Last Sunday, we heard about Jesus asleep at the helm of a sinking boat. This Sunday, something a little closer to our experience – Jesus caught in heavy traffic. In his version of the Gospel, Mark gives us two intertwined stories – the story of a desparate women whose last hope was to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, and the story of a desparate father, whose last hope for his dying little girl was to get Jesus to his house.
The father’s name was Jairus. He was one of the synagogue rulers, a well-respected and devout man. A pillar of the community. He sought Jesus out through a thick crowd, and fell at His feet. “My little girl is dying. Please come and lay your hands on her so she can be healed and live.” Jairus has faith. He believes that Jesus can heal his daughter by the laying on of his hands. He trusts in Jesus the Healer. But time is running short. Every wasted minute brings his precious daughter closer to death’s door. He grabs Jesus’ hand and fights his way through the crowd. Hurry, there’s no time to lose.
Perhaps you’ve been in Jairus’ place, riding in the ambulance on the way to the emergency room with a sick child. Or watching a little one suffering from a high fever or having a seizure and feeling so utterly helpless. And the child looks at you, Mama and Papa, and wants you to do something to make it better. Like all those childhood cuts and scrapes, those “boo-boos” that you kiss and they get better as though by magic. But you know this boo-boo is going to take more than a parental kiss. So you get down on your knees and you beg Jesus to please do something. Stretch out those hands, Lord, and heal her. She’s so young, so precious, so much of her life yet to live. She has proms to go to, and a wedding, and family. So much to look forward to. Please don’t let her die.
The crowd was as thick as rush hour on the 60. Pushing, shoving, everyone trying to get in close to Jesus. I see poor Jairus trying to move people out of the way, like an ambulance caught in heavy traffic, blasting its siren, but the indifferent drivers won’t pull over to let it through. Everyone has their own needs, their own agendas, their own reason to press toward Jesus. Everyone wants a piece of Jesus. Precious minutes go by.
In that crowd is a woman. Her skin is anemic white. She’s weak, though she isn’t old. Her blood count is dangerously low, her energy is drained. She’s had a bleeding for twelve long years. (We might discretely say she had “female problems.”) The doctors weren’t much help, probably weren’t even terribly interested. Mark tells us rather pointedly that the doctors had drained all her entire life savings, everything she had, and she was no better under their care but was actually getting worse. And this was before HMOs.
The religious priests certainly wouldn’t have gone near her. She was considered “unclean” according to Levitical law. Untouchable. That’s why she wanted to sneak up on Jesus. She’d heard the reports about how Jesus healed the sick with just a touch or a word. And so she figured, “He wouldn’t want to touch me. So I’ll just touch the outer hem of his robe. He’ll never know.” And that’s what she does. She sneaks up behind Jesus, surrounded by this huge crowd with Jairus leading the way, and she gets down on all fours reaches her hand between people’s feet and her fingertips brush the hem of Jesus’ robe.
And immediately, her bleeding stopped. Twelve years of suffering, weakness, anemia, isolation, all of it ended in an instant. She felt a surge of energy go through her body. Vitality, life, health, strength. At that very same moment, Jesus sensed something too. Power had gone out of Him. Someone had reached out in faith and tapped into His creative power. That power is the power that created the cosmos, the heavens and the earth. What set the stars in motion and separated sea and dry land. It’s the creative power of the Word through whom all things were made, the power of Him who holds all things in existence in His being.
If you’ve never seen the movie, “The Green Mile,” rent it. It’s a marvelous story of a large, imposing man who is on death row, wrongly convicted of the murder of two little girls. This gentle giant, facing an innocent death, has a unique gift. He is able to absorb sickness into his own body condemned to die, and he gives back to the person he touches life and health. It’s as though his death is a source of life for everyone he touches. He’s a marvelous picture of Christ, the suffering Servant, the Word by whose wounds we are healed.
With a simple touch, a woman reaching out to Jesus in desparate faith, her sickness is absorbed by Him, and His life flows into her. That’s what the cross is all about. Jesus absorbed into His own body all the sin, the suffering, the sickness, the death of our humanity. Like a dry sponge, He soaked it all up – everything that has gone wrong with us. Everything that is wrong with the world because of our sin. Everything that’s out of whack with our bodies, our world, our souls. And out of His death on the cross, flowed life – the water, the blood. Creative water, cleansing blood. A new creation. Healing. Peace. Shalom. Everything in order again.
Notice that the woman didn’t need to touch Jesus, only His garment. And she didn’t need to make some “spiritual” connection with Jesus. Just touch His robe. The robe wasn’t some special heavenly fabric spun by angels on looms of gold. It was your basic homespun robe, the kind the everyone wore in Jesus’ day. And yet because that robe was worn by the Son of God, the Savior of the world, it was full of the power of God to save. The water in Baptism may be simply water out of the tap, but it is water that holds God’s command and promise to save. The bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper may be ordinary bread and wine. But it is bread and wine that wraps the Word of Christ, “given and shed for you, for your forgiveness, for your life, for your salvation.” For this woman, Jesus’ robe was a “sacrament” of healing and life. Touch it in faith and the gift is yours.
