Sermon October 17 2021 – Mark 5:21-43 Rev. Betsy Hogan
It's one of the most traditional ways to do bible study. "Who do you relate to most in this story, and why."
There's then kind of a more expansive and provocative version that can often follow, in which we force ourselves on purpose to identify with EACH of the people in a bible story – to understand better their feelings and motivations and perspectives –
And while that's sometimes referred to as "the world's most dangerous bible study", in the sense that it really can be overturning and enlightening in ways that are seriously risky to our own personal assumptions and defaults...
Even just considering 'who do I relate most to in this story' can open up its layers of meaning for us in interesting and worthwhile ways. Or at least, it can if we're quite honest. And take seriously all the possible parallels we might find between our own lives and experiences, at any given moment or more broadly, with the lives and experiences of the people in the story. Not just at the particular moment in the story, but also more broadly.
This story from Mark that we just heard, it turns up in the gospels of Matthew and Luke as well. Obviously considered by Jesus's disciples and the early Christians to be one of the key events in Jesus' ministry.
These two connected healings – of Jairus' daughter, sick in her bed, and of the woman suffering from a hemorrhage, who grasps Jesus' cloak as he rushes TO that bed. It's an example, this story, of what biblical scholars call "intercalation" when they're trying to be impressive –
and a miracle sandwich, when they want to be understood. Because this IS in fact, quite simply, a miracle sandwich.
There's the healing of Jairus' daughter – the top bread and the bottom bread – and the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage like the filling in between. These two miracles of Jesus that can't be told apart from each other. Because they completely depend on each other. How each of them unfolds can't be told without also telling how the other unfolds.
Jairus' daughter is sick and needs healing – but then Jesus' delay turns the miracle into her raising from the dead..... and the woman with the flow of blood can't approach Jesus directly because she's considered "unclean" – but then his rushing along with the crowd to the bed of Jairus' daughter means she can sneak in and touch his cloak without being seen. Two miracles, each shaped by the other, forever intertwined.
It's a miracle sandwich. Or intercalation if we want to be impressive, but the point is that what's revealed in this story isn't just the separate need and supplication and healing of two separate individuals who encounter Jesus. What's revealed in this story is the complexity of the intertwined need and supplication and healing of the whole gathered community around Jesus in microcosm.
Which we notice as soon as we ask ourselves "who do I relate to in this story" because that means noticing just how many different people – different KINDS of people – are there. The whole community in microcosm, in fact.
Because there's Jairus, to start with. And later on his wife. Jairus who's described as a leader of the synagogue, clearly a man not only of status and importance in his community, but also a man whose authority or wisdom or gravitas seems to warrant his status. Because the terrible illness of his daughter, it isn't just cause of concern for HIM – it's also aroused the upset, the worry, the fear of his colleagues, his friends, even just the ordinary people on the street.
By the time Jesus finally gets to the house, there's already a crowd there, weeping and wailing and sodden with grief. So Jairus isn't just a leader, he's obviously a leader who matters to people. He warrants his authority, he's been worthy of people's trust. They're grieving for him, they're grieving for his wife – a great crowd of them.
So there's Jairus. There's Mrs. Jairus. There are his colleagues and friends gathered at his home, no doubt also people of comparable status or education or wealth or security.
Now getting all mixed up with the rest of crowd, including the disciples. Who could frankly be ANYONE. Some folks a bit down and out, almost certainly, probably a lot of people just 'ordinary'. Curious about this Jesus they've heard about, perhaps. Wanting to see some of these healing miracles happen in person, or maybe really QUITE down and out and hoping for a healing miracle of their own.
A very mixed up crowd in this miracle sandwich. The believers and followers, the curious or intrigued, the ordinary, the needy, the desperate, Jairus and his wife and their well-to-do colleagues and friends –
And the woman with the hemorrhage, who really shouldn't be there at all. Because just her "presence" is considered unclean. So it's not that everyone else doesn't know that she and other "unclean" people do exist out on the margins, and in fact are kept alive largely by charity and acts of benevolence, probably by many in that crowd –
But these 'unclean' people are expected to stay out of sight. Not to come around everyone else and "contaminate" them with their uncleanness.
