Trinity 4 ~ The Healing of daughters
I have had a frozen shoulder now for about six months. It’s rather annoying – it hurts and it won’t go away. On Wednesday a man came into our house to accompany a music exam, and he gave someone a bit of physiotherapy while their child was doing a music exam. Wendy told me, so I asked him if he’d have a go at me. I reckoned I had nothing to lose, he would either make it better, or he wouldn’t, and if he didn’t, well, it was worth a try. I felt a bit like that woman in the gospel story! He pulled me about a bit, thumped me a few times – is that really part of the treatment, or just an excuse to punch a priest? – I’m not sure. Anyway, it didn’t make any difference!
Our gospel reading today presents us with two well-known, much loved, inspiring, but also very difficult stories about healing. We have the story of Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter, and the story of his healing of the woman who has been bleeding for a dozen years. The two miracles have much in common and some differences to note: The girl and the woman are both healed as a result of requests that emerge from faith, desperation, or both. The woman seeks for herself, Jairus for his daughter. We know his name, and he asks openly while the un-named woman is surreptitious, creeping up on Jesus in order to touch him. It doesn’t matter: Jesus responds, revealing that he is in control and that however we approach, nothing is impossible through humility and faith.
Just think: That un-named woman, had been sick for so long that she didn't know what to do, or where to turn. No doctor could help, which may not surprise us as medicine wasn’t what it is now. As time passed, she grew worse, and I daresay poorer, from all those medical bills. So when she heard Jesus was coming to town, she pushed her way through the crowd. She'd heard about him, the last time he worked on this side of the sea of Galilee, ‘he had cured many’, Mark tells us. Now it was her turn to get cured, so she pushed through the multitude, saying to herself, ‘I don't need to talk to him. I don't need to bother him. I don't need to slow him down with a lot of bedside chitchat. All I need to do is touch the edge of his garment. Then I will be made well.’ And that, as we have heard, is what happened.
Because, as we have also heard, two things went wrong. Firstly, no sooner did she touch his clothes Jesus spun around and said, ‘Who touched me?’ So her surreptitious, humble reaching-out became a face-to-face conversation, a confrontation almost. Yet, when she confessed what she'd done, Jesus let her depart in peace. It was a huge moment for her: sick one minute then healed by Jesus the next. And he calls her ‘daughter’. She is someone’s daughter of course, as every woman is – but in healing she becomes his daughter, or, rather, he becomes her father. And Jesus took the time to do all of this, and because her aliment had rendered her ‘unclean’ in the community, Jesus took the time to heal her and restore her to full participation in the community. For twelve years, she had shuffled through life without dignity, but on the day she touched Jesus, he turned and restored her to full human being.
While we notice that Jesus took the time to speak with her, we might not notice that, because he took time for her, he ran out of time for somebody else. He was late for a previous appointment. That’s the second thing that went wrong. For while Jesus was busy healing this woman who had been ill for twelve years, a sick twelve-year-old girl died. Jesus got interrupted from a healing by a healing.
Jairus had begged Jesus, ‘Please heal my daughter’. He was desperate, and hoped that Jesus would make the young girl well by a touch and a word. But on the way Jesus was sidetracked by a sick woman he then called ‘daughter’. She had never intended to distract him – indeed she thought he wouldn’t even notice, let alone be delayed. Yet in contrast what Jairus asked for, she touched him, and received a word. But it seems that Jairus’ daughter died because Jesus ran out of time. The word of her death came, says Mark, ‘while Jesus was still speaking’ to her: another interruption. So the woman, healed and whole, stood there, refreshed for the first time in years, while because of her demand on Jesus, death came to somebody else. We might well wonder if she had any idea of this.
Whether she did or not, Jairus would have had a better, more focused sense of this failure in urgency. He had insisted that Jesus come to his house and help, and stood by patiently as he paused along the way. His hopes must have risen when he saw Jesus restore the sick woman, only to be dashed as the message comes from home: ‘Jairus, don't trouble the teacher any further. Your daughter is dead.’
