Christianity started out as an outlaw religion—which is really kind of cool. I think we lost a bit of our groove when Constantine made us legal back in 325. Fortunately, in our so-called “post-Christian” culture, we have the opportunity to get back in touch with our radical roots and appreciate Jesus for the wonderful rule-breaker that he is.
In the story the Revised Common Lectionary appointed for Pentecost Five (Mark 5:21-43), we get a chance to see Our Lord smash through some barriers and love some folks who shouldn’t be loving him.
The story starts out with a pretty important guy named Jairus who was a leader of the synagogue. Back in chapter three of Mark’s Gospel, if you’ll recall, religious leaders weren’t too keen on Jesus. They didn’t like that he healed on the Sabbath (3:6) and they even suggested that he was demonically possessed (3:22). So this dude really has no business getting involved with Jesus, except it seems that his little girl is deathly ill. At this point denominational and cultural differences go out the window. The guy is a parent, and as a good dad he’s willing to fall at Jesus’ feet, beg, grovel, and eat dirt off a rusty spoon if only his child can be made well. Jesus doesn’t hold the disdain of the other high muckety-mucks against Jairus, and agrees to go immediately to see the sick little girl. As always happens with Jesus, a big crowd tags along to see how this will play out.
While this parade is marching to Jairus’ place, a lady who has been suffering from hemorrhages for a dozen years takes this opportunity to sneak up on Jesus and try for a healing of her own. Any decent person reading this story today would certainly have pity for this gal. In the world of the text, she was already a second class citizen just because she was a woman, but layer that with the fact she’d been bleeding like stuck pig (making her ritually impure in Jewish eyes because she was in contact with blood), and the common belief that God obviously hated her guts because he punished her by making her bleed, and you have one very dejected lady. It’s no wonder she snuck up on Jesus from behind. I don’t think she’d feel as if the rabbi would even bother to give her a second look given her condition. So she reaches out in faith and desperation for the hem of Jesus’ garment and finds herself immediately healed.
The woman is pretty jazzed about her healing until Jesus suddenly whips around and asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The other disciples think this is a pretty silly question since there’s about fifty nosey looky-loos walking along the road with them, and people are crowding and touching him all the time. But Jesus knows something important has happened and so does the formerly bleeding woman. Knowing she’s an outcast who has just done something that’s just not done in her society, she falls on her face and confesses to Jesus. Jesus, however, does not chastise her. Rather, he praises her for her faith, telling her it is that very faith which has made her well. The outcast now becomes the heroine of the story, which is pretty cool if you ask me.
Just as things look to be going well, messengers arrive from Jairus’ house to tell the party that the little girl has already died and that Jesus need not be troubled by going any further. Jesus’ response? “Do not fear, only believe.”
At Jairus’ house the Jews are doing what Jews do in a moment like this—they’re weeping, wailing, and generally making one heck of a fuss over the death of this little girl. I have to say, having been to a Jewish funeral, Jews really know how to mourn. Nobody tries to hide their feelings. They just get it all out in the open—tears, snot, screams, moaning, rocking back and forth, the whole nine yards. Personally, I think this is rather healthy. But I digress.
At this point in the story Jesus stops the carnival that has been following him and takes only his closest buddies, Peter, James, and John, with him to the house. Even these guys he leaves outside the child’s bedroom, taking only mom and dad with him. He then takes the daughter’s hand (another outlaw act against the purity code if you believe she was already dead) and says, “Little girl, get up.’ To everyone’s amazement, the child revives. Jesus tells her parents to feed her, which is what parents are supposed to do—nourish their children in all things. Including faith.
If Jairus had believed the report he heard, he would be burying his daughter. Instead, he had hope in Jesus Christ for the salvation of his child. On this Fifth Sunday of Pentecost in 2015, ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton has called for a day of repentance and mourning following the June 17th racially-motivated killings in Charleston, South Carolina. I think it’s always a healthy idea to take a page from our Jewish brothers and sisters’ book and openly mourn when life is taken senselessly. But what I will be repenting on this day—in terms of race relations in America and many other issues—is a sinful lack of faith. In my fifty-five years of life I have seen much progress in racial relations in our country. I also see that much more of the journey to justice and equality is yet to be taken. What must be repented is our fear that we cannot go the distance, that things will never change. If we stifle our hope and believe the reports of the world, we will bury many more of our children. In Jesus Christ, who broke the barriers and brought life and healing and forgiveness, we have hope of victory.
I pray for the members of Mother Emanuel AME of Charleston, who exemplify that hope and are teaching us all how to be Christians. Do not fear, only believe.
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