Jesus the Healer
Rev. Joshua D. Gill
How do you respond when you get interrupted? Can you reorient yourself quickly or do you get frazzled? Do you get frustrated and impatient? Do you ignore the interruption? Has an interruption changed the course of your day or maybe even your plans for the next few months? When Vicki and were first married we bought a 100-year-old brick twin. It was great; we were a few years out of college, the house needed work but it was a house we could afford. We started doing all sorts of projects. After about four years we had redone most of the house, laying new floors, insulating large portions of it, repairing plaster, adding closets to some of the bedrooms, and doing all sorts of projects. One day Vicki asked me to look at the ceiling fan in the kitchen. We hadn’t done any projects in the kitchen yet. She had noticed that if you turned on the ceiling fan it wobbled. There was a drop ceiling, which should have been a massive red flag, but I told her I could take care of the problem, got my ladder and lifted a tile. It was that moment that I discovered the ceiling fan wasn’t connected to anything — just a 2×4 simply placed on top of the drop ceiling. We also discovered why the kitchen was always hot or cold, the plaster above was full of holes and in spots you could see the underside of the roof. This quick fix was suddenly interrupted and needless to say, we ended up grilling for the next four months as we gutted the kitchen.
The writers of the gospel of Mark has a habit of connecting two stories together. Scholars refer to this “intercalation,” the connecting or sandwiching of two seemingly unrelated stories together so that reader or hearer is forced to compare and connect these stories. The story we read this morning is an example of that. The story of Jarius’ daughter actually begins in verse 21, with Jesus crossing to the other side of the sea. The leaders of the synagogue approach Jesus. Jairus falls on his knees to tell Jesus that his daughter is dying. Jarius proceeds to ask Jesus to come to his home and lay hands on her so that she may be well.
Mark interrupts this Jarius narrative to begin a new narrative. While Jesus is walking to his home, a crowd forms around Jesus. A woman who has been experiencing hemorrhages for 12 years joins the crowd. The text describes her as enduring much under many physicians and she had spent all that she had seeking a cure. She reaches out and touches Jesus robe and is healed. Jesus, realizing that she has been healed, stops the crowd, wondering what has happened. The woman falls before Jesus and tells him the whole truth. Jesus calls her a daughter and tells her to go in peace.
The narrative is then interrupted again. While Jesus is still speaking to the unnamed woman, some people arrive to tell Jesus that the daughter has died. These men encourage Jarius “not to bother the teacher.” Jesus overhears this and responds by telling them to not fear, but believe. Peter, James, John, and Jesus all travel to the home. People have already begun weeping outside the home; there is a great commotion. Jesus enters the home. He speaks in Aramaic “Talitha cum, ‘wake up little girl’.” The twelve-year-old girl gets up and begins walking around. Jesus gives them a strict order not to tell anyone what has happened.
In two seemingly unrelated stories that connect, we learn Jairus’s name but never the name of the woman suffering from chronic hemorrhaging. Jarius would have been a man of some status and influence in his own community, but the woman lost all her money, and likely any status she would have had. She may have been an object of scorn or pity from neighbors and family. Jarius falls at Jesus’ feet, whereas the woman tries to touch Jesus in secret. Jesus not only heals the woman, he declares relationship with her, calling her a daughter. The stories end with healing, Jesus calls the woman’s desperation, faith, and he urges Jarius to continue to have faith. Faith in these examples seems to mean removing any barriers that may keep them from getting to Jesus. Faith is a radical trust in Jesus. This trust is born out of one’s need and the conviction that Jesus can help. Both of our characters longed to connect to Jesus. Jarius specifically asks for Jesus to lay hands on his daughter. The woman grabs a hold of Jesus with purpose.
I think one of the strangest things about this last year of the pandemic, has been the lack of touch we have experienced and the isolation. For many of us we went for months, if not a year, without embracing extended family or without shaking a stranger’s hand. In church we have gone over a year without passing the peace. For some of us this pandemic has been an interruption. For others it has been devasting, a hospital stay, perhaps prolonged symptoms, and for some the death of a loved one. One of the questions I also wrestle with when I hear these recorded miracle stories is who else did Jesus pass by? Was there someone else who didn’t get healed, another child that wasn’t awakened?
A study for the National Institutes of Health from 2019 indicated that 1 out of every 5 adults live with some form of mental illness and I would suspect in this last year that number has grown. Even with the prevalence of these disorders, for many there is still a stigma about asking for help; only about half seek treatment. Among teens, one out of six experience some form of mental illness, with depression being the most common. The Gospel of Mark points out the only way to find some form of healing is to “trouble the teacher”, to ask for help. Victoria Maxwell, author and mental health advocate, writes about her experience with a mood disorder. “When I was first diagnosed with Bipolar and psychosis, my parents’ acceptance, love, and boundary-setting was pivotal. Even when I lacked the ability to accept my mood disorder, I knew in the back of my mind, my parents were a soft place to fall. When I did eventually recognize that I needed help, I knew I could turn to them. And I did.” Victoria troubled the teachers in her own life, asking for help, asking for healing.
This story is an invitation to live into whatever interruption we face in this world, an invitation for us to name and wrestle with the limits of our life, to acknowledge the difficulties we face. An invitation that Joni Sancken calls a “reasonable Hope,” a hope that leaves room for doubt and despair and at the same time holds out hope for incremental steps toward a future. This is an invitation to trouble the teacher with the burdens that are too great for us to bear and an invitation to ask for help.