When I was preparing to preach today I took down a book that I really like. It’s called Jesus Freak[i], by a woman named Sara Miles. Maybe you’ve heard of her. She’s a mid-life convert to Christian faith and she writes in a very contemporary style, but I think she has the ability to get right down to the essence of the Gospel message. Take the subtitle of this book: Feeding, healing, raising the dead. That pretty much sums up what Christ’s mission on earth was all about, and we get two out of the three in today’s Gospel: healing, and raising the dead.
This Gospel is the story of Jesus’ healing a young girl and an older woman, and it’s classic Mark. We get two stories in one, told very directly, but all of the details are so important. Jesus steps off the boat, he’s just crossed the sea of Galilee. The crowds are there waiting for him. They want to be in his presence. They want his healing touch.
Today’s crowd includes this synagogue leader, Jairus, who’s quite a prestigious person in this society, and the unknown woman with an illness that the doctors have not been able to help. In fact, she’s spent all her money on doctoring, and the only thing that’s been happening is it’s getting worse. Desperate, she comes to Jesus.
Coincidentally, I have to tell you, on the same day I reread this Gospel for the first time in preparation for preaching, I also came across a review of a book about how the medical system is failing women. Because all of the research tends to be geared towards seeing male bodies as normal, so they don’t typically study what happens to women as much. And they don’t typically listen to women as much.
I had this burst of recognition, because I have to tell you that in recent years I’ve had more than one experience with doctors where I felt like I was being treated like an old lady, which is not to say, with great honor and respect. I’ve still got most of my marbles and I expect to be listened to, but I’m not. So I identify with the woman in this story, but I don’t want to limit it by saying it’s a story for women, or it’s a story for older women. It’s a story for everybody.
I think we’ve all experienced the need for healing. And there are so many things that we need to be healed of. Not just our physical aches and pains, but that feeling of being unworthy, of being unloved. This woman who crept up behind Jesus, what she had would have been shameful in that time. She would have been a marginalized person. Jairus had the boldness to come right up and beg Jesus to help him. But this unnamed woman didn’t even have the sense of personal worth to be seen. She came up and touched him from behind.
So many of us needs to be healed of this feeling of being on the margin, that we’re not loved, that our life doesn’t matter. We seek healing in false comforts, in materialism. We all need healing.
So let’s unpack some of these details that I said count for so much in this story. First of all, that boat. Big clue: In Mark, when he mentions a boat, it’s going to be about the church. It’s going to be about what disciples have to do to be the church. That’s the first clue.
He gets off the boat, he’s surrounded by this crowd, and Jairus comes up and throws himself on the ground and begs. He really probably didn’t have to beg. Jesus was going to grant his request. He was going to go and heal the daughter.
And off they set, but before they even can do that, can get anywhere, up comes this woman and touches him, and he knows he’s been touched. Well, he could have just kept going, but he doesn’t. He could have said, “I’m in a hurry. I’m making a house call.” He doesn’t. He turns, he takes her by the hand, he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
So it isn’t just that she gets her cure. The real healing comes in this moment when he looks at her and acknowledges her, acknowledges her worth. He tells her to go, and go in peace and be healed. He sends her off to live a full life.
She goes, and from there they go on to Jairus’ house where the folks say, “Well, you’re too late. She’s passed away. There’s no point.” And he says, “She’s just sleeping.” Well, they laugh at that. I mean, you can tell when someone’s just sleeping. He goes in, with just his close entourage and the parents. He takes her by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up. Little girl arise.” Now, the word arise in the Greek, it’s the same word for Jesus’ rising on Easter Sunday, so it’s prefiguring resurrection.
He says to the parents, “Give her something to eat.” She has been sick a long time, she’s hungry. But it isn’t just the food she needs in that moment. He is blessing her to live a full life. She’s 12 years old. This is the age at which she probably would marry, she would begin to bear children. She would be bringing life into the world, and he’s restored her to that.
These stories are paired together. They’re meant to be interpreted together. And there are a couple of lessons that I think we get out of them. One is that the need for healing crosses boundaries, as I said. The rich and privileged person seeks healing, the marginalized poor person seeks healing. They both need it. Sometimes the needs of the poor have to come first. Jesus doesn’t say to the woman, “Sorry, can’t heal you now, got to get to Jairus.” He stops and takes care of the person that’s there in front of him. Healing, cure, they’re two different things actually. But Jesus’ healing is always not just fixing your aches and pains, but transforming you to abundant life. Go in peace. Give her something to eat. That matters.
Now, here’s something else. The healing that Jesus offers, not just in this story, is always about presence and touch. Personal presence, personal touch. He ‘s with them. He takes them by their hand. He touches them. How do we hear that after a year in which there’s been no in-personal presence for so many of us, and no touch for so many of us? A lot of us coming in the church today greeted each other, we know each other. Some of you I have not seen in person before today, but many of us have seen each other on Zoom. I feel like I know who you are, and yet we all laugh because it’s not the same. Personal presence is not the same. Zoom is something else. It’s a good thing, take what we can get, but to be personally present to each other, to touch each other, it’s so important.
And that reference to the boat. It’s about the church. How do we become the church again? What does it mean to be the church, to be followers of Jesus imitating him with this presence and this touch? I think the purpose of the church—and this is not original, but I think it’s dead on—the purpose of the church is mediate the self-limiting love of God to the world, so that human lives can be transformed, so that people can be liberated from selfishness and selfish desire, so that they can live fully, that there they are released from whatever’s holding them back. That’s what we are as a church. It’s been hard to do that in isolation. Here we are and we have a chance to do it again. What are we going to make of that chance?
So I took this book out again this week because I’ve always been fascinated by what Sara Miles says about the difference between healing and cure. She says “healing comes embedded in a relationship”[ii]—this healing that we are about. She’s been telling stories of this kind of pastoral ministry, visiting sick people. She says, “We can’t cure them. We don’t have that power. But we do have the power to heal, because healing is about relationship, with God and with other people. And through relationship, there can be healing in the absence of cure.”
She says, ” Jesus calls his disciples, giving us authority to heal and sending us out. … he shows us how to enter into a way of life in which the broken and sick pieces are held in love, and given meaning. In which strangers literally touch each other, and doing so make a community spacious enough for everyone. In which the deepest desires of our hearts draw us to health.”[iii]
Many times in the past year the content of my nightmares has been that I’ve been in crowded places where there were too many people too close, touching me. Maybe not even wearing masks. Now it’s time to get over that and once again become God’s loving presence in the world. The presence that seeks out people who need to be healed and touches them.
Sara Miles says, “The deepest desires of our hearts”—through this touch—”brought us to health. Don’t be afraid, Jesus says, your faith will make you well.”[iv]
Do not fear, only believe.
Preached at Church of the Ascension, Parkesburg, PA.
[i] Sara Miles, Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead. 2012.
[ii] Jesus Freak, 85.
[iii] Jesus Freak, 105
[iv] Jesus Freak, 105.