The daughter of Jairus and the bleeding woman
Sermon preached by
The Reverend Charles Royden
We had a problem with the Garden of Remembrance last week. As you will know we have just bought a piece of land from Bedford Borough Council to extend the Garden of Remembrance at St Mark's. And we arranged to have a fence erected around it, six feet high and of metal link design. We have now planted a cedar hedge around it and in five years time it should look very nice. But! No sooner had the fence gone up than I found half a dozen young lads inside the new grounds, they had not come through the church gate and walked all the way round, they had climbed over the new fence. I was not amused!
As I lay awake that night troubled by this, thinking about whether we could electrify the fence or put a shark infested moat around it, I suddenly realised how to stop the unwanted visitors. Anti vandal paint is wonderful. It is a thick black horrible paint that never dries. It gets on your clothes and your hands and it is unpleasant to get off. So I bought a large tin and I went round and painted the top of the fence all along for the top 3 inches. Low and behold we have had no further visitors! It doesn't hurt anybody, it's not like the barbed wire which we have been told by the insurance company that we have to remove from the hedge in case an intruder hurts themselves (the world really has gone mad). But vandals will not want to get black paint on the hands because it is dirty, it is unclean!
What does unclean mean in the Old Testament of the Bible. For reasons we don't fully understand, the ancient Hebrews felt the same about a few things. Certain animals, foods, diseases, body fluids, and dead things made the people say, 'Ugh! Don't touch them!' Such things were 'unclean' or 'impure'. If you touched them you became unclean. If you had one of the diseases, you became unclean. Anything or anyone that you touched became unclean. Being unclean was the opposite of being holy. Being unclean meant that you couldn't come to the holy temple to worship the holy God. Anything unclean was unfit or unworthy to be in the presence of the holy God. If you were unclean, you had to go through a rite of purification or cleansing in order to be welcomed back into society and into the presence of God.
Now I want to you to imagine that I had this anti-vandal paint on my hands. If I wanted to shake hands with you when you left church this morning, how would you feel? You would not want to go near me! In fact you might go out of the church by another door to avoid me. I would become isolated and people would say 'Don't touch me!' In the same way in the Bible it was taught that unclean things and people were estranged from God and each other. They weren't supposed to touch each other. Uncleanness, especially the three big ones—leprosy, bodily discharge, or corpse touching—were about relationships. They put one outside of the community. Since in priestly thought uncleanness was infectious, a human being might incur it by contact with any unclean person or thing (Lev. 5:3); but the law regarded three forms of uncleanness as serious enough to exclude the infected person from society. These were 1. leprosy 2. uncleanness caused by bodily discharges 3. and impurity resulting from contact with the dead (Num. 5:2-4). And these rules were enforced with discipline. A whole religious culture was built up which tried to keep everything in its place, everything in order, nothing upsetting, maintaining the old prejudices and exclusive systems.
And so in our story today we see a little girl who is dead and a woman who is like the living dead! They have things in common,
- They are both utterly desperate
- They both come to Jesus as their last and only hope.
When Jesus calls the woman who touched him "daughter," he established a relationship with one with whom he should not have a relationship. Her illness made her unclean he should not allow her to touch him. In some ways their view of unclean things is like our saying, "One bad apple spoils the whole bunch." Contact with one of these unclean things made you an unclean person. There is some truth to this. If you hang around someone with a contagious disease, you are likely to end up with the same sickness. If you hang around with the wrong group of people, their bad influence may "spoil" you. There are some good reasons to stay away from certain people and things. Jesus should have made himself unclean by the contact with the woman and the little girl, but instead Jesus mixes everything up. Jesus doesn't become unclean by contact with the unclean people. They don't bring him down to their level. Jesus' holiness transforms their uncleanness. The flow of blood is stopped. The woman is healed. The corpse comes back to life. The young girl gets out of bed. God participates in a feast with tax collectors and sinners. With people in situations that others said, "Ugh" to, Jesus has no ughs!! He has a healing touch. Jesus' holiness transforms the people's uncleanness. Jesus raises them up to his level. Jesus makes them worthy to be in the presence of God. Jesus, as the one good, holy apple, can make all the bad apples become good.
