The Hemorrhaging Woman and A Little Girl: Wholeness Through Christ
Mark 5:21-43 After Jesus crossed over by boat, a large crowd met him at the seaside. One of the meeting-place leaders named Jairus came. When he saw Jesus, he fell to his knees, beside himself as he begged, “My dear daughter is at death’s door. Come and lay hands on her so she will get well and live.” Jesus went with him, the whole crowd tagging along, pushing and jostling him. A woman who had suffered a condition of hemorrhaging for twelve years—a long succession of physicians had treated her, and treated her badly, taking all her money and leaving her worse off than before—had heard about Jesus. She slipped in from behind and touched his robe. She was thinking to herself, “If I can put a finger on his robe, I can get well.” The moment she did it, the flow of blood dried up. She could feel the change and knew her plague was over and done with. At the same moment, Jesus felt energy discharging from him. He turned around to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my robe?” His disciples said, “What are you talking about? With this crowd pushing and jostling you, you’re asking, ‘Who touched me?’ Dozens have touched you!” But Jesus went on asking, looking around to see who had done it. The woman, knowing what had happened, knowing she was the one, stepped up in fear and trembling, knelt before him, and gave him the whole story. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you’re healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed.”While he was still talking, some people came from the leader’s house and told him, “Your daughter is dead. Why bother the Teacher any more?” Jesus overheard what they were talking about and said to the leader, “Don’t listen to them; just trust me.” He permitted no one to go in with him except Peter, James, and John. They entered the leader’s house and pushed their way through the gossips looking for a story and neighbors bringing in casseroles. Jesus was abrupt: “Why all this busybody grief and gossip? This child isn’t dead; she’s sleeping.” They laughed sarcastically, and they told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. But when he had sent them all out, he took the child’s father and mother, along with his companions, and entered the child’s room. He clasped the girl’s hand and said, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up.” At that, she was up and walking around! This girl was twelve years of age. They, of course, were all beside themselves with joy. He gave them strict orders that no one was to know what had taken place in that room. Then he said, “Give her something to eat.”
Last week we saw Jesus calming the storm- "Peace! BeStill" says Jesus, and the wind and waves obey him. That's the power of Christ- the great, "I AM," the one who can still our darkest fears and stand with us through the storms of life and death. The disciples needed to see that power as they were traveling to a territory that was potentially hostile- and they would feel fear, and stress, and worry if they would make it back to Jewish territory alive. They needed to see that the power that was with them was bigger than any danger they would encounter. And they watched shortly after, how Jesus overthrew a legion of demons- and restored an afflicted person to wholeness.
Stunned, they again got into the boat with Jesus and sailed back to the other side where it was safe. And that is important- because both the women in today's' story are Jewish- they are women of the faith.
First, let's talk about Jarius' daughter. We know that she was 12 years old- we know that hers was a life of access; of privilege. Her father's high status assured she had the best of everything- and would probably already have plans to marry; also to someone of high standing and wealth. She was 12 remember, so this is the age where girls become women- her future screamed of fertility and promise. She was an insider; respected...
Jesus looks at this man of the temple; the same institution that he knows is plotting to kill him... this man of power and position weeping and repeatedly begging at his feet... he is desperate- and has no doubt tried any number of prominent healers, and with nowhere else to go, seeks out Jesus.
Here's what I love about Jesus- agrees to go with him, no games, no sarcasm, none of the behavior you and I might be tempted to show... instead Jesus meets Jarius in his suffering- no strings attached.
But the crowd was so large it was difficult to move... bumping and pressing in- Among them a woman, also desperate, but no status, no access, no privilege, someone in fact who is considered an untouchable.
Let's talk about her... at one time she must have had wealth. We can guess that much, because it says in the story that she had spent all she had on doctors and cures- but it took her twelve years to do it… and- she had been treated badly… in fact the doctors had made her worse.
This woman of great means, one day woke up, probably thinking that her monthly cycle had begun- and she alerted whomever she had to alert to let folks know that she was unclean for a while- because in first century Israel, among the things that could make you unclean, was a woman’s monthly cycle. In fact, even in touching a woman while she had her monthly cycle would make you unclean- so when it happened to her that month…as usual, she separated herself from her family… and she began taking the necessary steps to get ready for the purification ritual that had to happen when her cycle was over so that she could be restored to the community. Except as the days passed, the bleeding didn’t stop. After a couple of weeks of not being able to be with her family, she probably went to a doctor- not really understanding what was going on. But after the doctor has no answer, she goes back home to her isolated part of the house and waits. And waits. And waits.
What's a person to do? She could no longer live or be near her family, as risk of contact would be too great-she could not shame her whole family and cause all of them to become unclean. So no more tucking in the kids or kissing anyone good night. Her only option left was to leave her home- to live in a place where we put all those who we think can harm us, or dirty us, or corrupt us... outside the community- the margins the streets.
