Sunday, July 1, 2018

Keep Believing

Mark 5: 21-43

She is very alone in the crowd; her presence in both story and crowd is defined by her separateness, her isolation. He is surrounded by community, his presence defined by relationships.
They have nothing in common.
Except the most important thing.
In their great need, they both receive the gift of Jesus’ healing power.

She appears in the middle of what seems to be his story. An unnamed woman, bankrupted emotionally and financially by extensive and failed medical treatment. Utterly alone in the crowd. No family, no friend, comes with her to seek this healer, this man of God, in her desperate quest to just touch his cloak.
The thick, shoulder to shoulder crowd, presses around her, bumps against her but doesn’t notice her, with no one to claim her and look for her in the chaos, no one to make space for her, no one to call the healer’s attention to her.

Meanwhile, he’s up at the front of the crowd, at the center of attention. Jairus is introduced to us and known to Jesus by name, by relationship, by his standing in the community. He doesn’t come to Jesus alone, but as a father, and a leader respected and surrounded by his community. And now the healer is coming to his home, to his family, specifically to respond to his need, bringing along a great, crowded community of witnesses.
That doesn’t make him any less desperate for healing than that lonely unnamed woman, though. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet, all but babbling in his pleading, asking for Jesus to help his little girl over and over before Jesus ever gets a word in edgewise.
The crowd makes space for him, definitely; they’re here for him – at least sort of – they want to see Jesus heal his child.
Even when the news is bad, when his daughter is reported dead, his house is full of community, mourners and neighbors, there to notice and remember and support the family in their grief.

Those two have nothing in common.
Except the most important thing.

When that isolated, unnamed woman gets herself just close enough to brush her hand against Jesus’ clothes, she is healed, and Jesus himself declares publicly that her faith has made her well.
Jairus, confronted suddenly and publicly with the fact of his daughter’s death, is reminded by Jesus to keep his faith – that faith that brought him to Jesus and Jesus to his house – and that faith opens the way for Jesus to heal his daughter.

These are stories about healing, absolutely. But they are also stories about the barriers to healing, and about the faith that opens up those barriers, because Jesus wants to heal us so much he won’t let those barriers stop us.

I mean, that whole touching his clothes thing should never have worked. Everybody else who is healed in the gospels asks for it. They call out to Jesus, and get his undivided attention. Or someone else advocates for them, begging or demanding healing face to face. Healing doesn’t happen by accident, behind Jesus’ back.
This touching of his cloak isn’t how Jesus came to heal us. He wants to see us, he wants to know us and be known, and heal us in relationship.

But this woman is different. There’s no one to speak for her, she’s isolated even in the midst of a crowd, and now she’s even going to take Jesusintentions out of the conversation. She wants to or feels she has to do it herself. So she convinces herself that Jesus’ clothes have the power to heal her (even though they don’t) and she won’t give up until she touches them for herself.

Independence, drive, and persistence are praiseworthy. They’re virtues we’re going to celebrate this week on our nation’s birthday. We value those qualities in our history, in our children, in ourselves. But sometimes they are barriers to divine healing, just like isolation usually is.

Relationship, respect, community leadership and family support are praiseworthy, too. We celebrate those in stories we love and in the news; we try to build or legislate them into our public lives.
Jairus has all of that, and it’s a blessing. But none of that is what brought him to Jesus for healing, and eventually it becomes a barrier, as his community starts to insist that healing isn’t possible, that he needs to accept his daughter’s death, to mourn with them, and stop bothering the teacher with this ridiculous hope.

Even good things can get between us and God sometimes. They become barriers when we let things like independence, persistence, respect, leadership, become more important in directing our lives than God’s wall-shattering generosity.  Or when we mistake our good human values for God’s will.
But Jesus isn’t going to let those barriers stop him from healing us. And he points out to both Jairus and the unnamed woman – and so to us, today – that their faith helps him pull those barriers aside.

It wasn’t touching Jesus’ clothes that healed the woman. She touched him, yes. Power went out of him, her bleeding stopped. But it was her faith: her overwhelming trust that her healing was possible in the face of overwhelming evidence that it wasn’t that made her well. Her trust touched Jesus’ power, and she was brought into relationship and healed, as Jesus pushes through the invisible walls of her separateness and self-reliance, knows her and makes her known and seen among the crowd.

Jairus’ faith in Jesus, his powerful trust in the possibility of healing – is publicly challenged when his household announces his daughter’s death, and the mourners laugh at Jesus.
But Jesus reminds him: don’t stop believing. Hold on to your faith, remember your trust. And then Jesus puts all the barriers aside, sending away the skeptics, so that he can reunite Jairus and his wife with the daughter who had been separated from them, healing not just her body, but their hearts, and making their family whole again.

We want that kind of healing. We need that healing - desperately, some of us. But there are things that can keep us from seeking and receiving that gift from Jesus. Things we know are dangerous, like isolation and pride and peer pressure can get between us and God. But also good things – independence or a tight-knit relationships; civility and fair play and work ethic; the rule of law or the ethic of tolerance. Any of those things, and many others, can make it difficult for us, as individuals or as a community to put our deepest trust in God, instead of in those things we’re proud of; and to trust Jesus to provide the impossible healing we need.

But Jesus wants to heal us – you, me, individuals, families, the world – so much the even the things that get in our way can’t stop him.

All he asks is that we go ahead and let ourselves trust – radically, impossibly trust – let go of fear, keep believing, so that we keep seeking God while Jesus breaks the barriers down.

Because Jesus wants all our different stories to be like the two different stories we heard today, completed with the most important thing, the gift of Jesus’ healing touch: greatly needed, trustingly sought, fully received.

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