A sermon on Mark 5:21-43 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 14 October 2018
In our passage today, we see Jesus back on the western shore of lake Galilee in Jewish territory. You might remember from last week that Jesus had gone to the eastern shore, after a long day of teaching the people. He had ridden a storm, just to set one man free from the demons infesting him, and left him to tell his friends and neighbours what the Lord had done for him. Jesus didn’t stay to heal other people. He didn’t start his own preaching tour. He healed one man and let him loose to tell his tale.
This is what one person’s life meant to Jesus. This is what one person set free can do to advance the kingdom of God. It’s the best advertising – word of mouth. One satisfied customer telling the world what God has done for him.
But after that one brief encounter, Jesus crossed the lake again. And again a large crowd gathered around him beside the sea. When a man named Jairus came to him. Jairus was one of the rulers of the synagogue in the town and he fell on his knees in front of Jesus. He begged him over and over. “My daughter is dying. Come and lay your hands on her so she may be healed and live.”
That’s faith, isn’t it? When other synagogue leaders had turned against Jesus, Jairus turned to Jesus. When others would have been too proud, he knelt on the ground in front of everyone. He simply believed that if anyone could bring his daughter back from the brink of death, it was Jesus. And that was more important to him than his reputation or his dignity. So Jesus went with him and the crowd followed him.
In fact, the crowd was so large and confined to such narrow streets on the way to Jairus’ house, that it pressed against Jesus on every side. And it was at that moment that a woman took her chance. We don’t know her name. She passes into Jesus’ story and passes out again so quickly that we barely know anything about her. What we do know is that she had been sick for a long time. I hate being sick for twelve minutes. But she had lived with her haemorrhage for twelve years. It would have left her tired and lethargic. What’s worse is that she had been to the doctor, but the doctor’s treatment had only left her poorer and sicker. And what’s even worse, is that under the Old Testament law, she would have been ceremonially unclean. Like she had touched a dead body. Like she had leprosy. And she wouldn’t have been allowed to worship at the temple.
Her faith in human beings had been tested and worn out. But she had faith in Jesus. Not a lot of faith by human standards. Not enough faith to make a fuss. Not enough faith to stand in front of Jesus and ask him to stop. Not enough faith to take up his time telling him her problems. But enough faith to believe that if she only touched him, if she only touched his coat she would be healed. And she was. She sensed his power coming into her, damming the flow of blood at its source and making her well.
Jesus sensed the power going out of him as well. He stopped and turned around as the flow of the crowd wanted to keep sweeping him along. “Who touched me?” he asked. His disciples were incredulous. “What do you mean, “Who touched me?” Can’t you see the crowd? Everyone is touching you?”
But Jesus knew his gift, how it could be accessed and what it could do. Someone had reached out to him in faith and the Spirit at work in him had responded in healing. He looked around and saw the woman who had done it. She became afraid and started to tremble. She had wanted to avoid a scene, and against her will a scene was starting to form. She came and fell in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth. As Romans chapter 10 says, she had believed in her heart. Now she had to confess with her mouth and be saved.
Jesus spoke to her kindly, wanting to reassure her. “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be healed of your complaint.”
Wanting not to delay Jesus, the woman had caused a delay, and some of the Jairus’ household came to tell him that his daughter had died and that Jesus was not needed anymore. She had passed beyond his power and will. This is how we experience death. It is more than a boundary or a doorway to another place. It is a high and forbidding wall, keeping the living out and the dead in. It is the point of no return.
But Jesus is Lord. Lord of the storm. Lord over the kingdom of evil. Lord of the living and the dead. And Jesus could see at that moment that he was needed more than ever. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus said to Jairus, “only believe.”
Jairus only had to learn the lesson from the encounter between Jesus and the woman. She had only needed faith. She had not needed a long speech. She had not even needed Jesus’ permission or conscious attention. The Spirit at work in him was more than capable of knowing what she needed. Her unspoken thought was her request. Her plan to reach out and touch his coat was based on her confidence in his power. Jairus had already shown this kind of faith in Jesus. Jesus was on the way to do for him what he had asked. He only needed the faith not to give up when he needed it most.
They came to the house. It was time for the crowd to come no further. Only Peter, James and John, the inner circle of three disciples, were allowed into the house with Jesus and the girl’s father. Jesus saw the weeping and the wailing of the people in the house. “Why are you crying,” he asked. The girl is not dead, but only sleeping.”
And they laughed at him. We shouldn’t be surprised. They hadn’t been in the boat when he calmed the storm. They hadn’t been on the eastern shore when he cast out the legion of demons. They hadn’t known what the woman on the street had been suffering, and what Jesus’ gift had healed her of. They thought Jesus was either mad or insensitive. And probably both.
It is not surprising. But it is the exact opposite of the faith they needed at that very moment. There was no room for them or their unbelief in the house. Jesus sent them away and took with him the four who were already with him plus the girl’s mother and went into the room where the girl lay still. Was she only sleeping, as Jesus had said? Or was she dead? Both are just the same to the Lord who doesn’t see death as a wall that can keep him out. He took the girl’s hand and said to her “Little girl, get up.” And she woke up and got up like she’d only been asleep. She started walking around. She wasn’t a little baby. She was twelve years old. She’d been alive for as long as the woman who met Jesus on the road had been sick. Both had been made well by the power of Jesus to the astonishment of all.
What we see here is that even after five chapters of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus was still able to surprise those who thought they knew him best. Neither of the healings was normal. The first healing did not conform to the general pattern that we see in the Gospel. Which is that someone has a problem, they come to Jesus for help, Jesus responds to their faith and makes them well. The woman didn’t ask. Jesus made no conscious decision to help her. All she did was reach out and touch him. And the Spirit of God responded to her faith. All she had was faith. It was not faith in herself. It wasn’t the power of positive thinking. She didn’t get well because she was determined to and didn’t give up. She got well because she knew that the God at work in Jesus could make her well and because she trusted him to do his will.
If the first healing shows what faith can do, the second healing shows what Jesus can do. The little girl had no faith of her own. She had gone beyond all faith and doubt. But to Jesus the boundary of death is just a line in the sand that he can cross at will. The dead are not beyond him. They are not lost. They haven’t passed on. To Jesus they are only asleep. The God who gave them life can restore it. The God who made them can remake them. And so at the boundary between life and death, faith has nothing to do with the stages of grief. Faith isn’t a denial of death. Faith isn’t bargaining with God to prevent death. Faith isn’t an acceptance of death’s reality. Faith is trusting in the God who created life not death. Faith is trusting in the God at work in Jesus Christ who lived and died and lives again for us so that death would not have the last word.
I mean, God isn’t greedy. He just wants what belongs to him. And he says of the living, “I made you. All of you belong to me.” And he says of the dead, “All of you are mine too.”
To us, death is a wall. It keeps us out and it keeps the dead in. The dead are beyond human justice and human comfort. But they are not beyond God’s justice. The wicked are only asleep and they will be made to stand to answer for their crimes, for breaking faith with those who trusted them, for abusing the poor and the defenseless, and for perverting justice. Every wrong will be put right on God’s great day.
But neither are the dead beyond God’s comfort. And those who have trusted Christ and been washed of their wickedness and received his life and fallen asleep in him will wake up to his eternal blessing. For death will not have the final say, nor can it hold us against our Lord’s will. Do not be afraid. Only believe.