Monday, July 2, 2012

July 1st, 2012      “Plenty Jesus To Go Around”   Rev. Heather Jepsen

Mark 5:21-43

          Those who have been attending worship regularly this summer will know that we have been spending our time with Jesus in the gospel of Mark.  This morning we encounter a literary tool often found in Mark’s gospel; the sandwich story.  Today we have two miracle stories stuck together.  The bread, if you will, is the story of the healing of Jarius’ daughter.  The meat of this sandwich is the healing of the hemorrhaging woman.  The author of Mark has purposely put these two stories together to emphasize their key points.  The two stories inform each other and play off of each other.  It really is an interesting writing technique.

          We start out with Jesus returning from healing the demon possessed man in Gerasene.  He gets off the boat and immediately he is swamped by people.  This is nothing new; word of his miracles and teachings have spread throughout the area and people are naturally curious about the new healer on the block.  One person in particular is looking for Jesus and a miracle.  This of course is Jarius.

          Now Jarius is one of the leaders of the synagogue, so he is a head honcho of sorts.  This is a man who has power in the religious community; a religious community that we already know is not so sure about this new teacher.  Despite his position within the religious establishment, Jarius is moved to go against custom and is seeking Jesus’ help.  Jarius’ beloved daughter is very ill.  In fact at only 12 years old she is near death.  The age of 12 is when a young lady is on the verge of womanhood in Israelite culture so this would be a great loss.  Jarius is so moved by his need, and so confident in the powers of Jesus, that he throws himself at his feet and begs for help. 

We have to recognize here that this is a leader of the community, a powerful wealthy person, who is throwing himself at the feet of Jesus.  And not just in private, but in public amidst the crowd.  Many would see this and interpret it as a sign of weakness on Jarius’ part; it is certainly a risky move for him.  But really, who wouldn’t risk everything for the life of their child?  Fortunately Jarius is heard, Jesus is moved by his request and the faith he shows, and follows him home.

          But here comes the sandwich; as they are walking through the crowd another person has their eye on a miracle from Jesus.  This person is the exact opposite of Jarius; this is the hemorrhaging woman on the bottom of the social scale.  Here we have a woman who has been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years; now that’s a long time.  In fact, that’s as long as Jarius’ daughter has been alive.  Because of this woman’s condition, she would have been declared unclean and untouchable by the Jewish community.  She would have been an outcast; living on the fringes of society.  If she had any family at all she would not have been able to be with them.  This woman has been alone and suffering for twelve long years.  She has spent every penny she had on cures for this illness, cures for what isolates her, but nothing has worked.  In fact it has only caused her more suffering.  This woman is the lowest of the low, so low in fact that she is not even given a name, she is only known by her ghastly condition.

          This woman, this nothing of a person, has also heard of Jesus and like Jarius’ she seeks healing from him.  But unlike Jarius she is in a bind.  Because she is unclean she can not touch him and he can not touch her.  According to law if Jesus were to touch her he would become unclean too.  This woman is afraid to ask for Jesus’ help, because if he touches her to heal her she thinks he may lose his powers because she is unclean.  But, Jesus is her last hope, her only hope, and the potential for healing is worth everything.  So the woman takes a big risk and comes up behind him in the crowd.  In faith she reaches out and just touches the fringe of this cloak “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

          And as we know she is.  The woman is healed by her contact with the healer.  But Jesus is aware that something has happened and he is eager to know who has touched him.  Jesus wants to know who has touched him in such a way, who was it who touched him with hands of faith.  It is not that he is angry or upset; rather Jesus desires to have relationship with this person who has shown such strong faith in him.  He surveys the crowd and questions the disciples “Who touched my clothes?”

          And of course the disciples say “Are you kidding me?  Look around Jesus! There are people pressing in on all sides, how can you ask that?”  Now here some people like to get on the disciples’ case for not understanding, and there are plenty of opportunities for that in the gospels, but this time I really think they have a point.  You know in a big crowd everybody is bumping up against everybody, and some of the disciples are probably even bumping up against Jesus.  How would anyone know who touched him?

          But this woman was caught, and Jesus is looking around for her, and she is afraid.  She has a lot to fear, especially from the crowd around her.  She shouldn’t even be there and anyone she bumped into in the crowd is now officially unclean.  If the mob finds out she has been in their midst she could be stoned.  And so here, at this point, she could have run, she could have slipped back through the crowd unseen and escaped.  She could have taken her healing and hit the streets as others in the gospels do.  But she doesn’t, she comes forward and she confesses, begging mercy from Jesus and from the mob. 