Sometimes our lives may seem full of ughs. We may think that we are terrible, rotten, unclean people. Jesus doesn't think so. To him, there are no such things as unclean people, just people who need his healing touch. Whoever he touches becomes clean and holy and beautiful. The woman's faith in Jesus' ability to heal her is so great that she is convinced she need only reach out and touch the hem of his garment in order to experience his healing power. The story tells us that this is true. With faith like this in Jesus, even death's grip is broken. Faith in action Jesus told the woman 'Your faith has saved/healed you' She certainly believed that if she touched his clothes she would be saved/healed. But the important thing about this woman was that she did not 'just' have faith, she had the courage to act on it. She believed it so strongly that she risked breaking all the ritual and societal rules about cleanness to follow what she believed to be true. She had a belief that Jesus would accept her and even though she was afraid and trembling, she came to him. She told him the whole truth -- thus incriminating herself. Then as a result of her faith in action, she was accepted as a daughter. She was praised for her faith.
Verna Dozier in "The Dream of God," writes:
'The important question to ask is not, 'What do you believe?' but 'What difference does it make that you believe?'
Does the world come nearer to the dream of God because of what you believe?"
I am guessing now but indulge me.
I am guessing that this woman had been through a certain rough treatment from a lot of men. Powerful religious men had told her that she was dirty. Powerful medical men had told her that she had to go through loads of treatment. I am guessing that when the treatment failed to heal her they did not think of themselves as failures but rather of her as the failure, what do you think? The doctor's diagnosis and 12 years of agony should have reduced the haemorrhaging woman to hopelessness, yet she continued to have faith in Jesus' ability to heal her. She was willing to transgress the religious authority, willing to step outside the boundaries of social behaviour for her faith. This was a strong woman. Despite her appearance, her gender and her status, this woman surprisingly provides Mark with an ideal model of faithfulness.
We do not hear enough examples of strong women, society still does not like strong women. Women are supposed to do as they are told and not encouraged to be strong and assertive. Job discrimination, sexual harassment, unequal access to decision making, unequal pay, and simply the continual social pressures to be polite, accommodating and nurturing, submerge most women's true voices under a Barbie doll-like veneer of compliance. Whereas a man who argues his corner is admired as strong and brave, women are considered bolshy lesbians. They are often punished and ostracised, both by men and by other women.
Small wonder, then, that many women have great difficulty about conflict! Women often avoid disagreement in order to preserve relationship, but often at the expense of their own truth and sometimes their safety as well. Now I am not saying this to make women feel better and men feel guilty. It is you as women who need to get out and be assertive, don't expect a man to do it for you. Women have shrunk from their responsibilities and they must look again to women like this one in our story as examples of strength and courage. So it is that the faith of this woman then becomes the model of faith demanded of the named more worthy man in society Jairus.
The faith of the woman is demanded of the man. In the face of the devastating news Jairus' companions bring to him, Jesus counsels in verse 36: "Do not fear, only believe (pisteuein)." Far from being a bothersome, time-delaying interruption, the story of the haemorrhaging woman serves as an example of the kind of faith true disciples must maintain. Jesus has no truck with the social conventions. Although Jairus is introduced in verse 22 as a significant member of society, his personal pre-eminence is pushed aside just as his story is pushed right off the pages by the determination of the nameless, powerless, bleeding woman. Her long illness, personal struggles, failure to find healing and enforced poverty are carefully detailed by Mark's text. But all these negatives only serve to point up her story's positive thrust and focus -- her tremendous faith in Jesus. Each one of us must seek to copy this woman. We must have faith in action. Willing to be off side in the rules of the game of social convention. Willing to transgress if necessary and be pushy.