Paving the Way Forward
Jun 27, 2021
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Jesus is back from his trip. He has been busy, though, while away.
Following his storm-silencing boat ride, the topic of last week’s Gospel reading, Jesus disembarked on the Gentile side of the Sea of Galilee and immediately dealt with a legion of demons. He sent them into a herd of swine, causing the pigs to careen off a cliff and drown, evidently eliminating both.
The demons’ original host, called the Gerasene Demoniac. A man first described in Mark as naked, impossible to restrain, even with chains and shackles, constantly howling and bruising himself with stones. Then, after his encounter with Jesus, he is clothed and in his right mind. He is commissioned by Jesus to return to his home and share “how much the Lord has done for you.”
Jesus then returned to the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee; he is back from his trip. At least two people are waiting for him – a woman who has suffered for 12 years with hemorrhages and Jairus, whose 12-year-old daughter is dying. This story within a story continues to showcase the breadth and depth of Jesus’ compassion and power.
The woman and the girl are both ritually unclean when they encounter Jesus, as was the man Jesus had just healed. The woman’s hemorrhage makes her unclean. The girl’s death makes her unclean. Touching either one would make the person who did so unable to enter a holy place, like a synagogue or temple. Yet, the woman touches Jesus’ clothing, and Jesus takes the girl’s hand, breaking the barrier between clean and unclean.
While they are alike in this way, there are significant differences between them. Jairus is a leader of the synagogue; he has high social status and is wealthy enough to employ servants. The woman, who, unlike Jairus, is unnamed, has no social status; she is poor. It is noted that she had spent “all she had” on treatments that did not help her. And, for 12 years, she has been excluded from her community, viewed as an outcast.
Yet, they both approach Jesus out of desperation; Jairus humbles himself, begging for Jesus to come and heal his daughter, who is “at the point of death.” Such behavior by a man in authority would have been shocking to his associates. The woman takes a massive risk as she pushes through the crowd, knowing that if she is recognized as being unclean, there will be consequences, including further rejection. Jesus responds to their spoken and unspoken cries for help.
As the woman reaches out for Jesus, touching his cloak, she is healed of her disease. No one but her, and Jesus, realized it. After revealing herself to Jesus with fear and trembling, she hears these incredible words: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
As for Jairus, the incredible words he hears upon being informed of his daughter’s death before Jesus even sees her are: “Do not fear, only believe.” Despite the weeping of the professional mourners, who have gathered at Jairus’ home, and their ridicule of Jesus for declaring that the child is not dead, Jairus does not give up and send Jesus away. Not only did the girl sit up, she got up, walked, and was about to enjoy lunch!
In her commentary on this text, Pastor JoAnn Taylor offers a great summary statement for all that occurred: “A woman touches Jesus in her uncleanness and is healed. Jesus touches an unclean, dead girl, and she lives again. Both touches should have made Jesus unclean, but instead, he makes them clean.” (1)
Jesus includes the excluded. He not only makes them clean but gives them second chances at life. These two stories, and also the one I mentioned about the Gerasene Demoniac, all point to the same truth about being transformed by an encounter with Jesus. They all go forward; they go forward with thriving and living because of Jesus’ saving and healing. Their experiences go beyond mere fixing to the restoration of life so that they can go forward.
That is promised to us all, especially in times of desperation. In her most recent book, Dusk, Night, Dawn, Anne Lamott writes about a time of desperation in her life, although at the time, she might not have identified it as such. She was at the Easlen Institute, a retreat center in Big Sur, benefiting from a writers-in-residence scholarship.
She thought of herself as being in spiritual ICU, beginning anew. But there were two problems. Her plan was to fix herself. The other problem was that she had brought her alcoholism and three bottles of scotch with her as well. She notes that by dinnertime every night, she was mildly drunk, and the situation went downhill from there.
It was a beautiful setting; she often stood above the cliffs, listening to the sea. Wouldn’t you know that for the last two days of her stay, it rained, although this did give her an excuse to stay in her cabin, “writing,” she said. On the last night, after time spent “writing,” she staggered for the cliffs in the dark.
Now, I’ll quote her: “It seemed like a good idea at the time. I came out of a blackout five or six feet down a sloppy, rocky hillside, digging my fingers and feet like crampons into the drenched earth. It took a minute for me to figure out that I was not dreaming, that instead I must have fallen and landed on the steep slope of the cliff above the rocks. I somehow pulled and dug myself back to the top. When I finally got there, I threw myself facedown onto the muddy level ground, heaving for breath. I lay gasping for a moment, astonished to be alive, shocked, both relieved and mortified. All I could think was, thank you Jesus, and boy, did I need a drink.”
There is more, and if you have read the book, you will know why I’m not sharing it. Besides the important point is this: the next morning she realized that she could have fallen to her death, and that maybe she had a “slight drinking problem.”
Let me quote her again: “I thanked God feverishly for His or Her mercy and begged for help. The first great prayer: help me, help me, help me.” (2)
She was desperate; the man controlled by demons was desperate; Jairus was desperate for the sake of his daughter; the woman with the hemorrhage was desperate. They all turned to Jesus and were empowered to GO FORWARD with thriving and living. That is what the mercy Jesus offers is about; it paves the way to GO FORWARD.
Admittedly, that way may not be that for which we hoped or prayed, but nevertheless, the one who helped people in the first century, and Anne Lamott in the 20th century, continues to pull us forward (or, sometimes, push us) in the 21st century. We too can be made well (remember that can be physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually). We too can live (here and in eternity), but first, we may have to offer what Anne Lamott calls the first great prayer: help me, help me, help me. AMEN
(1) “The Miracle Inside a Miracle” by JoAnn Taylor, Mark 5:21-43, June 28, 2015, www.pastorsings.com
(2) “Dusk, Night, Dawn” by Anne Lamott, 2021, Riverhead Books, pgs. 195-208.