Like a rock star, Jesus is on a whirlwind tour. Just before this, he has been teaching and healing people in the Decapolis, the ten cities east and south of the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us about the healing there of the man with demons, who lived among the tombs. Now, back on the Jewish side of the lake, we hear two parallel healing stories (find the text at Oremus). The stories twine around each other in interesting ways, picking up the shared themes of fear, kinship, restoration and publicity.
Two people approach Jesus with faith, asking for healing – Jairus, a powerful man, who intercedes for his young daughter, and a nameless woman who is advocating for herself. Jairus interrupts Jesus’ day, and the woman then interrupts his trip to Jairus’ home. Both interruptions turn out to reveal God’s power and compassion. The woman doesn’t speak at first, except to herself. “If I can only get through the crowd and touch his clothes, my life will be transformed.” She manages to get through the crowd, and touches his cloak, and both of them immediately feel the change.
Emerson Powery, writing for Working Preacher, notices an interesting connection between the bodily experiences of the unnamed woman and Jesus. “Just as the woman understood the changes in her body, so Jesus recognized a change in his body. [Jesus initially played no active role in her healing.] The drying up of her blood flow (i.e., her “discharge”) was due to the “discharge” of Jesus’ “power” (dunamis in 5:30). But no one else — including the disciples — recognized what had leaked out/transpired.” Their experiences parallel each other. Powery notes a connection between the two times the woman approaches Jesus – she comes with boldness the first time, and fear the second.
The conversation with this woman delays the trip to Jairus’ house, and the word comes that the young daughter has died. The first woman approaches Jesus in fear, and leaves with a word of peace, and then Jesus tells Jairus, too, “do not fear, only believe.” The first woman has become a model for the people in need of the next healing. Jairus’ daughter has her father to advocate for her, and the first woman seems to be alone when she comes. When she leaves, Jesus calls her, too, “daughter,” and she is restored to the bonds of community.
The two healings hold another contrast – the first happens in the crowd, but after the second, Jesus asks the people who know to keep silent. It’s hard to imagine that this lasted long – word has come through the crowd that the daughter has died, and people will soon see that she is alive, after all. There’s another crowd in the house when Jesus arrives – this isn’t the kind of secret you can keep for long.
Both healings prompt the question of how much of God’s grace we deserve. The first woman, for whatever reason, doesn’t approach Jesus, and is content to touch his outermost clothing. The story doesn’t say whether she doesn’t think she can get his attention in the crowd, or doesn’t think she deserves more from him, but she receives more of a blessing than she imagines. Her gift from him comes as her physical healing, plus a word of blessing and kinship. For Jairus, he hears that his daughter has died, plus the dismissive question “Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus doesn’t seem bothered by either of them, and meets them both with more abundant grace than either one first expects. We’ve heard a hundred times the word from the Psalmist that “the mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting,” but it’s hard to take that into our deepest spirits. This story reminds us of the wealth of grace that awaits us all, in the presence of Jesus – always much more than we first imagine.
The sermon might explore:
- the woman advocates for herself, and finds her life changed. Where does God invite us to move forward with courage, even when the people around us aren’t going to be happy? We can imagine that the crowd was not pleased to learn that they had been touched by a woman with a flow of blood, if they discover what, exactly, Jesus has healed for her. Her need is greater than any sense of social convention. Where does God invites us to do that in our lives?
- the woman begins by “stealing” her healing (as Emerson Powery interestingly puts it) from Jesus, and then he stops to acknowledge her and note the exchange of power between them. Have you ever “stolen” a blessing before someone was ready to give it? Forced someone to acknowledge you when they might not have otherwise?
- Both Jesus and the nameless woman are exquisitely aware of the changes in their bodies. How have you experienced an embodied faith? How does your body speak its truth? Hold, or reveal, emotions? How does trauma or joy live on in our bodies?
- What do you think you “deserve” from God? Is it a problem when we think God owes us something? Or do we imagine too little for ourselves? Where do you find yourself? Your faith community?
Where are your thoughts taking you this week? We would love to continue the conversation in the comments section below. And be sure to read the Working Preacher commentary from Karl Jacobson.
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