Fifth after Pentecost (Proper8B2) Mark 5: 21-43
Two miraculous healings folded in together in the gospel reading this morning.
The President of the local synagogue comes to Jesus in deep distress. His beloved daughter! Whatever ordinary medical or healing practices they had available to them have failed, and now there’s nothing left to do but this. Must seem like the longest of long-shots. To seek out the famous rabbi who is rumored to have these extraordinary powers. These healings, exorcisms—could any of it possibly be true?
“Please come, Jesus. Do something. Anything. If you can. Touch her, so that she may live.”
They all rush off at once to the place where the girl is. And then, along the way, as they are rushing with a sense of medical crisis, a life-or-death situation, this second story, a story within a story. The hemorrhaging woman. With this illness that renders her ritually unclean according to the Law. For years and years. A chronic condition. A perpetual estrangement. A cloud of judgment. A devastating curse. Unable to interact with her husband or her children or her parents, or her neighbors and old friends. Isolated. Taboo. Just to think of that—the emotional, psychological, spiritual isolation.
She sees Jesus coming down the street, and she’s heard the stories too--and as he passes by she steps into the crowd. And here she crosses a line that could be fatal. We hear about these things and we’ve seen them in the honor killings in Afghanistan and Pakistan. If caught, to be beaten, perhaps stoned to death. Just to say, this is a last ditch effort. All or nothing. And she reaches out, touches his garments. And immediately she healed.
So: Jesus stops, as we see, not to accuse and condemn, but to speak with her, gently, and even to bless her, to send her on her way. Remarkable. And then, as they get moving again, messengers come to report that the effort is too late, the little girl has died. That it is time now for the family to gather and to prepare her for burial, to begin the customary time of mourning. Despite this news, Jesus continues to the home, goes up into the room, as we’ve just heard--says these words, “Talitha cumi,” little girl, get up. And from her deathbed the little girl is healed also, revived, restored to life. And this nice detail here: the family and others are lost in amazement. An echo of the same kindness we’ve just seen with the woman on the road, Jesus says, “Get her something to eat.”
Interesting here, a detail not lost on anybody, and it shouldn’t be, not really a detail at all but a highlight, we notice that both of those who receive the gracious gift of healing in these stories are women, and women who would not ordinarily be the concern of a rabbi like Jesus. One was unclean through her hemorrhage. The other, the little girl, as she has died , is now also unclean--as to touch a dead body was also a violation of the rules of ritual purity. Those around Jesus are concerned about these things in both parts of the story. The woman herself trembles in fear when she is found out, afraid that she will be punished for having put the famous teacher in such an awkward and even scandalous situation. Now he will need to go through the rituals of ceremonial cleansing before he can continue his ministry. Although we don’t see him doing that, as a matter of fact. And the family and friends of the little girl, even that grieving father, try to talk Jesus out of going into the house and up to the room after the word of the girl’s death comes to them.
There is something unexpected, dramatic, bold and overwhelmingly powerful about Jesus here. But not in the drama of his crossing these lines, as though he were making some big point. He doesn’t lecture his disciples or the crowds. There are no trumpets. No loud political challenges to the system of the purity laws. But what is so unexpected, dramatic, powerful is somehow simply that there is this effortless quality of his action. Such a big deal, and he seems not to notice at all. His generosity, his gracious presence, his tenderness, his kindness, all that we see. It just flows freely, genuinely, personally, and in abundance.
We would be invited to step into that abundant love this morning. That’s the take-away. The invitation. The challenge. The breaking-in of God’s Kingdom. That with Jesus there is a foretaste of heaven-on-earth. Emmanuel. God with us.
One by one, person by person. No matter what brokenness may be within us, as certainly there is plenty of that. No matter the uncleanness and impurity of our lives. No matter how great the healing is that we may require. It is here for us. And free. As he is here for us. The woman could hardly believe it, that after all her years of suffering it would be enough just to touch the hem of his robe. The little girl was all the way gone, over the edge, beyond hope, beyond calling-back, and nothing could be done. But in his presence, In the presence of Jesus, there was life. And in the presence of Jesus, as we turn our lives toward him, there is life. All goodness, all gentleness, all blessing, all grace, all mercy. An ocean of his compassion rolls over the desert of human life, and for the Woman on the Road and for the little girl and for us nothing is the same again.
A free gift. The mystery and miracle of the Cross made present and real, the free gift of unexpected and unearned love. Jesus present. For us. A taste of bread and wine. Wherever he was, wherever he is, wherever he will be. Jesus with us. Jesus in us. Jesus among us, and working through us, making our lives his life. A word of blessing. And we are healed. It can be so in Christ. And our lives are made new.