She falls at Jesus’ feet (like Jarius) and tells him the whole truth.  And I am sure her heart was racing, unsure of what this teacher may do, unsure of how the crowd will react.  What Jesus does here will determine the reaction from the crowd and mercifully Jesus comes to her in love.  He responds to her with the love of God that is within him, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”  Not a stoning, not a reprimand, rather a healing and a blessing.  In calling her daughter and showing her grace, Jesus has restored the woman to the community.   Now the unnamed woman can return to her previous life and find her name again.  Jesus has given her new life, resurrection.

          Now while this is a lovely miracle, and a fine example of the bold faith of one woman, this whole scene has got to be killing Jarius.  Here is this guy who waited by the edge of the water all day for Jesus to get back.  Jarius finally works his way through the crowd to get Jesus’ attention and on the way to his house they get stopped.  Jarius has no time for this, his daughter is going to die, his errand is urgent.  And on top of that, for this synagogue ruler to be interrupted by an unclean woman is an insult.  Jarius probably knew her; he had probably seen her on the outskirts of town.  Everyone knows who the unclean are so they can avoid them.  She was a nothing.  And now because of her they have gotten stopped up.  My guess is that at this point Jarius would be really frustrated.  How could a Jewish teacher put the needs of the unclean before the needs of a synagogue ruler?

          And of course Jarius’s fears are well founded.  It’s not long before messengers arrive with tears in their eyes.  They don’t even have to speak for Jarius to know in his heart what has happened, his time has run out.  “Why bother the teacher anymore?”  I am certain that Jarius was crushed; he probably crumpled to the ground then and there heartbroken in his grief.  It was over, he was too late.

          But Jesus has one more miracle up his sleeve, in fact, there’s plenty Jesus to go around.  “Come on Jarius, do not fear, only believe.”  And off they go to the house which is already full of mourners.  They enter the room and there she is, lying on her death bed.  And Jesus touches her.  Now just like the hemorrhaging woman this child is unclean because she is dead, and therefore no one can touch her without also becoming unclean.  Here we have Jesus once again transgressing boundaries and reaching out to touch what is untouchable.  Jesus touches her, he takes her by the hand, and he speaks “Little girl, get up!”  And she does.  She rises from the dead, she is given new life, and her rising foreshadows Jesus’ own rising which is to come.  Now, give her something to eat.

          There are several things which catch my attention in these stories.  The biggest one is the reversal of social order.  In our world those with more, those with wealth, power, and prestige, are favored.  They get what they want and they get it first.  Those with nothing, those on the fringe of society, the poor and powerless, if they get anything at all they get it last.  In our story this morning Jarius should have been first, he had power and wealth.  And the hemorrhaging woman should have been last; she was an outcast and had nothing.  But in the kingdom of God the last shall be first and the first shall be last.

          Now when I have preached this story in the past, I think my heart has focused on that unclean woman.  My heart and my sermon have said that God has a preferential option for the poor, God likes the poor best and works for them first.  God is always rooting for the underdog.  And to be honest, in my ministry I have tried to root for the underdog as well, hoping that this puts me on the same side as God.

          But when I read and studied the story this week, I was thinking more about Jarius.  Perhaps it’s because I am a parent now; or perhaps because these days I am a lot more like a synagogue ruler or a religious authority than I am like an unnamed woman.  When I read the text this week I noticed that though he has to wait his turn, Jarius gets his miracle to.  And that got me thinking that there is always plenty Jesus to go around.

          Now we all know those pastors and churches that speak as if they are the only ones with the right answers.  Boy, we like to shake our heads at them.  But sometimes I think deep in our hearts, we too think we are the ones with the right answers.  I know I sure think I am doing church the “right” way.

          This scripture reminded me this week that there’s plenty Jesus to go around.  That we can have our sense of Jesus with us, but that Jesus can also be with the Episcopalians, the Methodists, Northside Christian, and even Big Baptist.  Jesus can be with me when I meditate in the sanctuary just as well as he is with those TV preachers and those loud guys on the radio.  Now I might disagree with those radio preachers about the fine points of the faith, just as I am sure the hemorrhaging woman disagreed with Jarius about whether or not she was able to attend worship.  But that doesn’t mean those guys don’t have Jesus.  There’s plenty Jesus to go around.

          So this week, let us be mindful, that even us “liberal” folks, who always side with the hemorrhaging woman, aren’t the only ones who have Jesus on our side.  Just like the conservative folk, we are tempted to think we are the ones with the “right” way of doing things.  Our reading from Mark reminds us that Jesus is not just on the side of the outsider, he is also on the side of the insider.  Though Jesus is working for the little guy he can also be with the big guy.  Just as Jesus helps the hemorrhaging woman and the outcast in society; he helps the synagogue ruler and the mega-church pastor.  This week, let us remember and give thanks that there’s plenty Jesus to go around.  Amen.

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