Mark 5:21-43 /Proper 5B / 01 July 2012 / Holy Trinity – Hacienda Heights, CA
If you have ever rushed a sick or injured child to the emergency room in the middle of the night, you know what it’s like to be Jairus. Jairus was the synagogue ruler with the very sick little girl who rushed to Jesus and begged Him to come back to his house. You can hear the panic almost leap from the page. “My little girl is dying. Please Lord, come back with me now. Lay your hands on her and heal her. I know you can do it. Please. Hurry!”
There are no ambulances with Mars lamps and sirens to stop the traffic. But there is traffic. Foot traffic. The kind of foot traffic that always seems to dog Jesus wherever he went. People pressing in on Him, pushing and shoving to get close to Him. You might imagine this huge amoeba of a crowd, solid humanity slowly working its way through the narrow streets with Jesus and this panicked father in the middle. You can imagine Jairus’ anxiety as it grow, the way we get anxious when we’re stuck in traffic on the 405 or the 60 in rush hour and we’re already late for appointment. Or worse. The ambulance is stuck in traffic on the way to the emergency room and no one pulls over to get out of the way.
Or even worse. The ambulance stops to help someone else on the side of the road. Which is precisely what happens.
There is a woman who has been sick for twelve years. Twelve years. She has had a hemorrhage, what we might refer to politely today as “female problems.” She’s exhausted her health plan. The doctors have run out of tricks. They’d taken all her money, everything she had, and she got worse. Sometimes the doctors can’t help you, no matter how much they may think they’re God. Sometimes it takes God.
This woman who has been bleeding for twelve years had heard reports about Jesus, this healer from Nazareth who healed all sorts of diseases with just a touch. And she figured, all I need to do is just sneak up behind him and reach out and just touch His robe, just reach out and brush Him as He goes by, and I will be healed. She believed Jesus had the power to do what all the doctors in her world could not do, just as Jairus believed that Jesus could rescue his dying daughter from death when all the doctors could do nothing. Two believers, but only one Jesus.
The woman sneaks up behind Jesus, pushes through the crowd, sticks out her hand, and her fingertips graze His robe. And something amazing happens. She’s healed. Instantly. Immediately the bleeding stopped. Her strength returned. She felt alive and well again for the first time in twelve years.
Jesus stops dead in His tracks, Jairus probably urging Him to go. Quickly. “My daughter is dying. Please.” But Jesus stops, and the amoeba of a crowd stops.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asks. He perceived that power had gone out of Him. He died just a little bit. A little life was taken from Him and He wanted to know who took it. Who was this pickpocket of faith who dared to touch the robe of God? “Who touched me?”
The disciples don’t understand. What do you mean, who touched you? Everyone is touching you? We’re just about being crushed to death by this mob. What do you mean who touched you? But this wasn’t just any touch. This was the touch of one who believed, the touch of faith eager to receive, the touch of one who was broken and destitute and desperate. Jesus needs to know that one. To speak to her. To acknowledge her. Jesus countenances no drive-by healings.
She falls before Him, trembling, afraid, admitting everything. Would He scold her, belittle her, take back that life-giving power that she had stolen from Him? What would He do? He commends her. “Daughter,” He calls her. Daughter. What a beautiful way to speak to her. Not the honorific “woman” the way He addresses His mother, but fatherly, speaking on behalf of His Father. Daughter, go in peace. Your faith has saved you. Your Jesus has saved you. Go and be healed, dear daughter.
But there is still another daughter, Jairus’ daughter, and the delay has proved costly. “Your daughter is dead.” How those words must have stabbed Jairus deep into his heart. Perhaps you’ve heard those words from the doctor who could not save your child. I have witnessed that scene several times in the hospital. You never forget the look of disbelief, denial, shock, anger, confusion. Had this woman not delayed Jesus, maybe, just maybe that little girl might have lived. But now there is no hope. Why bother the Teacher any more?
Yet here, precisely here, when all reasonable hope has run out, when death has had its way, Jesus holds out something more. “Do not fear, only believe.” Trust me. You trusted me when she was sick. Now trust me with her death.
He goes to the house, there’s chaos and commotion, people weeping and wailing. The grief is always greatest for the children. Jesus goes right into the middle of all that grief and sorrow and says the most amazing of things. “Why all the weeping and wailing? She’s not dead but sleeping.” Sleeping! He speaks of death like a sleep, just as he would later say the same thing of Lazarus. Not dead but sleeping. And the people laughed at Him through their tears of grief.
He throws everyone out of the house except for Jairus and his wife and His disciples. He goes to the bed where the little girl lay still and lifeless. He bends down and takes her hand in His hands and calls to her in her mother tongue, in Aramaic. Talitha cumi. Little girl, arise. And she does! She gets up and walks around and tears of grief turn to joy and amazement. She lives! And Mark tells us “she was twelve years old.” Twelve. She was as old as the number of years the woman on the road had suffered from her hemorrhage. Coincidence? I don’t think so. The woman and this girl are tied together in Jesus. And Twelve is a good number, an Israelite number. Two daughters received their health and life from Jesus, and though they probably never met and didn’t know each other, their lives are inextricably bound together in Jesus who is their life and strength and healing.
“Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus says that to each of you here this morning. It’s a personal word, as personal as being baptized individually, by name. You are baptized. It’s as personal as hearing that word of forgiveness spoken over you with hands laid on your head. “I forgive you all of your sins.” It’s as personal as the Bread and the Wine in your mouth. “This is my Body given for you.” “This is my Blood shed for you.” The words “for you” require each and every heart to believe, and they create and sustain the faith those words require.