So the woman with the hemorrhage – she's there, but she's knows it's an incursion. She knows she's not meant to be seen, and that's reflected in everything she does in this story – but if we're looking at all of them, all of them gathered together in this crowd in this story, Jairus, his wife, his friends, his daughter who receives Jesus' healing touch! The ordinary, the curious, the needy, the desperate – the woman who's considered unclean, she's there too.
So who do you relate to in the story? It may well be that if our deepest yearning is just plain simply for Jesus to do a healing PLEASE – we could say we relate to Jairus, or to his wife, or his daughter, or to the woman with the hemorrhage, ANY of them.
Because that just plain simple need is the same for all four. It really is. At an individual level.
The only problem is, this miracle sandwich won't let us pretend they're interchangeable. Because their stories are so intertwined in a context that forces us to contend with all the norms and patterns and realities of the society they all live in, in microcosm.
We may WANT to say that need is need is need. But it isn't. Jairus' isn't obstreperous or rude or demanding, he doesn't complain even a BIT that Jesus gets delayed on the way to his daughter's bedside – but Jairus lives with a degree of security and confidence that he probably never even considers, and maybe isn't aware of. But it means that when he expresses his need to Jesus for help, he can just restfully assume that help will happen.
Same with his wife. And probably same with his daughter. Their friends and colleagues gathered outside their house, there's a bit more of a tone of outrage – Jesus took too long, it's too late, don't even bother – Jairus and his wife don't fall into that trap. But they DO still begin with the essential confidence of being people who expect their needs to matter.
All the ordinary people in the crowd? The believers and the curious and the down and out? They probably assume Jairus' needs will automatically matter too, but what they're interested in is whether their OWN needs might.
Like, Jesus immediately goes zipping off to follow Jairus, okay and yes of course, but I wonder if that's what he would do for me. What's MY place here, and do I matter?
And while the ordinary and the curious and the down and out are wondering this, Jesus suddenly pauses. Stops in his tracks on the way to the bedside of the little girl who matters, and deliberately concedes the field to the woman whose need is supposed to stay out of sight. Whose need no one wants to see.
And "Oh," he says to her. "Yes, you. You come first." And everything else stops, until HER need is responded to first.
Who do you relate to in the story? Because if you relate to the woman whose need no one wants to see, but Jesus says she comes first?
Then the rest of us who are trying to follow in his way and live as he taught need to get focused and pay attention to you. Because there's really no getting around it – we have NOT built a world in which those whose need no one wants to see are coming first.
This miracle sandwich, this event in the ministry of Jesus so important that it's told virtually word for word the same in three of the gospels, it's not just two miracles of healing of two separate people. It's Jesus embodying what healing looks like for a whole complicated community in microcosm.
And at the heart of that healing, at the heart of healing not just people but the community, is the essential principle he's literally manifesting here with his body. With his stopping and his turning and his pausing –
And here's the need that no one wants to see, that everyone wants to keep out of sight, and Yes. That need comes first. In a miracle sandwich in which Godness is embodied to heal the brokenness in community, that need comes first.
So who is it we relate to in this story? Because the woman with the hemorrhage, desperate and exhausted, held hostage by infirmity she can't beat back and benefits that aren't enough, working minimum wage and sleeping in her car, trying to stay alive on packets of ramen noodles and all her fingers crossed, Jesus' embodied message here is really clear.
Enough. Enough already. This is the need that has to come first. This ignored need, dismissed need, marginalized need, excluded need, unclean sinful stay out of our neighbourhood need -- Jesus specifically stops to name it and attend to it. So the whole crowd of community will see it and pay attention. Because it can't be kept out of sight anymore. And it has to come first.
Benefits are not enough to live on. Minimum wage is not enough to live on. These need to be raised to a livable level. Because enough.
And does that demand forebearance and sacrifice from the rest of us? It absolutely does. Just as a sacrifice is demanded of Jairus in this story. In the end it's happily ever after, but in the moment that Jesus pauses there's a sacrifice demanded of Jairus.
His need gets put second.
And he has to see that. The whole crowd has to see that. Because this miracle sandwich, it's about making a good sandwich. God being our helper. Amen.