|"Raising Jairus' Daughter" Paolo Veronese, 1546|
I get this. I’ll bet you do, too.
This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the Gospel from the Revised Common Lectionary (Mark 5:21-43) for Pentecost 6—the story of how Jesus heals the seriously ill daughter of Jairus, a Jewish religious leader.
Granted, I have no children who are the fruit of my own loins. The woman I call my daughter was already an adult woman by the time I started dating her mom almost two decades ago. Nevertheless, I’ve seen my daughter go through some ups and downs, and the downs have been pretty scary. She was deployed to the Middle East as part of the US Army Reserve, she was injured while in the service, she’s had major surgery, career challenges, and a variety of health issues.
I’ve learned from my wife that your kids never stop being your kids. It doesn’t matter how old they get. You will always worry about them, and the worst thing in the world—the thing you fear the most—is that something will happen to them. As the Barry Bonds of neighborhood funerals, I have often had the sad duty of witnessing parents who’ve had to bury their children. I’ve been with parents who’ve lost children to auto accidents, suicide, drug overdoses, and murder. There is nothing more tragic. So I get where Jairus is coming from. His twelve-year-old daughter is at death’s door and turning the knob, so he will do anything—even approach a weird Galilean faith healer without official credentials—to try and keep his little girl alive.
Mark marries this story with that of a woman whose been suffering with some serious “girl part” problems. This lady has been bleeding for as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive, and she’s so desperate she’s even willing to commit the blasphemous act of touching a man who is not even her husband while she is ritually unclean (It’s one of those weird Jewish laws. You can look it up in Leviticus 15:25).
Desperate times, of course, call for desperate measures. A leader of the synagogue prostrates himself in front of a weird hippie preacher and a woman commits a ritually illegal act. If it were your child or your life, what would you do? I’d say that we’d all reach out for Jesus.
Please understand, that when I say we’d reach for Jesus I really don’t mean that we should pray wildly for some miracle cure (although that would be nice!). Rather, I ask you to consider what reaching out for Jesus really means. An old liturgy says, “…you gave your Son as a sacrifice for sin and as a model of the Godly life.”
Thank about that. “A sacrifice for sin.” Jesus’ death on the cross was meant to be a gift of all that he had to those who live under the oppression of sin. That means that Jesus thought you were worth dying for. In times of desperation we can reach for Christ to know that we are not our circumstances, but are loved and cherished children of God with intrinsic value from our Creator God. Value worth the suffering and the pain of the cross. Think about that. Can you find the faith to believe that about yourself?
Then there’s that “model of the Godly life” thing. We reach for Jesus to show us how to be. We reach for him to teach us how to put away fear and anger. We reach for him to show us compassion and how to be present. A great detail of this story is that Jesus felt the need of the woman with the hemorrhage. He experienced her even though he didn’t see her. He called her “daughter,” and let her know that she mattered. Reaching for Jesus means we have to get real with people.
Another cool detail here is how Jesus orders the people not to speak of the wonder he’s just performed. This is what smart Bible scholar guys refer to as the “Messianic Secret” in Mark’s Gospel, the fact that Jesus orders people not to talk about him. The best explanation of this is that he knows folks just aren’t going to get this “messiah” thing. They’re going to make a fuss and screw it up and cause a whole lot of trouble. Jesus just wants them to accept what he’s done and sit with the wonder of it.
I mean, it’s so like us, isn’t it? If we get a blessing, like, maybe, we get a good prognosis from the doctor after a serious illness, we really want to celebrate and be thankful to God and do some action to show our gratitude. Sometimes, however, we might just try to not make it about us. We might just want to sit quietly with our blessing and let grace be grace. Reaching for Jesus is our admission that we don’t really control anything.
If tomorrow a doctor told me that I have stage four cancer, you can believe that I’m going to reach for Jesus. I’ll be reaching for the assurance that I really am God’s child, worthy of the blessings God has given me because of who God is, not because of who I am. I will be reaching for that divine love. I'll be grabbing hold of the knowledge that my illness is not God's verdict on me. God's verdict on me is Jesus on the cross. I’ll also be reaching to Jesus to show me how to live with the dignity that he had—to bear my suffering, to be present and compassionate with those around me, to be quietly grateful and let God be God. If I can do that, then I know I’ll be healed. I may not be cured, but I’ll be healed.
This Gospel story is an example of reaching for Christ in a time of desperation. I’m working on trying to reach for him when I’m not desperate.
Wish me luck.