Jesus won’t have any anonymous healings, however. He may be the Savior of the world, but He isn’t some anonymous, generic savior. He doesn’t simply save the world en masse; He saves the world personally. He wants to know who touched Him. Of all the people shoving and pushing around Him, someone touched Him in faith. He wants to look at that person, acknowledge her, bless her. He stops and looks around at the crowd. “Who touched my robe?” The disciples don’t get it. “What do you mean, ‘who touched my robe?’ Look at this crowds. Everyone’s touching your robe. Let’s get going. Time’s a’wasting.”
But Jesus stops and stands there and waits. And Jairus, the desparate father with the sick little girl (remember her?) has to wait too. “It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” The Lord works on His own time. A day is like a thousand years, a thousand years like a day with the Lord. But we’re impatient. We want everything now, today, immediately. Waiting rooms are wasted time staring into empty magazines. We don’t like to wait. But the Lord has us wait, and trust and hope. “The Lord is my portion, therefore I will wait for Him.”
The woman steps forward. Trembling, sobbing. She falls down at Jesus’ feet. “It was me. I touched you, and now I’m healed. I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t have done it. But it’s been twelve years….” Jesus looks into her eyes, with all the fatherly goodness and mercy of God and says, “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed of your sickness.”
All the while, Jairus is on hold – waiting, worrying, watching. Servants come running from his house with the news he doesn’t want to hear. It’s too late. “Your daughter is dead.” No need to trouble Jesus any longer. There’s nothing He can do now. That’s as far as their faith in Jesus goes. Death. That’s the border no healer can cross.
But Jesus ignores what they say. He looks at Jairus and gives him a word of hope. “Do not fear, only believe.” “You trusted me when she was sick, my friend. Now trust me with her death. She’s safe.”
For Jairus, and for each of us, death (especially the death of a child) is a moment suspended between fear and faith. What the Greeks called a krisis. Every hope this man had in Jesus has been utterly devastated. The last word has been spoken. The doctor comes out of the operating room and says, “I’m sorry. We did everything we could, but it wasn’t enough. Your child has died.” To our eyes, our reason, our senses, our whole way of thinking, this is the last word.
But not with Jesus. “Do not fear. Trust.” He says. Trust. When every support is gone, when every hope fails, when there is nothing more to say. Trust Jesus.
They go to the house. Another crowd has gathered to mourn. Weeping and wailing. The sound of tragic, untimely death. Unfair death. We heard it this past week on the news. Ten people in a crowd at a farmers market, killed by a car out of control. There is anguish and grief. Was Jairus angry? I imagine so. Perhaps even angry at that woman who delayed Jesus. Perhaps even a bit angry at Jesus. Why did He delay?
Yet Jesus is calm in the face of death. As calm as He was sleeping in the boat in the middle of a storm. “Why all this weeping and wailing? She’s not dead but sleeping.” Death is no match for the Lord of life. To Jesus, death is nothing but a sleep from which He alone can wake us. “In Adam all die, in Christ will all be made alive.” That’s what we mean when we say, “we believe in the resurrection of the body.” We believe that Jesus Christ will raise the dead when He appears, like a divine alarm clock to rouse the sleeping.
He’s the expert. He’s the One who died and rose from the dead. He knows what He’s talking about when it comes to death. Jesus is the One who defeated Death at its own game by dying on a cross.
The people laughed at Jesus, as the world laughs today. As far as the world is concerned, death is the end. The last word on life. And if there is a life beyond death, that’s so much spiritual speculation. But the resurrection of the body? Well, that’s just not the way the world operates. Dead is dead.
Jesus chases off the crowds. He brings Jairus and his wife, along with Peter, James, and John, His three closest disciples. He takes the dead girl by the hand and speaks to her in Aramaic, her native tongue, like a father gently waking his child. Talitha cumi. Little girl, arise. And she does! At the sound of Jesus’ voice, she gets up from her death bed and walks around. Five people saw it. And just to prove it, they get her something to eat. She’s hungry!
And then Mark tells us a wonderful little detail we didn’t know before. She was twelve years old. As old as that poor woman on the road had had her bleeding problem. An Israelite 12, if you will. There are no coincidences with the Lord. These two people, a girl on the brink of womanhood and a woman whose childbearing had come to a tragic end, were linked together in the Mystery whose name is Jesus. Their lives, and their deaths, intersected in this carpenter from Nazareth who happened to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
In these two people – one healed on the road, the other raised from the dead – we get a glimpse at the future, what lies in store for us on the Last Day and what is already ours now by faith in Jesus. Perfect healing, resurrection from the dead. For now we must trust, and cling to the hem of His robe. Soon we will see with our own resurrected eyes, when He reaches down to us in our death and takes us by the hand and wakes us from the sleep of death. “My child, arise.”
It’s all yours in Jesus, and only in Jesus. Your Baptism and the Body and Blood testify to you. In Jesus there is healing. In Him there is life. As Jesus once said to Jairus at the death of his daughter, so He says to each one of you here this morning: “Do not be afraid. Only believe.”
In the name of Jesus,