Sunday 27th June

TOUCHING FAITH – Mark 5:21-43

In the passage recorded by Mark (5:21-43) are two stories stories about faith. Almost certainly Mark intended that these two stories, one about the healing of  the daughter of Jairus and the other about the healing of the woman with the haemorrhage – should complement each another.They are intended to be read together. The key to understanding this passage is the story of Jairus with which the passage begins and ends. The story of the woman with the haemorrhage, which is inserted in the middle of the story of Jairus, is intended to demonstrate to Jairus what faith can do.

It is interesting to note that Jairus, a leader in the Synagogue, is given a lesson in faith by a woman, who because she was regarded as ritually ‘unclean’, would never be permitted inside a synagogue.

Jairus was a desperate man. It was sheer despair that made him turn to Jesus and to throw himself at the feet of Jesus and beg. It indicates what a terrible state he was in. That is not surprising as his little girl was desperately ill. So ill that she was dying and this father would do anything to save his little girl. Almost certainly be tried every possible remedy but to no avail. In desperation, and almost certainly as a last resort, he turns to Jesus.

Someone once commentated that faith does not emerge when life is rosy and all well.  It emerges where human competence fails.

But even Jairus’ faith, born of desperation, takes a knock as everything seems to conspire against him. He cannot get near Jesus because of the dense crowds blocking the way. Eventually reaching Jesus and pleading desperately for help, there is a further delay as Jesus becomes distracted by a woman in the crowd whom he engages in conversation. To Jairus it must have appeared that Jesus just did not appreciate the urgency of the situation. What little faith Jairus had when he first set out to seek Jesus’ help  would surely have started to evaporate by now. Then, with one devastating, numbing, blow it’s shattered by the message “Your daughter’s dead”.

It is at this point  we come to the heart of this passage – the words of Jesus (v.36): Don’t be afraid; simply have faith.

These two words about fear and faith link these two story’s together. It’s as if the woman with the haemorrhage is presented by Mark as an example of faith to Jairus. He has been waiting for minutes; she has been waiting for twelve years. She has  suffered setback after setback  –  having her hopes repeatedly dashed as her condition becomes worse and worse.

Jairus, we assume, is suffering his first real encounter with personal tragedy. The woman’s  self-esteem has been systematically destroyed. She desperately tries to conceal her painful vulnerability by using the crowds of people thronging around Jesus as cover.  She has been marginalised for years. So she dare not draw attention to herself by approaching Jesus openly. She reaches out in faith while Jairus, this respected religious leader of the synagogue, in sheer desperation pleads openly for help.

The woman with the haemorrhage reached out to touch Jesus in simple, trembling faith and was freed from her disease.

But more than that, Jesus realising that her restoration to wholeness, her physical well-being,  would only be complete by her  assurance of being acceptable to  God as well as to the society from which she had become estranged by the cruel circumstances of her condition. So he seeks her out and in so doing restores her lost dignity and effects a double healing, by  speaking  the word of ‘salvation’ (v.34) to her: “Your faith has healed you. Go in peace, and be healed  of your disease.” So she’s restored as a person by being restored as  member of the community from which she had been so cruelly excluded. This incident seems to be saying to Jairus: “Look and see what God can do through Jesus”.

Finally, Jairus’ own faith finds its resurrection in the further initiative of Jesus. The heart-rending grief and misery surrounding the bedside of the little girl is confronted by Jesus. The representatives of  unbelief and chaos are driven from the house like so many demons (v.40): After turning everyone out, Jesus took the child’s father and mother and his own companions into the room where the child was.

At last there’s peace, where sleeping faith can awaken. Jesus again takes the initiative, not this time with Jairus, for the word of faith has already been spoken to him. Now the word of life is addressed to this little girl –  bringing resurrection.

One Commentator referring to incidents recorded in Mark’s Gospel has commentated as insiders ‘stumble on’ Jesus and take offence at him, outsiders stumble on him and respond with faith. Everything is inside out. The insiders in this Gospel seem to have the wrong sort of faith and the outsiders the right sort.”

This passage is a lesson to insiders on what it means to have faith. It is  addressed to long-standing members of  the church, like us who sometimes find it hard to believe. Jairus with his wavering, stumbling faith, comes from within the institutions of religion, as we do. He not only learns about faith he sees a demonstration of faith in an outsider, one who was considered unworthy, unclean and excluded..

Jesus told about a man giving a dinner party. Many of the invited guests declined his invitation. So the man said to his servants:

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town,
         and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame….
         and to the highways and along the hedgerows
         and compel them to come in.” (Luke 14:16-24)

It’s a parable about the inclusiveness of God’s kingdom  –  in which the insiders are those who build protective walls around them to keep out those who they consider unworthy or inferior. But we may well find that these so-called ‘outsiders’ will enrich and renew our faith;- and our willingness to listen and accept them is itself a powerful demonstration of faith.

But you know the basis of our faith is always the faith God has in us rather than our faith in God. Faith is not so much about our ability to remain true to God but God’s unrelenting perseverance to stay in touch with us! That’s the basis of faith.

At the end of this story Jesus requested that the little girl be given something to eat. Was this an indication  of  Jesus’ holistic interest -his care for the whole needs of people – spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological and political?

Jesus’ life, along with his death, is life-changing.  It  brings ‘wholeness’;  it crosses boundaries, both ethnic (cf. 5:1-20) and gender  (cf.5:21-43).  Jesus chooses not to leave people in the conditions in which he found them.  And he had the power to change their condition.

Can the Christian community today alter the conditions of people’s lives?  Can it, too, bring healing into troubled circumstances?  Must it not also cross boundaries – whether they are  related to ethnicity, gender, race, sexual orientation, politics or any other boundaries that divide our society — and advocate life-giving meaning and change?  Faith, rather than something private and personal, is universally inclusive!

Revd Michael Diffey