been bleeding
had been bleeding for 12 years -
and anyone who reads anything in the Bible
knows that 12 is not an ordinary number.
 
These are strong and poignant healing stories
each in their own right -
and from each one we get a glimpse
of Jesus’ courage and compassion -
but the way Mark tells them,
and the way he puts them together
means he also wants us to hear them
as deeply connected.
12 is the number for Israel -for God’s people -
and Israel is the outcast woman,
slowly bleeding her life away
without relief or assistance
from those who could have been helping.
The priests and rulers and teachers of the law
were doing nothing -
in fact they were making things worse -
for the people who most needed their assistance:
the poor, the sick, the nameless crowds
of dispossessed and dishonoured women and men.
Those are the people Jesus restores
to their proper place of value and respect -
much-loved daughters and honoured sons of God.
 
But that’s not enough for God.
Israel is also that little girl
whose father is a pillar of honour.
Jesus wants to save and redeem
not only those who live in poverty and shame,
but also the hope and joy of Israel,
Israel’s promise and beauty.
Jesus gives priority
to those who need him most -
he goes to those who have been deeply shamed,
cruelly abused and grossly excluded,
and he restores them first
to the faith and family of God.
And even though it may seem
that by choosing to put the last and the weakest first
he puts at risk the hope and joy,
the promise and the beauty of God’s people -
even though it may look like
some good and worthy things might die,
while God attends to those who need him most,
Jesus is able to heal - to save and to redeem -
even beyond dying.
 
These stories are not just about
a woman in the crowd and a little girl -
they’re Easter stories - resurrection stories.
Jesus brings us to life,
even when everyone else has given us up.
When we live with trust,
when we hold on to hope, and act on our faith,
Jesus will restore us
to wholeness and to peace.
“My daughter - your faith has made you well.
Go in peace, be healed of your disease.”
 
The world is a sad and fractured place -
many would say the best and brightest of our hopes
are perilously close to dying.
The earth itself is gasping:
the land, the air and the sea are increasingly polluted
and the animals and plants
that share the earth with us are disappearing.
Humanity is bleeding.
Millions of women and men
have been betrayed
by those who have the knowledge and resources
to restore their health and remove their shame.
We feel overwhelmed
by so many needs,
so many faces in the crowd,
so many demands on our compassion,
on our money and on our time.
“How can we possibly make a difference?” - we say.
“How can we choose which one to help
and which one to deny?
And what if, by helping someone
we put others - maybe even ourselves -
at risk of illness, poverty and shame?”
 
There’s no pat and simple response to those questions -
but what Jesus does gives us a template.
First - we go to those who touch us.
We respond to those who need us most,
those who move us
and inspire us with hope and faith -
and faith is much, much more
than religious belief.
Next, we look for healing that goes beyond
the physical and material.
People need salvation and redemption -
and that begins right now,
in our homes, in our suburb,
in our culture and society -
it can’t wait for some time after we die.
(1) - We go to those who touch us;
(2) - we look for wholeness and peace;
and then - (3) we keep on believing,
even when we’re ridiculed
for trusting in God’s grace -
because nothing - not even dying -
can stop the work of healing
God has begun in the love and grace of Jesus.