Desperate Faith. Desperate Doubt

January 24, 2016       Mark 5: 21-43

Today we meet a desperate and begging man and a desperate and vulnerable woman and a 12-year-old girl. One is a leader in the synagogue. One is an outcast. One is dying and then dead and then alive again. The search for healing and new life is on in this story, as the wages of death threaten and take their toll.

The man and the woman seek out Jesus who has, by this time, attained celebrity status. We’re only 5 chapters in to the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus has been busy. Busy enough for word to have spread so that no matter where he goes, crowds of people show up on the shores of lakes or out in the wilderness, or in people’s homes.  Here’s just a bit of his reputation in just the first few chapters of Mark:

Even the demons recognize and know him (24).

His preaching is received as new (1:27).

He is criticized for the company he keeps (2:16).

He is opposed by the Pharisees and others who are threatened by what they call blasphemy (2:7).

He is called crazy (3:21).[1]

So this authoritative crazy healing preacher who hangs out with the wrong people is the one they seek for healing.

Now, for the rest of this sermon, I want you to choose your own adventure. Will you be the woman, reaching out to touch Jesus’ cloak? Will you be the synagogue leader, Jairus, the desperate father, falling at Jesus’ feet and begging?  Will you be one of the crowd pressing in on Jesus? Will you be a disciple? Will you be the 12-year-old girl at home, lying in bed, slowly dying.  Choose who you will be. Don’t limit yourself to age or gender or whatever. Just put yourself there. Experience this story through those eyes.

Jairus who is a Synagogue leader, doesn’t send a messenger as would be appropriate for his leadership in the synagogue. He doesn’t meet Jesus eye to eye as equals but instead falls at his feet and begs. Repeatedly, saying My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

He is desperate and perhaps has elbowed and shoved his way through the crowd to throw himself at the mercy of Jesus and beg him to come to his home to save his 12-year-old daughter from dying. Hurry! We’ve got to go! You’re my last hope!

Of course, crowds don’t cooperate. They don’t move like you want them to move. You want them to get out of your way when it’s time to go, right? But Jesus simply presses on with the crowd, following Jairus. He doesn’t break away from the crowd to run. They simply press on, moving forward. Just imagine the crush of people, the jostling of bodies continuing as they yell out to Jesus to be healed, to listen to them, to just touch them. Imagine the arms and the hands reaching out to touch Jesus. Imagine the dirt coming up off the road, the press of bodies, the smell, the noise, the chaos of excitement and desperation, of possibility, of hope.

And then this: Who touched my clothes? Jesus stops walking and begins scanning the crowd, turning around to see who touched his clothes. Is Jesus trying to be funny? Are you kidding? Which is basically the response of his disciples. “How can you say that? Just look at this crowd!” It might be easier to say who hadn’t touched Jesus’ clothes at that point.

And as Jesus turns about in the crowd, the woman comes forward. The hemorrhaging woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. Which meant she was deemed unclean and couldn’t touch other people, couldn’t live her life normally like anybody else. Essentially, she’d lived the last 12 years as an outcast. Disregarded. Forgotten. Alone. As if she were dead. Perhaps an annoyance, a burden on society. And she saw her chance, having made it close enough to Jesus to reach out and touch him, saying to herself, “If I can just get close enough to touch him, I will finally be well!”

Just think of all the people she touched on her way toward Jesus, making them unclean.  I wonder if people got mad, if they knew who she was. Or if she was a ghost to them. But what choice did she have? This was her chance for healing, if it was true what they said about Jesus! So she approaches Jesus and falls to her feet, kneeling before him, and tells him the whole truth.

We don’t know what the whole truth is. Did she tell him of the last 12 years, living with this bleeding that wouldn’t stop? Did she tell him what it was like to live this way, to be shuffled from doctor to doctor and then to finally resign herself to live this way – as an outcast, as not fit for human touch, for life? Did she tell him how awful it was, how frustrated and sad she was? How cut off she was, how this was no way to live.  We don’t know, of course. But we do know she tells him the whole truth, and when you’ve been regarded as the walking dead for 12 years, well then, it’s more than a simple report. It involved the whole of her life, the whole of her broken heart. The whole truth.

Jesus says to her, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

And as these words are leaving his lips, new word has come. People have made their way into the crowd to find Jairus to call off the procession to the house. It’s too late. Your daughter is dead, they say. Imagine the ripple effect through the crowd as the news spreads that Jairus’ daughter is dead. Jesus hears the murmurings, he hears the report and looks Jairus in the eyes and says, “do not fear, only believe.”

It is then that Jesus shakes loose of the crowd. Which I find frustratingly comical. Now that the girl is dead, well, let’s get a move on! He takes 3 of the disciples with him and off they go with Jairus. They get to the home and encounter a traditional scene of mourning.

Now people in the first century were familiar with death. There were professional mourners. You were to openly weep and wail at the death of a loved one. They knew what death looked like.  So when Jesus says, “she’s not dead she is only sleeping” – they laugh at him.  They laugh at the crazy preacher healer man who hangs out with all the outcasts.  Only sleeping?! – ha!

It is then that Jesus clears the house all but for the parents of the girl and the disciples and tells her to get up and she does. And then he tells someone to make sure she has something to eat.

And there you have it. Healed and brought back to life. Bam! Talk to the person next to you about your experience of putting yourself in the story. What was it like?

If I were in that crowd and had the chance to tell my whole truth to Jesus, I’d tell him how often I am afraid instead of trusting in him. I’d tell him I need faith and trust with love at the center. Faith and trust in God. Faith and trust in God’s creation. Faith and trust in who God made me to be. I’d tell Jesus that sometimes my ego needs the air let out of it because it’s such a great generator of my fear. I’d tell Jesus the joy I know from him is like no other joy I’ve ever felt in my life. And, since I’m there, on my knees, telling him the whole truth, I’d ask if he could give me 20/20 vision. I’m so tired of glasses.  😉

If you shoved your way through that crowd and made your way to Jesus and fell down on your knees before him, well, what is your whole truth?

Sometimes I think we treat Jesus as a magic 8 ball or a trickster or a convenient savior for Sunday. When in reality, the Jesus we worship, the Jesus we believe and doubt, is the only one who can tell us the whole truth and bring us wholeness. Of course, it doesn’t always look like we want it to look. And even though everyone in today’s reading got what they wanted, we don’t always get what we want, right?

But here’s the deal: Jesus knows our whole truth whether we tell him or not. He knows our brokenness and our loneliness. He knows our need, our deep longing. He knows our deep joys and our deep sorrows. And while it may seem at times that Jesus doesn’t bring the healing we need or want the way we want it – when our spouse or daughter dies anyway – well, Jesus is there in that brokenness too. Part of the heart breaking whole truth of our lives.

Jesus works through the fear and trembling and desperation and begging and doubt of Jairus to bring life to his daughter.

Jesus works through the fear and trembling and faith of the woman hemorrhaging blood to bring her back to life in her own community – to restore her to life.

Jesus works through the empty lungs and still heart and draining blood of a dead 12-year-old girl, with the soundtrack of laughter playing in the background and she breathes again and even has something to eat.

Jesus does this even for us. This isn’t about passing tests and acquiring luxury items as a result of our hard work. This is about new life. This is about changed life. This is about how we will never ever be the same. This is about transformation.

What would you ask Jesus for? Would your voice tremble? Would you be filled with doubt and desperation or filled with faith? Either way, Jesus hears your whole truth and brings you His truth.

And the truth of Jesus is this:

Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.

Do not fear, only believe.

Talitha, cum. Little girl, get up.

[1] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2578

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