She has money, thank God for that- so she decides she will live meagerly, and spend the money she does have trying out cures for her illness. But it had been 12 years… exhausted, physically, emotionally, and financially out of options. So she did what people do who have no legal options for getting what they need to survive. She covers herself- puts on some disguise... she could have never gotten to stand in the midst of the crowd had people recognized her… and quietly navigates through the mob of people surrounding Jesus…
Step back a moment. I want you to understand the risk involved in what this woman was doing. Go back to the fact that according to Jewish law she is unclean. Yet, she is puts herself in the middle of this swarm of people- she is well aware that everyone who she bumps into is being made unclean by just her touch… she is well aware that she is breaking the law. But in 12 years of being treated like an outcast, she has come to an understanding of how the law is set up to privilege some, and oppress others- to strengthen some, and disempower anyone "not like us." She has in fact, so little regard for these unjust laws that she is willing to risk making Jesus unclean by touching him! If she is caught, she will be killed… but she will gain access to healing at any cost... “If only I can touch his robe…”
As soon as she does she is made well, the bleeding stops...and she feels the change…
If the story ended there, it would be miraculous enough. The woman could have slipped away through the crowds, healed physically, and all of us would know that power of God to heal our sickness. But Jesus isn't about just healing our physical bodies. Jesus goes for wholeness- healing physically, emotionally, spiritually. And so when he feels the power drawn from him and he spins around and says “who touched me?” And the woman admits what she’s done… but she has had enough of hiding, so she steps out toward Jesus, and trembling, kneels down, and tells him the truth. In doing so she was admitting not just to her act of civil disobedience- but she was also expressing her whole truth- the story that she had lived out for the past 12 years- not the narratives that others had impressed on her- the labels they had given her, the assumptions they'd made about, the prejudices they'd formed. She would no longer be shamed into silence by bad theology and religious dogma- she was kneeling at the feet of Jesus and at his request, poured out her story, and in doing so, stripped away layer after layer of the protective thick skin she'd worked so hard to grow in order to live and justify the behavior of others... with each word, a small scale of self loathing fell to the ground until she sat in silence, spent, but satiated. When we name our whole truth, for good or for bad, there is a cleansing that happens- a stillness and peace in the soul... even if we don't know what will come from naming that truth.
And Jesus kneels, touches her tear-soaked face, and restores her to wholeness- "Daughter" he calls her. And in doing so names her an insider- privileged- with access to the same things as the daughter of Jarius.
And we could stop right here- this is great- the marginalized woman got brought to the center, and all is wonderful, because again, we love the underdog. She represents the outcast- anyone who has been made to feel so much like this woman, who understand first hand what it is like to be labeled, and marginalized, to have someone else's narrative impressed upon you, and to feel the shame of bad theology and religious dogma. Anyone who has found it necessary to walk through the crowd wearing a disguise or forced to grow a skin thick enough to withstand abuse. She represents anyone who has had unspeakable things done to them, justified with the gross misuse of scripture.
So, the story could end here and we would feel so good out her restoration to wholeness.
But there was another woman just as helpless to change her situation as the hemorrhaging woman, lying dead in her home of access and privilege. This "little girl" of wealth and position was no doubt part of the machine that continued to steamroll those on the margins... her life on the brink of bringing offspring into that world.
Jesus could have stopped that from happening... Jesus didn't have to go to bring this girl back, to perpetuate the wealthy and powerful- he could have stayed right there with the people on the margins... he could have stayed with the newly healed woman and ministered to her family and healed more like her- and in doing so, he could have stayed the Jesus we love- who suffers with us and who picks us up when we're down! But here's what I know... that we serve a God who wants all to be restored to wholeness! This 12-year-old girl, though she represents the elite and the powerful, also represents the religious system, the temple, the church. In Jesus taking this young woman by the hand and saying "Talitha Koum" 'get up little girl' he so also affirming the youth, the vibrancy, the fertility and the promise in the church- but just as those on the margins need to be healed, so does the church. We (church) also need to be restored to wholeness- and we need to tell our whole truth- to reach out to Jesus, yes, perhaps in desperation, but naming what's happened and asking for healing...
I want to give you an opportunity today, wherever you are in this story, whether you find yourself in the woman who has been bleeding for 12 years- shamed and thick skinned, or in Jarius, a person at the end of his rope and desperate for Christ to heal even if he has to give up his old view of religious rules to do it, or in the little girl beyond all earthly hope in the bed, sure that this is the end- I want to let you know that the spirit of the living Christ is here… offering you the chance to open yourself, to tell you truth, to name out loud the journey you’ve traveled, the pain you’ve endured, and the fear you may feel- even now. Maybe its fear of letting go of old beliefs. Maybe fear that Jesus, once he hears your story, won’t accept you after all. Or that you will have to go back to living life in disguise- continuing to hemorrhage until your body and soul just gives out. Maybe you think you are beyond hope, and that because you’ve participated or been complicit in the systems that serve to keep some in power and some on the margins that Jesus won’t bother listening… But if there is one shred of hope in you today- one speck of faith that Jesus is who he says he is, the one who can calm every storm, the great I AM- then let one finger slip out of your sleeve this morning and dare to touch the hem of his robe… Christ will be kneeling right beside you, holding you right where you are… no strings attached- and accepting and loving you- no matter what. Truly the power that is with you is greater than any fear that you may have, and loves you more than you can imagine.