Mark 5: 21-43
Have you ever been to a cocktail party with a doctor? I have. I married one. Perhaps the only thing more riveting than a party with a physician is a cocktail party with both a physician and his minister wife. Basically, every time we go out, there is a 90% chance we are either going to hear about someone’s irritating mole, or someone’s irritating pastor, sometimes both. The only time it is truly unbearable is when we are talking with an irritating pastor about his irritating mole! Never mind the fact that Rob doesn’t know much about moles, he is a radiologist. And clearly, I do not represent every pastor, of every church, in every denomination of all time. But folks have expectations and needs. If a person is sick, they seek a physician. Isn’t that what the gospel says (Luke 5:31)?
If you want to understand how good it must have felt for JESUS to float away in a boat from the crowds of people who needed him, imagine being trapped by a woman named Betty Becker in a corner at a cocktail party, while your husband (whom you used to trust) refuses to save you. Selfishly he’d rather you talk about Jesus than subject himself to a deep dive on Betty’s persistent mole. Betty was like that little lady in the Poltergeist movie, 4 feet 7 inches, popping up when you least expect her, attempting to draw you into the light with her little voice. “Now Lori”, she states, “I have had a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus for over 30 years now, and Heis telling me that I should ask you if you have been saved?”
‘Uh oh,’ I panic to myself, ‘where’s Rob?’
“Thank you, Yes Ma’am,” I politely mumbled, “I have.”
“And when was that exactly?”
‘Oh, Heaven help me,’ I think. It was a cocktail party, which means I had had a cocktail, which meant I would be neither polite enough nor silent enough. I look up. ‘Wait,’ I notice, ‘is that Rob laughing at me?’
I mouthed the words over Betty’s tall hair, “HELP ME!”
Then, I went back down with Betty to have that fun, party conversation on grace (by faith alone) and salvation, starting with; “actually, yes Ma’am I was saved a long time ago, around 33 ad or so.” I was very polite and patient, but she promptly proceeded to explain why my ordination was invalid, according to the laws of scripture. After all, ‘women are commanded to support and obey our husbands’ (her words not mine).
It is true I know folks who may align their households or their theology a bit more with Betty, but Margaret Towner, the 1st female pastor in our denomination, was ordained 62 years ago and clearly, God didn’t plan on that being the end of it. According to the Board of Pensions, PCUSA there are actually more female seminary graduates than male within our denomination.
We still have plenty of work to do. Of all our solo and senior pastorates, only 25% or so are held by women. Also, within our largest congregations, those with more than 1000 members, just less than 8% of them employ a female head of staff. So polite or not, you may wonder how my conversation with Betty ended.
Well, God bless Betty. In spite of herself, sheexpectedGod to show up. She was committed to working through some things regarding her faith, and her mole. Isn’t that what we all do in one-way or another? We expect God to show up. Perhaps God was doing what God does too; confronting our narrow-minded rules, doctrines, and assumptions about what it means to be faithful. In Mark’s gospel, we also find a huge crowd expecting Jesus, and at least two of them were in desperate need.
We all know how this goes. The first thing you or a loved one does after a cancer diagnosis is ‘Google’ survival rates against doctor’s orders. Then, you consider the options, create a health care plan of action, and stay the course in good faith. If plan A doesn’t work, adjust the expectations and move to plan B. If Plan B doesn’t work, shift expectations and move to Plan C. If that doesn’t work, drop to your knees in earnest hope and pray for a miracle. According to those survival rates, and how our bodies respond, some of us die, and some live, until we eventually die too. From dust we have come and to dust we shall return (Genesis 3:19). But to claim that one is healed by God’s miraculous touch, while the other is left to suffer, points to a pretty maniacal God.
If we are honest, these healing stories of Jesus uncover a deep, hidden grave of doubt; doubt that is otherwise buried in logical, common sense, and good old-fashioned skepticism. Jesus releases a man from the possessive chains of demons and mental illness. Jesus rubs a salve of spit and mud on the eyes of a man who was blind but now can see. A crippled man is walking the walk, and so now he talks the talk too! Ten lepers are leaping, because they were healed. And to top them all, our brother Lazarus stumbles out of the tomb, four days dead, looking a little worse for wear, but breathing. Are they metaphors or hokus pokus? Maybe Jesus is a superhero.
