I love this story in Mark – these two stories actually. I have loved them since I was a child. I love that girls/women are featured. I love the way Jesus encounters those he meets. I love the play of story interwoven with story. I love the tension and the resolution. But before we get to that…
Let’s begin this way. I’d like to invite you to imagine yourself at 12 years old. Children, you might want to imagine what’s it will be like to be 12. Or think of people in your life who are around that age – in our congregation that would be Liam and Seth and Luis. Some of us might need to remember waaaay back.
The year that I was twelve, 22 year ago, just before I turned 13, my family moved from a small town in middle of nowhere Saskatchewan to Amman, Jordan, a city of over 3 million people in the middle of the middle east. From a slow-paced nothing-happening town to a region embroiled in the first gulf crisis and centuries of political strife and turmoil. I don’t know how much more contrast in culture would be possible. It’s fair to say I thought my life was over. What 12-year-old wants to be uprooted from friends and community and life. I didn’t even know that Jordan was a country before that. I had never been on a plane. In retrospect, I have to say that it was actually a whole new beginning for me of learning the see the world with new eyes, encounter the other, learn about a world of culture, feel the reality of what had been an abstraction on the radio.
The girl in our story, of course, really is at the edge of death. She is, in many ways on the edge of more than death. At 12, she is on the edge of adulthood. In our congregation when kids turn 12, that’s when we pair them with a mentor. So you kids who are 10 or 11 you might already begin to think about that. We do that because we recognize that at 12, young people are ready to have some adult relationships that are not with their parents, that they are becoming people of faith in their own right and a mentor can be a person to help guide them in that. In Jewish tradition boys become Bar Mitzvah at 13. Jairus’ daughter would not have undergone that ritual, but her body will be going through its own passage. She is changing and body will soon, if she is not already, be ready to bear and birth children. She will be ready to be married. Wrapped up in this young lady is unrealized potential for not only her own life but the new life that she might bear.
When we first hear of her it is in a crowd of people from the mouth of a desperate father. I wonder about what it took for this man to approach Jesus. Jesus would have been well known by then for his healing by then. It is likely for this reason that he is in the press of the crowd. But this is a prominent man in the synagogue. And since the synagogue was the center of civic life, it likely meant he was not only a religious leader but a community leader as well. He could afford doctors and treatments. And it might have been embarrassing for him to seek Jesus’ help so publically and so blatantly.
He comes begging for help on behalf of his ‘little daughter.’ Think of a time when you have been sick or badly hurt. Who took care of you and what did they do? Make you soup? Give you medicine or put on a bandage? Bring you to the hospital or to the doctor? Parents, think of what you would do for your child and how it feels to have a kid who’s sick. Some of you might remember when Naomi was about 1 and a half and here at the Ten Thousand Villages sale I left her in the nursery alone for about 30 seconds – which was enough time for her to find the scalding cup of coffee on the counter and spill it all down her front. Susan drove us to the doctor’s office and then to the emergency room because Joe was traveling and Gwen Angel was the first person who we encountered in the Harborview emergency room. That was certainly a time of desperation, guilt, panic…and I knew I wasn’t dealing with a fatal injury. I was worried about my injured child but I never thought she was in danger of death.
It is difficult to imagine how much pain and despair Jairus would have been feeling for his little daughter – on the verge of womanhood yet still his baby girl. In that context illness and sin are all jumbled up together – maybe he’s even wondering if there’s something that he’s done to cause this illness in his daughter.
Jesus reassures him. ‘Fear not,’ Jesus says, ‘but believe.’ Not easy words for a father who has just heard people from his house tell him, ‘your daughter has died. Why trouble the teacher any longer.’ But Jesus pays no attention to that report. Nor does he trouble himself with the many mourners who are already assembled in a chaos and cacophony of weeping and wailing. (Likely some of these were hired mourners, since it was a common practice for the well-off to fill out the assembly with professionals.) When they laugh at Jesus for saying, ‘why do you weep and wail. The girl is only sleeping,’ he throws them out. The text states it somewhat genteelly, ‘he puts them out’ but that word is quite forceful the same one that we see when he casts out evil spirits. He will have none of it.
Jesus’ approach to the girl is everything we want a care-giver to be in our illness. Remember those bowls of soup that mom brings? The gentle touch? That is Jesus to the young girl. He takes her hand and speak gently, ‘little girl, get up.’ And she does! She gets up and she’s ready for the bowl of soup – Jesus asks her parents to get her something to eat. She is really alive and she is ready for life. At twelve years old, her life is just beginning.
In a similar way, the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak is beginning a new life after 12 years of what must, to her, feel like death. Talk about fear desperation. She is desperate enough to sneak through the crowd like a pick-pocket at that chance that the famous healer can heal her. She is psyching herself up for it…she ‘kept saying to herself, ‘if I only touch his garment’.” She is desperate enough to reach out to this healer while he is in conversation with an esteemed religious and political figure. Two desperate and disparate situations – the girl and the woman. Here is a woman who, although in the fullness of womanhood, is unable to marry or have children or a normal life because of her ailment. She was unable to participate in a life of worship and religious ritual because her ‘flow of blood’ made her ritually unclean. The girl was from family at the center of religious and civic life. The woman may have had money once but had spend everything. The girl’s family is moneyed and well situated.
Mark puts these stories together, in tension with each other but with Jesus at the center. How does Jesus respond to the woman? To the girl and her father? His response to each is personal and intimate, specific and salvific. He saves them – but each according to what she needs.
To Jesus, the girl’s death really is no more than sleep. In his view, under God’s resurrection power, death is no more terminal than sleep. In fact, in the new testament ‘to fall asleep’ was the terminology used for death. (Thess. 5:10) That even ‘asleep’ we live with Christ. Healing the girl is private – only a few of his disciples are with him, the crowd is put out, he orders silence. Although the social situation of a 12 year old girl in ancient Palestine is likely much different than that of a 12 year old girl in Seattle, I can only imagine the social stigma of being known as the girl who was dead. I don’t think anyone will want to marry the girl who was dead.
To the woman, Jesus makes her healing public. He could have let it go, but be broadcasts her surreptitious touch. In doing so, everyone there, that whole pressing crowd, knows that she is healed, restored, can be returned to a normal life – maybe marriage? Children? And he calls her daughter! She is adopted by Jesus, named as God’s child and full of faith. Now she is as much a child of the community as Jairus’ precious ‘little daughter.’ Jesus has just spoken about who are the true children of God’s reign, who are his mother and his sisters and his brother. We heard Weldon speak to that a few weeks ago. Jesus’ family members are those who follow him. This daughter’s faith leads her to follow. It was her initiative that led to healing and Jesus names that too. She needs this public recognition in a way the little daughter does not.
Jesus meets each of these young women in their need and makes them whole. Imagine yourself again at 12 – or think about the 12-year-old you hold inside you. The awkward and isolated one, the child-like one, the one just beginning. If you are a child, or even if you are not, think about the ways that you hurt and bleed – physically or in your heart. How do you want to reach out to Jesus? What do you want to ask? And how would you like Jesus to respond to you?
May you reach out to Jesus and be reached by him.
May you overcome your fear to find healing.
May you be called the precious sons and daughters of God.