Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 Mark 5: 21-43
We pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our sustainer. Amen.
A couple of days ago Mike introduced me to a you-tube clip that has been doing the rounds on social media - a programme called Carpool Karaoke – where host James Corden invited Paul McCartney to hop in the car with him and tour around Paul’s old haunts in Liverpool singing as they went. And there were at least two stops, one at the house where he lived as a teenager and another at one of the pubs where the band used to play. And at both of those places, the word he was there spread like wildfire and he came out to crowds of people just wanting to say hi, shake his hand – there was a quick ‘named my son after you, Paul’ – and to generally get a look at this legend that is Paul McCartney of the Beatles whose crowd pulling ability was a phenomenon of its time and still is.
You might also, those of an age, also be remembering the furore caused by John Lennon’s comment in 1966 in America that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus and rock music would outlive Christianity. Provocative stuff indeed and still so.
Well I reckon Jesus was the rock musician of his day – the authorities didn’t know what to do with this disruptive phenomenon and the crowds gathered to say hello, listen to, touch, be part of the experience that seemed to flow out of this carpenter turned preacher, healer, rule breaker. The crowds seemed naturally drawn to him and followed him where they could. We remember Jesus hopping in a boat to find some respite – but the people were waiting on the other side of the lake. And the people were from all walks of life – Jews, Gentiles, priests and the unclean, doubters and believers, disciples and disclaimers - they were all there waiting, hoping to encounter this perplexing man who pulled the crowds like no-one they had ever seen - and some of them were there because they were in desperate straits seeing Jesus as their last hope when all else had failed them. Remember the man dropped down through the roof, another up the tree, the blind beggar, the leper – all pinning their hopes for life on this man Jesus.
Tara Woodward-Lehman put it like this when pondering who people thought Jesus to be:
There were the curious who considered Jesus a novelty
There were the sceptical, who considered Jesus likely a fraud
There were the starstruck, who considered Jesus a celebrity
There were the faithful, who considered Jesus a friend, teacher, leader
Then there were those who were just plain desperate.
And so we hear today about two more of those desperate people – one whose daughter was dying and the other who was to all accounts dead to the world – two people who reached out to Jesus in faith because they were at the end of their hope and they saw in him something others didn’t.
To both Tabitha’s father and the haemorrhaging woman (I am going to name her Judith for today – she deserves a name along with Jairus and Tabitha I think), Jesus was the last hope to their desperate need, for they knew somehow in their need that Jesus was the answer.
Their desperation and their faith in the healing power of Jesus shows in their approaches – a high official from the temple, full of authority and influence and reputation, on his knees – as one commentary said ‘..he kicks propriety to the curb, falls on his knees at the feet of Jesus, and shamelessly begs…’ and a nameless women, a social outcast, perpetually unclean, who braved the anger and I suspect potential violence of the crowd to reach this man and, not feeling able to speak to him or stand up for fear of being hustled out of his reach, she instead reaches out her hand to touch his cloak.
Jairus and Judith – from very different lives both seeing the beyond the hype to the very centre of this man Jesus in their despair.
One of the most interesting part of this scripture reading is in the way the two stories entwine – Jairus, able and willing to advocate for his little girl, becomes the bystander to a women who has no advocate whatsoever - and Jesus claims her as ‘daughter’ telling the world that he is the one that intercedes for the marginalised, that she too is a beloved child of God through her faith in Jesus, she too has someone to speak up for her.
I wonder how Jairus felt – impatiently waiting while Jesus responded to this random woman in the crowd. And his fears were realised – he hears that his daughter has died before Jesus could get there. He could be excused for feeling angry at the delay, upset that Judith, by her intervention, has possibly lost him his child – yet Jesus pre-empted any outpouring of outrage or grief by the words: ‘Do not fear. Only believe!’ Come with me….
We do not hear Jairus’ reply, only that he went with Jesus. And that Tabitha rose up from her bed healed.
So what are we to take from these stories of faith, of desperation, of hope and healing?
One very obvious but often overlooked truth is that the stories of healing in the Gospel reading would in no way overcome the inescapable fact that we all eventually die – its one of the absolute certainties in our changing world – and there is no suggestion that by invoking the touch of Jesus we will avoid this thing called death.
It is interesting here to look at the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon – who acknowledges death, but refuses to see it as a construct of God, but rather of the devil. He speaks instead of faith as the belief that death itself does not have the last word, that in belief the relationship with God continues past death into recreated life. Jesus likewise does not deny death – but speaks into the power of God to overcome it, to continue in relationship with us beyond death and into life. Perhaps it might not be harps and clouds and the gates of St Peter but we need to understand that God does not let us go into death abandoned or separated from the love of the God of eternity.
And this leads us down another thought track – we know that sometimes the bleeding doesn’t stop, the child does die, the prayers do not halt the cancer. Our response to death can be to blame God, or to say we have not been prayerful enough or faithful enough or good enough in our living to have been heard by God. That thinking is problematic on so many fronts – but let us just say for now that the God of grace does not bow to the supposed wisdom of humankind –that healing is not always about physical symptoms, that healing is needed even when we don’t know we are sick, that healing is not so much about curing but, in the words of 20th century theologian Jurgen Moltman, is about developing “the ability to cope with pain, sickness and death”. Being healthy is about having the strength to be human, as bringing divine love into the place of fear and powerlessness.
The hymn words of Graham Bell gather these thoughts for me, resonate:
We cannot measure how you heal or answer every sufferer’s prayer,
yet we believe your grace responds where faith and doubt unite to care.
And this what we see, do we not, in the healing of Jairus. No, he is not physically pulled back from the brink of death, yes he is delighted at the return of his beloved 12 year old daughter when he thought her gone, no he is not wanting fixed the scene of his complete abandonment before Jesus, none of those. No, Jairus’ healing comes in his moment of surrender of all that he held worthy (his authority, his influence, his reputation) before one who he recognised in this moment of desperation as truth, love and life.
Let us be honest about our weaknesses, accept that healing is needed in our lives in ways we might not envisage, and remember that it is better to take our desperation before Jesus than to perish in the limitations of worthiness the world places on us. Let us, above all, acknowledge the desire of Jesus Christ to welcome us in our desperation and to name us daughter and son through our faith.
We finish with more words from John Bell:
God, let your Spirit meet us here to mend the body, mind, and soul,
to disentangle peace from pain, and make your broken people whole.
 © John. L. Bell & Graham Maule; Tune: Ye Banks and Braes