The truth is, plans A, B, and C have all failed for both Jairus and the woman. Now they have two things in common; their profound need, and their faith in Jesus’ power to heal. Nothing reminds us of our humanity and God’s divinity more than staring death in the face. As much as Jesus’ healings are intimate gifts of compassion Jürgen Moltmann is right when he insists that, together with the proclamation of the Word, Jesus’ healing and miracles are the most important testimony to the dawning of God’s Kingdom on Earth. 3.
There is a deep and eternal truth that is far more profound than anything we can explain or prove or manipulate for our own personal gain. But, it is so much easier to dismiss this truth than face the fact that we need God to intercede in our lives. We haven’t got it under control. We don’t know it all. We actually do need help. Come to find out, we are not gods after all. Look, I don’t blame Jairus. It’s been 12 years of joy and prosperity for this family. His daughter isn’t quite a teenager, which means she is still sweet to her daddy! Now he is experiencing his worst nightmare and would do anything to save her. What parent wouldn’t?
Jairus expected God to show up, and to do what God had always done, but he also knew people. He was connected and respected, righteous and faithful. He knew how to navigate the crowd and how the system worked. He was a leader. He had access. Sure, he benefitted from the way things functioned, but Jairus had faith! You know what his Instagram account looked like: #BLESSED # BLESSED NOT STRESSED. # BLESSED WITH THE BEST# BLESSED BEYOND BELIEF!
So we ask ourselves, ‘how can something like this, happen to a guy like that?’ Makes no sense, he did everything right. You know that saying, ‘Let Go and Let God?’ Jairus didn’t buy it for one second. He knew neither silence nor politeness would get him what he needed. Scripture says he implored Jesus. He didn’t exactly beg him, Jairus instructed and entreated Jesus. He called on Jesus with a specific purpose, in earnest and with power (parakalei). Jairus dropped to his knees and told Jesus the way it was going to go. He said, ‘I know you will, Jesus, because I know you can!’ Man, that’s a bold prayer! Maybe we expect it from a guy like Jairus. It seems like his hope and God’s will are lining up, which in many ways is Moltmann’s idea of what a miracle is all about (Moltmann, 190).
Jesus and Jairus were on their way. Things were moving according to plan, except for this one huge problem; a lady without a name interrupts and steals Jesus’ healing power right out from under Him! Without permission or invitation, she sideswipes the edge of his cloak. She didn’t ask. She didn’t apologize. He felt the power leave his body! And I want to stop right here to tell this woman that not only is this interruption a bit impolite, it’s downright unladylike, improper really, against the rules, all the rules. Every woman (especially from the south) knows what I mean, and perhaps a few more men in Hollywood should consider this little rule: it is unacceptable to touch, much less take, that which does not belong to you.
My mom has imparted many more life lessons than rules, upon my sisters and me but God bless her, she is the ONLY reason I have any manners at all. According to her, if you walk through the china section at the Belk Department Store, you have three choices: 1. You may slide your hands into your pockets and keep them there. 2. You may clasp both hands firmly behind your back. 3. She will stare at you like the devil is coming through her eyeballs to burn your fingers off. ‘Young ladies keep their hands to themselves,’ and I passed this little gem right along to my children along with all these other rules: Wait your turn. Don’t talk back. Ask permission. Don’t insert yourself where you don’t belong. Do not lose your temper, and always, always, say please, thank you, yes Ma’am and no Sir! As a long distance runner, I about sent her over the edge the day I raced in a big high school track meet and spit right on the track in front of all the spectators. When I got home that night she asked, “Lori, was that really necessary, young ladies don’t spit?’She had a point, it was pretty gross, but a girl has to do what a girl has to do.