“Do not fear, only believe.” When your prayers go unanswered for twelve long years and the doctors can do nothing for you except take your money and make you feel worse than ever.
“Do not fear, only believe.” When you look at the fevered face of your sick little child fearing the worst. When you turn your loved one over to the doctors in that long, cold sterile hallway in front of the those double doors where you cannot enter, and you wait those long hours in the waiting room, praying and hoping, and the doctor comes out and tells you that they tried everything they did but it was not enough. Your daughter, your son, your husband, your wife is dead.
“Do not fear, only believe.” When every shred of hope is taken from you, when you are left all alone in your suffering, your pain, your grief. When you look at the record of your life and the litany of commandments you have trampled and the people you have hurt. When you face the reality of your own mortality, your death and all the uncertainty that death brings.
“Do not fear, only believe” When you stand at the grave of your departed loved ones. You miss them so much. The wound of grief never really heals; it just covers over with a scar. The emptiness is never filled, the love is never forgotten. How could it be? Don’t let anyone say to you, “Oh, give it time. You’ll get over it.” You don’t. You get through it, but you never get over it.
Here’s what you need to know and believe. Jesus has conquered Sin and Death for you. He became Sin for you; He died your death for you. He rose from the dead for you. He reigns in highest heaven for you. He comes to you in Baptism, Supper, and Word, humble robes you can touch and be healed. And He will reach down on the Last Day, reach down to where you lie in the sleep of death like Jairus’ little daughter. He will reach down and take your hand and say to you, “My son, my daughter, arise.” And He will raise you as He did Jairus’ little girl, and you will run around for an eternity and He will feed you at His feast forever.
In 1531, Luther’s mother Margaret was stricken ill and not expected to live. Luther had heard of her illness through his brother James, and unable to be there in person, wrote a long and beautiful letter of comfort from a son to his dying mother.
After expressing his sorrow that he cannot be with her in person, Luther tells his mother that this illness of hers is God’s gracious, fatherly chastisement. “It is quite a slight thing in comparison with what he inflicts upon the godless, and sometimes even upon his own dear children.” He counsels that she should accept her illness with thankfulness “as a token of God’s grace, recognizing how slight a suffering it is, even if it be a sickness unto death, compared with the sufferings of His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who did not suffer for himself, as we do, but for us and our sins.”
Luther reminds her that Christ alone is the basis and foundation of her salvation, on which she must rest her entire confidence, “for He is the Savior and is called the Savior of all poor sinners, of all who face tribulation and death, of all who rely on him and call on his name.” He reminds her that Jesus has said, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world,” and if the world then also the devil, sin, and Death itself. He encourages her to rejoice and be glad, especially when frightened or sorrowful, and say, “Behold, dear soul, what are you doing? Dear Death, dear Sin, how is t that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome? Do you, Death, not know that you are quite dead? Do you know know the One who as said of you, ‘I have overcome the world’? It does not behoove me to listen to or heed your terrifying suggestions. I shall pay attention only the cheering words of my Savior, ‘Be of good cheer, be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” He is the conqueror, the true Hero, who in these words, ‘Be of good cheer,’ gives me the benefit of his victory. I shall cling to him. To His words and comfort I shall hold fast. Whether I remain here or go yonder, He will not forsake me. You would like to deceive me with your false terrors, and with your lying thoughts you would like to tear me away from such a Conqueror and Savior. But they are lies, as sure as it is true that he has over come you and commanded us to be comforted.” (Letters, 34-35).
Luther reminds her that Christ stands as her mediator and bishop of her soul, her throne of grace, and He is daily interceding and reconciling all who call upon HIm and believe in Him. He is not the grim judge, except for the unbeliever, but He is the Intercessor whose death reconciles her to the Father.
He puts her in mind of her Baptism and the Sacrament. “To such knowledge, I say, God has graciously called you. In the Gospel, in Baptism, and in the Sacrament you possess His sign and seal of this calling, and as long as you hear him addressing you in these, you will have no trouble or danger.” We can accomplish nothing against sin, death, and the devil by our own works. But Christ has accomplished it all for us and bids us to be joyful and of good cheer even in our death.
And finally, a tender parting blessing from son to mother. “The Father and God of all consolation grant you, through his holy Word and Spirit, a firm, joyful, and thankful faith to overcome this and all other trouble. May you taste and experience that what he Himself says is true: Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world. Herewith I commit your body and soul to His mercy. All your children and my Katie pray for you. Some weep. Others say when they eat, “Grandmother is very sick. God’s grace be with us all. Amen.” Your loving son. Martin.
In 1542, Luther wrote an introduction and commentary to a collection of burial hymns for the congregation at Wittenburg. He writes:
But we Christians, who have been redeemed from all this by the dear blood of the Son of God, should by faith train and accustom ourselves to despise death and to regard it as a deep, strong, and sweet sleep, to regard the coffin as nothing but paradise and the bosom of our Lord Christ, and the grave as nothing but a soft couch or sofa, which it really is in the sight of God; for he says, John 11, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep,” and Matthew 9, “The girl is not dead but sleeping.”
My dear friends in Christ, Jesus has atoned for all of your sins. Jesus has conquered your death. You are baptized into Him and in Him you have life and strength and peace and joy and healing. In life, in sickness, in death, do not fear; only believe.
In the name of Jesus,