“Trinity 4: Touch and Faith”
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It’s what we have all missed during this pandemic, touch.
Our gospel today tells two different, but intertwined stories that involve touch: a dad desperately trying to save his daughter, and an unnamed woman desperately trying to save herself.
First, we have Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, who comes to Jesus, grovelling at his feet. Jairus is a man of great privilege: respected, wealthy, a religious leader. He is unable to help his 12year old daughter, his baby girl. In the end he is just like every other parent who has begged God to help his or her sick child.
Let’s join the crowds that are pressed in around Jesus and make way for Jairus to pass through. “My little daughter is dying. Help. Save her.” Jairus bows before him, he asks for salvation, he has faith. It’s amazing what desperation can do. Without a word of response, Jesus goes with Jairus. There’s not a moment to lose, but the crowd surrounds them, making it difficult to move quickly. They don’t have time for this. And then…
Jesus stops in his tracks and asks, “Who touched me?” He’s being touched at every moment – “pressed in upon,” according to Mark. Come on, Jesus, we’re in a hurry here! But this was no ordinary touch, power went out from Jesus, without him intending it to happen. Jesus refuses to go on. He seeks out the one whose need causes her to reach out to him in secret.
And there she is – the woman comes forward and like Jairus she falls at Jesus’ feet, and tells him the whole truth: She had been sick for 12 years, with a constant flow of blood. She had seen all the doctors, done all the treatments and spent all her money, to no avail. And on top of her physical suffering, this ailment has ostracized her from her community. According to the purity codes of the Jewish Law, women who were menstruating were unclean, and sent into isolation. Touching a bleeding woman was totally taboo.
This woman was not just isolated and deemed unclean once a month, but for 12 years. For 12 years, she tried and failed to receive healing. Her condition only got worse. So, in our story, her presence among the crowd, pushing through them to get to Jesus, is scandalous. She exposes everyone she touches. Her very presence in our story is unlawful. This is what her culture and religion has taught her: she’s illegal.
This woman is bold, she’s disobedient, she is at her wits end. So, she risks everything, including perhaps the comfort and status of those around her, for one last chance. “If I can just touch his clothes, I will be saved.” She touches his garment, and she feels in her body that her bleeding has stopped.
And everything stops. Can you imagine how Jairus feels? “Let’s go, Jesus, we’re wasting time! Focus on me! I did the right thing! Focus on my little, innocent daughter!” But Jesus stops. He finds the bold woman. He connects with her. He calls her daughter. He speaks words of peace and healing and salvation over her. And just as she experiences healing and restoration, Jairus gets the devastating news that his daughter has died. Jesus doesn’t stop for pastoral words, but barges on and into the house, past the mourners, he takes the dead girl’s hand: “Little girl, get up!” And she does. Not even death is strong enough to stop Jesus’ saving power. Jesus was explicitly disregarding two very clearly stated purity codes from the law.
Jairus and the bold woman in our story today could not be more different.
-He is a parent. The woman’s illness has most likely excluded her from that role.
-He is a man of privilege – with name and title. She is a nobody – an unwoman.
-He is a religious leader. She has been cast out by her community and religion.
-He is wealthy. She’s spent everything she had on failed attempts at cures.
-He approaches Jesus with a formal request. She pushes her way forward and doesn’t ask permission.
Nevertheless, they and their stories are connected. Their stories depend on each other. The woman has been suffering for 12 years – the whole of Jairus’ daughter’s 12 years of life. Both, in quite different ways, express their incredible faith. Both Jairus and the woman fall at Jesus’ feet. Both experience God’s salvation, and God’s healing, through Jesus. The woman and the little girl were both unclean (because of bleeding or because of death), and in both cases, Jesus ignores the religious rules, breaking the law to help them. Jesus calls them both ‘daughter’. Their healing, their salvation, is not in competition. It is not at odds. It is inextricably connected. And so is ours, whether from sin or sickness.
When I worked at CFH there was an experience I shared with a Christian friend that changed the way I prayed forever. I would like to share it with you. Knowing that I was, at the time, training for ministry, a Christian nurse telephoned my office and asked if I would come to the children’s ward and speak to a mother who was in great distress. It was because her daughter had returned from the operating theatre with what appeared to be the results of a stroke. