Monday, July 1, 2024

Asking & Reaching


Mark 5:21-43

Proper 8 / Year B

Once again we find Jesus on the move.  Last week he went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  You recall the storm and the panic.  Today he is returning home and this time with no drama in transit.  But the action picks up as soon as Jesus steps ashore.  He is mobbed… again.  This is why he left in the first place… so many people crowding in on him he doesn’t have even enough space to eat a meal.  Jesus doesn’t need disciples, he needs bouncers and body guards. 

And we get it.  We know how people in need are desperate for remedies.  I once knew this typical Presbyterian couple (i.e., not inclined toward the religious fringes) whose grandchild was born with a severe birth aliment.  Well, of course they had the baby put on the church’s prayer list.  Then various groups in the church began to pray.  Than other churches began to pray.  Eventually, the baby, his parents, and the grandparents were lifted up in prayer by people all over the world.  But the baby’s condition did not improve.  So the grandparents decided to go to a service led by a TV evangelist known for his miraculous healings.  It was an act of desperation.  What they found, you will not be surprised to hear, was a charlatan grifting vulnerable people by hocking all manner of expensive religious items – bibles, clothes, crosses, and the like – said have wonderous powers.

The people who come to Jesus in need come because they know him to be compassionate, not a con artist.  In today’s reading we hear the incredible stories of a well-placed family and of an ostracized woman, each in need of healing.  We are told a leader in the local synagogue falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to visit his ‘little girl’ who is near death.  We get the sense time is of the essence as Jesus sets off with the mob in tow.

There is a woman in the crowd who, we are told, has been suffering from an issue of blood for twelve years, perhaps since on the onset of puberty.  All this time she has been deemed unclean.  Everything she wears, everywhere she sits, any bed on which she lays is rendered unclean.  She has been to every doctor in town, but none can help and we are told some have made her condition even worse. 

But she is a tenacious fighter and she has faith.  She reasons if she merely touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak she will be healed.  And it happens!  One commentator writes we should never refer to her as ‘the woman with the issue of blood’, but as ‘the woman with great faith’ because it is her faith and her determination which defines her, not her illness.  And in this, she reminds me of so many in our midst who have lived with great faith in the face of sickness.

The back-and-forth between Jesus and the woman is so rich and, like many of the details in today’s reading, could be explored for hours and still not be exhausted.  But as they talk, we hear the clock ticking.  Jesus is delayed while he is urgently needed elsewhere.  Our worst fears are confirmed when a group arrives from the leader’s house to inform him his daughter is dead.

It is the worst news any parent can ever receive.  It must be devastating for the father, overwhelming him which shock and grief.  Jesus encourages him, “Do not fear, but believe.”  They get to the house and it is a chaotic scene.  When Jesus announces the little girl is not dead but sleeping, the wailing of the mourners turns into derision.  Jesus has makes himself incredibly vulnerable.  He risks ridicule and the ruin of his ministry.

He leaves the mob behind and lets only the parents and three close followers join him in the house.  The mood of the story changes.  They have left the bedlam behind and entered into a bedroom marked by peace and serenity.  We can almost hear the tenderness in Jesus’ voice as he takes the child by the hand and says, “Little girl, get up” and then “give here something to eat.”

As I said, these stories are so rich with details there are dozens of different ways to explore them.  Here is the thing I keep coming back to – how Jesus is approached for help.  The synagogue leader outright begs Jesus to help his daughter, just like the times when we ask for help for ourselves or for others.  Knowing when you are in over your head, out of your element, and/or overmatched is a sign of personal maturity (self-awareness), never weakness.

Then there is the woman with great faith.  She doesn’t ask for help, rather reaches out for the help she needs.  If she can but touch it, grasp it her hands, she knows what to do with it.  She believes it will make all the difference.  And remember the detail about all the local doctors.  It tells us she had been reaching out for the last twelve years, only not to the person who truly has what she needs. 

We all have needs in life.  We all know and love folks who are in need.  Remember the two stories we hear this morning and consider on what guidance either might have to offer you.

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