In the face of such news, what should Jesus say? ‘Sorry, Jairus, I meant to heal your daughter, but I just got held up.’ He couldn't say that. It’s a difficult dilemma, for it seems that one was healed at the expense of the other. That’s what Jairus must have felt. Of course, as we know, Jesus then went to the house and raised the little girl from the dead. Happy ending – thank you very much – phew that was a close one, all’s well that ends well.
Except that that merely suspends the problem: it doesn't solve it. Today’s NHS has the same difficulties Jesus had. Because we all know that for every person who ever gets healed of a disease, someone else will die. For every person who can push through the crowd to claim the power of Christ, somebody else stands close at hand, having just lost a daughter or son.
And yet, it is often those who are sick themselves – those who are near to death, who give us the greatest insight and clarity. I know of someone – a young boy – who when dying of Leukemia said to a colleague of mine, ‘Reverend, I think I know why God isn't able to make me better’. ‘Why is that?’ he asked. The boy said, ‘Because I think he's busy helping everybody else.’ He didn't know what to say. Understandable - what can we say? Some people get well; others do not.
All the gospels agree Jesus was a healer: he restored life in the face of death. Luke tells us that, ‘People came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases ... and all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him, and he healed all of them’. (Luke 6:18-19). Yet, in contrast, Mark tellingly says, ‘They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. The whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick’ (Mark 1:32-34). It is slightly different: Jesus ‘cured many,’ not ‘all’. Many got well around him, but not everybody. So Mark knows what you and I know: sooner or later, one way or another, all of us become sick. The warranty runs out on our moveable parts. A stain appears on the X-ray. The blood count changes without warning. Or a haemorrhage begins and lasts twelve years. That's how it is on planet earth. Like it or not, sooner or later, one way or another, time will run out for each and every one of us.
One of the great illusions of our age is that we can live forever through better medicine. So we spend billions on medical research. We build machines and develop powerful and complex drugs to keep us alive: to cure or prevent condition and diseases. It’s all incredibly clever and we thank God for the wisdom, skill and insights of medicine. Like the sick woman, we are willing to spend all that we have to clear up that haemorrhage. But we're not necessarily better for it. For all we can buy is a little, albeit precious time. The writer of Mark’s gospel starts with what we know: this is a world of sickness and death. Sooner or later, every single life times out.
But Mark knows something else too: Jesus came preaching, ‘The time is fulfilled; God's kingdom is near.’ Because in Jesus Christ, the eternal realm of God has intersected with our world of linear time. That is to say, even though Jesus didn't heal everybody, the day will come when he will. Even though he ran out of time in these interwoven stories, God will never run out of time. Jesus was born, and raised, to redeem us with the powerful touch of God's eternity. And that's the good news that makes all the difference.
And that is why, when that fateful message to Jairus comes:
‘Jairus, your daughter is dead. Don't trouble the teacher any more’, that is why Jesus says, ‘Jairus, do not fear, only believe.’
And this is why he is able to take the child by the hand and say, ‘Get up!’ Which she does. It is a sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom, there and then.
For us here and now, whenever any of us gets healed of a disease, we see a brief sign of God's kingdom breaking in on our lives. Whenever a surgical procedure makes us well, we are reminded of a final destiny when all shall be well. Whenever we are saved from the jaws of death, it is a blessed disruption of the world as we know it. It is a glimpse of God's new creation, already present yet still coming through Jesus Christ our Lord. We must not be naive. We know what kind of world this is – or at least we think we do. There are occasions when life cannot be saved or sustained. And there are sometimes tragic, appalling events like what has happened in Tunisia and Lyon and Kuwait this week. There are few words of comfort there, in the face of such brutal barbarism masquerading as faith.
But we also know Jesus Christ will never run out of time, even if we do. For the Lord is risen. He is stronger than every power that can damage, hurt, or destroy us. And he will not cease his labour of love, until one by one, he takes each one of us by the hand and raises us from death.
So to him be all power, authority and majesty, now and always. Amen.
The Rev'd Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 28/06/15