7/1/2018 Sixth Sunday after Pentecost The text is Mark 5:21-43.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Yes…summer has arrived in full force. Today is one of those hot, humid days of summer and I really didn’t expect to see a lot of people here today. For many, today is not a day to sit on a hard pew in a sweltering church; it’s not a day to sing God’s praise, to pray for those in need, and to rejoice in the blessing of a summer day. Today is a beach or lake or pool day – a day to cool off in the water and sip cold drinks. But for others, today is the type of day that, coming to church, even though they want to do so, poses too great of a health risk. They, in a sense, are outcasts, as they are people who are forced to stay away and stay behind closed doors because of illness.
It would be nice if we all could enjoy a day like today. It would be nice if all of us were young and healthy and could romp in the summer heat like we did as children. But we are not…and health issues can hinder the quality of our lives at any age.
In our gospel for today, Jesus encounters two people with significant health issues. They are needy and hurting people who couldn’t be more different. The first is a young woman, the daughter of Jairus. Jairus is part of the “upper crust” of society. Being the ruler of the synagogue, he is a man of substance. He is rich and powerful and religiously prominent. In the synagogue, he calls the shots. He decides who preaches, what scriptures are read, and what hymns are sung. He represents the elite, especially in the religious world, and yet his position and authority doesn’t make him or his family immune from life-threatening illness, and on this day Jairus’ 12-year-old daughter is dying.
The other hurting and needy person that Jesus encounters is a much older woman who has been hemorrhaging for years. She is an anonymous person within the crowd for she is not allowed to set foot in the synagogue. Her illness makes her a social outcast as she is considered unclean, as one under the judgment of God.
So, there are two woman, one young and one old, with two different life-altering illnesses, two in need, both of them seeking the help of God through Jesus’ healing touch. One has a father who is bold enough to ask for help, the other sees herself as being unworthy so she sneaks up on Jesus and unbeknownst to him, touches the hem of his garment. But even as quiet and as unobtrusive as that touch may seem, it has the power to heal. For, the touch comes out of desperation and with faith and hope. And with this touch, life is restored.
It’s amazing what healing power there is in human touch. By touching the hem of Jesus garment the woman is cured. We may live in a world where touching is sometimes forbidden, a world in which people text but don’t talk, a world in which human interaction is lacking. But, Jesus meets people where they are. He responds face to face to needy and hurting people, whether the “upper crust,” like Jairus or a social outcast like the hemorrhaging woman. He reaches out to them in compassion, not pity or sympathy or charity. He meets them face to face and with a healing touch, restores them to health.
Henri Nouwen, the Roman Catholic theologian, has described this compassion perhaps better than anyone else I know. “Compassion,” he says, “is not pity. Pity lets us stay at a distance. It is condescending. Compassion is not sympathy. Sympathy is for superiors over inferiors. Compassion is not charity. Charity is for the rich to continue in their status over the poor. Compassion is born of God. It means entering into the other person’s problems. It means taking on the burdens of the other. It means standing in the other person’s shoes. It is the opposite of professionalism. It is the humanizing way to deal with people. Just as bread without love can bring war instead of peace, professionalism without compassion will turn forgiveness into a gimmick.”
Jesus is not into gimmicks. Jesus is a man of his word. When people approach him in faith, Jesus responds to their need. For some, that need is physical healing. For others, the need is forgiveness. And for still others, their need is met with an invitation or a challenge. When Jairus comes to Jesus out of desperation and love for his dying child, Jesus responds. When the hemorrhaging woman approaches Jesus and touches him out of desperation, Jesus reacts. He doesn’t push these people away. He spends time with each and responds to their need.
When the woman touches Jesus’ clothing her hemorrhaging ceases immediately. Jesus doesn’t need to pause and seek her out, for she has received what she came to get. Yet, he stops and summons the healed woman from obscurity. By publicly revealing her cure, Jesus delivers her from ritual impurity. He completes her restoration to the community for she is no longer unclean, despised and rejected. She is no longer an outcast, but one who belongs. She is a daughter at peace with the world.
The time it takes to complete this woman’s healing and restoration to the community has consequences. For, while Jesus is spending time with her, a messenger arrives with the news that Jairus’ daughter has died. Surely, those present don’t know that the interruption is merely a delay for our Lord is the one who can bring life from death. Nothing bad has or will happen, for this child will be restored to health because of the faith of those who sought Jesus’ help.
But what of the thousands and thousands who pray to Jesus each day for his healing touch and still wait for a cure? Has Jesus turned a deaf ear to them? Of course not! Jesus hears our cries for his help and miracles still do happen. I have seen them. And yet, the reality remains that we all must someday die. Life on earth is a gift, but it is not a gift without end. The true miracle is not found in the number of years we have on earth, but in the life and restoration that comes through the one with the healing touch. For, the grave did not hold our Lord, and it will not hold those of us who put our faith and trust in him. We have his promise on that and Jesus keeps his word.
So, the real miracle is found not in the number of years we live, but in the life our Lord gives us. In today’s gospel, Jesus gives the hemorrhaging woman more than a few more years on earth. He gives her quality of life through social and spiritual health as well. Jesus also gives Jairus’ daughter a few more quality years on this earth. But in so doing, he gives her, her family and all involved something much more important. He gives them a glimpse into his true identity as the one who can bring life from death.
My friends, health comes in many different forms. What one needs, another may already have. Health comes from many directions and from many different sources, but all come from the heart of God’s compassion which reaches out with a touch of grace. We may not get the type of healing we seek, but we will receive what we truly need for the Lord who has our best interests at heart, will not ignore us even on a hot, humid summer day in New England.
Believe and trust in the Lord and you will find fullness of life in his name. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.