As Professor Emerson Powery puts it, this woman in the crowd is downright bodacious. 4. There is not a rule she didn’t break in her brave pursuit of Jesus, and let’s be honest ladies, based on who wrote the rules that is what it takes sometimes. Everyone knows you typically don’t provoke change or gain access or build power by asking permission or being polite or keeping silent or waiting patiently. Jairus certainly did. She doesn’t touch Jesus cloak because she’s greedy, sneaky, or dishonest. No, she’s desperate! Just like Jairus she would do anything for wholeness, healing, and restoration. It was Moltmann who quipped that, healing is more than the restored function of an organ. The healing of a body, leads to the healing of the soul. The healing of the soul, can lead to the healing of the body (Moltmann, 191). Ask anyone you know who is in recovery, suffering a long time illness, or navigating depression or anxiety if this is true. What would you risk to be whole? It takes courage to pursue healing like that.
She is an unclean, unaccompanied woman, exiled from community and forbidden in the temple. She’s crossed every boundary you can imagine, risked public humiliation and profound punishment. Why? If you need to be healed, you seek a healer. Her faith is a matter of life and death (Powery, 132). For 12 years, she has done everything within her power to be restored. She’s spent every last penny within the system and nothing has changed. At this point she has nothing left to lose. No touch. No money. No more children. No social life. No spouse. No status. No temple. No purpose. No access. No power. No name. Nothing. And while we want to blame her isolation and her desperation on her, or at least her illness, we cannot.
It is the system itself that denies her access and tells her no. ‘You are not worth anything.’ Both this woman and Jairus are faithful, courageous, and committed. They have everything in common except Jairus, by the very nature of his being, has access and power within a system that was not only built for him, but it is controlled by him too. He is the temple leader. It is his responsibility to maintain the tradition and integrity of God’s law, to set policies and procedures intent on keeping people like her out.
Let’s be honest, we aren’t really that offended by the woman are we? She can take what she needs as long as it doesn’t impact us, slow us down, or change the way things are. Poor thing, we may even feel sorry for her. If we have time, we might even drop off some hand-me-downs or leftovers. The thing that is so radical it offends us, is the fact that Jesus stops in his tracks and makes Jairus wait! He could have kept going. By this world’s standards, he should have. He could have rushed through the throngs of people to the temple leader’s dying child. Not just any child, Jairus’ child. Instead, Jesus stops. He puts the agenda on hold. Ignores the voices, even those in his own party. He forgoes the rules, the structure, the system, and the policy. He challenges and contradicts the hierarchy, levels the playing field, and halts the pace of the status quo! Why? What could possibly be so important? The Truth! Not a sound bite. Not 144 characters. The whole truth. A nameless, dirty, bleeding, leftover, has-been, without a penny to her name, drops to her knees in fear and tells the whole truth.
So yes, Jesus’ healings are incarnational signs of God’s grace and compassion, but they also reveal the divine power of God’s Kingdom as a foretaste of the resurrection (Moltmann, 190). Boy ole boy, people don’t know what do to with this sort of justice! We know it’s going to cost somebody! It’s so radical, it’s offensive.
“Come on Jesus, are you serious, we don’t have time for the whole truth, do we Jairus?” I would have been losing it if I were he. “Hurry up Jesus, it’s going to be too late! There is not enough, Jesus! Not enough time. Not enough space. Not enough power. I have done everything right! I asked you first, Jesus! For God’s sake, don’t waste your power on this woman, when my daughter doesn’t deserve to die!” Is God so inadequate? Is God’s capacity so scarce? Is our God so small, that there is not enough grace for all of God’s children?
To lose a child is a tragedy that God knows far too well. Again, I don’t blame Jairus or his people, and neither does Jesus. Remember, Jesus is unconcerned with the cause of our condition, only that we are suffering (Barth, p. 232). Jairus is about to learn the essence of that old African American gospel song that says, God may not come when you call, but God will be there right on time (Powery, 132).’
Even Jesus’ disciples don’t know what to do with him. “You can’t possibly expect us to know who touched you, Jesus. Look at this crowd! If we ask their names we will to have to deal with them. You know Jesus; they all want something from you. Just keep moving. It isn’t practical, or logical, or even possible to touch them all.”
If only they knew what we know. Behind every nameless woman is a story of tenacity and courage. You show me a woman without a name in the Bible, and I’ll show you a bonafide, bodacious, firecracker, tough as nails, risk-taker who had neither the privilege to be polite nor the time to be patient. If women are included in the narrative at all, they are often painted as pathetic or weak characters, but to be clear they do not want our sympathy or need our pity. They want restoration, wholeness, and peace. They need justice, security, and love. They want the same things we all want, the freedom and grace ‘to enjoy God and to serve God forever’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q1).
