Sermon - 1st July 2012
Jairus's daughter & the woman with a haemorrhage
Scripture - Mark 5
Rev Andy Braunston
Our readings today both concern death. The words from the Wisdom of Solomon affirm that death is not God’s creation but that it is a result of human sin. Our Gospel reading gives us a glimpse into the pain of a father on losing his daughter as well as the living death of the woman with the haemorrhage. These two healing stories are entwined together just after another story of healing – that of the man possessed by many demons. The compiler of St Mark’s gospel liked to put stories together in groups of three – maybe this was a precursor of the three-point sermon!
The stories of healing are interesting as they are set in a world which had only rudimentary medicine. Whilst the Romans were aware of the need for hygiene and linked dirt with disease, their surgical skills were, at best, basic and we can easily forget that antibiotics only came into widespread use after the Second World War. In an age before widespread freely available medicine, disease of any kind was dreaded and could often prove fatal. Recently I helped send some money to Africa to pay for a simple operation for a young boy whose lung needed some surgery. He had received good basic health care but, in his country, anything beyond basic nursing care has to be paid for – his family had no money so they were waiting for him to die. His life was saved for just £80. No amount of money, however, would have helped Jairus’ daughter or the unnamed woman with the haemorrhage in today’s Gospel reading.
Despite all our advances in health care death, the old enemy, is the one thing that none of us can avoid. It’s interesting that we all face death ourselves, yet rarely talk about it. We all have been bereaved but our culture shies away from discussing the complexity of emotions that surround this most basic of all human experiences. Death brings so many emotions in its wake – the initial shock of hearing someone has died, the regrets that may follow, the anger and then the grieve which, seems to me, comes in waves and often when we least expect it.
The passage from Wisdom may be unfamiliar to us. It comes from a collection of books which are often called the Apochrypha. They were Jewish devotional books written before Jesus’ time and in popular use then. When the Old Testament was translated into Greek these books were included but they weren’t in the Hebrew versions that were around at the time. As the Church grew in its understanding of Scripture it used the Greek version of the Old Testament and so these books were included in the list of authoritative books used by Christians. By the time of the Reformation scholarship had realised they weren’t included in the Hebrew Bible and so the Reformers held them not to be authoritative. Of course this was a propaganda coup for the Catholics who made much of the fact that the Protestants were busy kicking books out of the Bible! Now they are found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles but not in most Protestant Bibles. The compilers of the Lectionary were ecumenical and so include passages from them from time to time.
The passage, to me, seems to very sensitively reflect on the mystery of death and why we die when God created a perfect creation. The writer’s answer is to realise that God did not intend for us to die but that human sin led to death. It’s an extension of the creation myths in Genesis which also note that death came into the world as a result of human sin. There is a hint in the first sentence that God also feels pain from death.
Jairus clearly feels pain, his daughter is mortally ill, there are no medicines or doctors that can help and, it seems, they are just waiting for the end. He comes to find Jesus as, in the ancient world, holy men were felt to have the power to heal and, even if Jesus had turned out to be just another charlatan, what had Jairus to lose? So he goes and asks Jesus to help. Mark then inserts this story of the woman with the haemorrhage into the story and I can’t help thinking if I were Jairus I’d be hurrying Jesus along – “stop asking who touched you, my daughter is dying!”
But the woman has her own needs. Like Jairus she was trying her luck to see if this latest holy man could help and heal her. She is ashamed – in Biblical times shame was attached to women when menstruating. A woman who bled continuously was ritually unclean, unable to take part in the life of her religious community, kept ostracised by men who were to have no contact with her during this time of impurity. So, cut off from her community, full of fear at being shunned for her impurity she reaches out and touches Jesus. Imagine how awful she would have felt when Jesus asked who touched him. Women who were bleeding were not allowed to touch men – it made them ritually unclean too. So now she has her own shame and the risk that she’d be humiliated for making Jesus ritually unclean too.
I have no idea why Jesus spun round and asked who touched him. He felt the power go out of him, realised someone was in need but his question does rather raise the tension. Maybe he wanted to speak directly to this woman, to reassure her that all would be well. But, for her, it must have been a terrifying few moments.
Jesus reassures her that her faith has made her well. In healing her Jesus restores her to the community and to faith – no longer ritually unclean all the time she can take part in the communal life of her people. After this brief few verses she drops out of the story. We don’t hear of her again – we don’t hear much about her anyway as her name isn’t mentioned – and the story shifts back to Jairus and his daughter.
We can just feel the despair of this poor man. His last hope was this faith healer – maybe if he hadn’t spent so much time with the woman he might have got back to the house quicker. When they get near the house the professional mourners are in full swing making lots of noise and drawing attention to themselves and the father is just asked to trust.
Healing Then and Now
As we heard in the story, the trust Jairus had in Jesus’ paid off and his daughter was restored to life. A hallmark of Jesus’ ministry is healing – as we’ve seen part of the expectation of holy people was that they could heal. In a world without effective medicine healing was vitally important and desperately needed. That’s not to say that Jesus doesn’t heal now or that healing is any less important. We still get ill, we still need to find healing to the myriad number of diseases and illnesses that beset us in life but now realise that God works through the skill of scientists, nurses and doctors to effect healing. I remember at my theology college a rather liberal tutor told a class full of charismatic evangelicals that he firmly believed God could heal but didn’t like to bother God to heal a headache when, in his great mercy, he’d invented paracetamol! It’s good to remember that God works through all those who professionally bring about healing – and it’s good to remember that healing is vital for us not just physically but mentally and emotionally. Our full healing won’t happen in this life; we live in a flawed and imperfect world so our healing waits until the Kingdom comes but we can live with signs of that Kingdom in our own lives and in our church.
As Christians we seek to embody healing in our lives as a sign of the Kingdom. I don’t mean the miraculous healing that is so often hyped by so many churches, but a more gentle – but no less powerful – healing that is effected as our self-esteem improves from the wounds that are so often inflicted upon it. We find, and create, healing as we build a church which cares about each other, which bears each other’s burdens and which truly values the other. We create a healing community as we grow together in our faith, as we reach out to those in need around us and as we seek to live by the values of the Kingdom. We find healing in the midst of pain and illness as we gain the strength to bear our infirmities.
Healing is a hallmark of the Kingdom. In the Gospel we see the Kingdom breaking into our world with acts of power and miraculous healing. Now the Kingdom continues to break in, with healing as a clear sign of that in-breaking movement of God’s love. Now, however, Jesus requires us to help create communities of health, wholeness and of healing – the part is ours to play.