7/1/2012 sermon: Taking steps toward Jesus

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Proper 8, Year B

Taking steps toward Jesus

In our gospel lesson today we have two stories, two glimpses, of Jesus healing people. We have Jairus, “one of the synagogue officials,” a person of high standing in the community. Then, too, we have an unnamed woman, a woman who had had a medical issue, one that would have made her an outcast in her community. What we have here is both the high, Jairus, and the lowly unnamed woman, both taking steps toward Jesus.

Mark meant for us to compare these two characters. He placed these two stories together in such a way that we could not read one without reading the other. Did you notice that the woman’s story comes right smack dab into the middle of his story about Jairus? Mark did that so often, inserting one story inside another, that the technique is called a “Markan sandwich.” In today’s gospel, the unclean woman is the meat in the Markan sandwich about Jairus.

There are a lot of ways to compare these two stories, these two characters, and a lot of conclusions to be drawn. The one that I want to explore today, though, is how the two approached Jesus—the steps that they each took toward Jesus.

The first thing we should note is that these events took place on the “other,” the Gentile, side of the Sea of Galilee. Jairus was a Jew, though, and a synagogue official, so he would have been considered pure. But synagogue officials usually judged Jesus to be unclean—look at who he hung around with, and at how little priority he gave to the purity laws of his time. For Jairus, taking steps toward Jesus would have been very difficult. He would have had to cast off his pride, cast off his fear of losing his standing in his church, to approach Jesus. That he did so is a sign that he very dearly loved his gravely ill daughter.

Before we move on, notice what Jairus had done here. In twelve-step parlance—do you all speak 12-step?—Jairus had taken all of the first three steps toward wholeness:

  1. He had admitted that he himself was powerless to save his young daughter.
  2. He had come to believe that Jesus was a power greater than himself who could restore his daughter to health.
  3. AND he had made a decision to turn his daughter over to the care of Jesus.

Yes, by taking steps toward Jesus, the exalted Jairus was showing signs of life.

However, we learn in today’s Markan sandwich that the unclean woman actually did better than Jairus in how SHE approached Jesus. This is very surprising, because the woman was triply unclean.

  1. First, she almost certainly was a Gentile.
  2. Second, she had a defiling disease.
  3. And third, she was a woman.

What SHE had to lose by taking steps toward Jesus was the illness that had kept her apart from her community. What she had had to cast off was her sense of unworthiness, her sense that she deserved her illness, that she deserved her uncleanness. Here is a person who would have—to some degree—bought into the inferior status that she had been given. Yet SOMEHOW she had the courage and faith to take steps toward Jesus, to approach her salvation.

The woman came up to Jesus from behind and touched his cloak. She had to wade through the crowd surrounding Jesus to get to him. She even had to wade through the disciples to reach Jesus. Talk about walking a gauntlet! But she did it. She had so much faith that she just had to touch Jesus’ clothes to be healed. But she didn’t even think she deserved God’s attention!

Our scripture lesson says that when the woman touched Jesus’ clothes, she was “immediately cured.” Remember this—her immediate healing will be important in a minute.

Jairus approached Jesus a bit differently. Somehow, the crowds parted for him in a way that they hadn’t for the woman. Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with Jesus to come heal his daughter. He had faith, but not enough to say, like the Centurion in Matthew’s gospel, “simply say the word and my daughter will be healed.” Jairus had faith, but not like the woman merely to touch Jesus’ clothes. So there was no immediate cure for Jairus’ daughter, although there might had been, had Jairus approached Jesus differently.

Jesus instructed Jairus to “just have faith.” This is a bit puzzling, Hadn’t Jairus cast off his pride and come to Jesus? Hadn’t Jairus prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet? Hadn’t Jairus taken those first three steps toward healing? What more faith could he have had? Maybe Jairus needs to take a lesson from the unclean woman; “maybe” Jesus can do more than merely heal the child—“maybe” Jesus can conquer death itself.

At this point the crowd followed Jesus to Jairus’ home. Our scripture lesson says that the crowd “pressed upon [Jesus].” This crowd always followed Jesus, hoping to witness a miracle or to receive free loaves and fishes. But the crowd had nothing of the faith shown by either the lowly woman nor the exalted man. Some in the crowd dismissed Jesus’ ability to heal the girl. Others even laughed at him.

After Jesus had shown the crowd to be seriously lacking in faith—after Jesus had restored the dead child to life—he told Jairus to feed his daughter and to tell no one. This child’s earthly life was spared—this time—but the girl eventually died again, didn’t she?

On the other hand, after Jesus had assured the now-cured woman of her healing, he told her to “Go in peace and be cured.” The sense of the woman’s cure was ongoing. She had already been cured, but now Jesus “sealed the deal” permanently. Through her faith she had found not only healing, but salvation.

Both Jairus and the woman had taken steps toward Jesus. In each case the people had received the physical healing that they had sought. However, the woman’s faith was greater, and her “cure,” arguably, was more everlasting.

So, you may be wondering, what does this story have to do with us today? The answer depends on where you locate yourself in this story.

  • Are you JESUS, with people pressing in upon you and falling at your feet wanting help? If so, then you know that having faith involves taking a leap beyond the rational and focusing on “letting go and letting God” heal you.
  • Are you the DISCIPLES, whose pressing in around Jesus oftentimes prevents those who seek him from connecting with him? If so, then you will have learned that having faith involves doing whatever it takes to approach Jesus, and then getting out of the way when others seek Jesus, also.
  • Are you the CROWD, who questions the thought of Jesus being able to cure you, to save you, to raise you from the dead? If so, you need to emulate Jairus and cast off your pride and take those first three steps.
  • Are you the WOMAN, who doesn’t believe herself worthy of God’s love? This, too, is pride, and if this describes you then you need to read Psalm 130—this psalm is one of our readings for today, but read it anyway—and cast off your pride, also. Sneak up on Jesus if you must, but do whatever is required to touch his clothes.
  • Are you JAIRUS, who has let his pride get in the way of approaching Jesus until his daughter is almost dead? If so, take heart that we will never in this life find it too late to approach Jesus.

Wherever YOU have placed yourself in this story—in life—you, too, can throw yourself at Jesus’ feet; you can touch his clothes, by believing that Jesus can cure you, both now and in an ongoing way. Every journey to Jesus begins with these first three steps:

Admit that you are powerless over your life and your death.

Come to believe that Christ Jesus is a power greater than you, who can restore you to life.

Turn your will and your life over to Jesus.

Some additional steps may be required.

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