According to the scholarly work of Rev. Lindsey Hardin Freeman, women in scripture account for about 1.2% of all biblical words. Of the 93 women who spoke, about half of them are unnamed. The woman caught in the act of adultery. The woman at the well. The widow who quietly gives her last two coins. The sinful woman who anoints Jesus’ feet. Where is Jesus? Right there with them on the edge. Befriending, respecting, empowering, and restoring them. The authors of their stories do not give them names, but Jesus does. He calls them daughter, little sister, and beloved child of God.
Guess what we call the woman in our narrative today, the woman with the issue of blood! We don’t like to talk about it, but most women have an issue of blood. It’s part of how God created us, in the case we choose to have children. Back then, the ability to procreate was the only path to value and safety within her community, and it is the very thing that turned against her. If her condition was the result of a difficult childbirth (which some scholars suggest), then 12 years ago, at the same time in history, the world judged her and rewarded Jairus for the exact same thing, reproduction. Remember it’s not her illness that has marginalized her. The world she lives in tells her she is not allowed, not invited, not welcomed, not worthy.
We dismiss her too as we shirk the gospel and assume she is a hopeless case. But we are so wrong!The world has judged her but Jesus has not. We walk past her and so many others every day: through the crowds, on the streets, in our schools. Men, women, and children alike line our hallways and hospitals. They dwell in our retirement communities, streets and shelters, and populate our screens too. Who are we keeping out? Who are we afraid to touch? Do we really want to know their names or would we rather sentimentalize and pity them? Isn’t it easier to send a little bit of money and pray from afar, than to slow down, learn their names, hear their stories, and make room for them in our policies, schools, communities and churches?
If we, the Church, are the Body of Christ we cannot walk past without hearing the whole truth. Tell me, whois handing out dignity, status, inclusion, access, and healing for free these days? The idea is so radical, it’s offensive. If it’s not the Church, I’m not sure what the Church is for. Lest we forget there’s nothing free about it, Jesus suffered in order to heal the world. Jairus and the nameless woman alike: neither of them could earn it, hoard it, manipulate it or control it. They both needed it, and only one of them had to steal it.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. You are wondering when I might talk about politics and power, or policy and tradition: access to affordable healthcare and mental health care, the opioid crisis and lack of treatment facilities, equitable education and zip codes, racial justice and white supremacy, or maybe incarceration and cash bail, perhaps affordable housing and living wages, maybe gender equity and the ‘me- too’ movement, certainly the complicated issue of immigration and children who are separated from their parents?
But I’m not.
After all, I’m just a polite woman telling a story about a Savior who heals. Jesus is a healer who reveals a compassionate and merciful God, intimately concerned with human suffering, and a Kingdom of hope, justice and peace. A Kingdom where every tear is wiped away, every nameless woman is called daughter, and every suffering child is called to rise up and sit at the table to feast on the Bread of Life and drink from the overflowing Cup of Salvation. It’s so radical, it’s offensive.
1. The Board of Pensions, PCUSA. “Living by The Gospel: A guide to structuring minister’s terms of call for Committees on Ministry and the congregations they serve.”www.pensions.org. July 1, 2018. p.10 and 13.
2. Spencer, Frank, M.Div. “Hope and Challenge: Vocation within the PCUSA.” The Presbyterian Outlook.May 21st, 2018. v.200 n.8 p.19. Print.
3. Moltmann, Jürgen. The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, trans. By Kohl, Fortress Press, 2001, p.188
4. Powery, Emerson. True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary, edited by Brian Blount. Fortress Press, 2007, p.131and Christian Imagination. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 2003), 294.
5. Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics IV/2, edited by Bromiley and Torrance, London: T&T Clark, 2010, p. 223-225.
6. Freeman, Lindsay Hardin. Bible Women: All Their Words and why they Matter,Forward Movement, 2014, Chapter 1.
7. Wall, Lewis, Md. “Sorrow beyond Childbirth: Obstetric Fistula in the Developing World.” www.evangelicalsforsocialjustice.org. March 3, 2014.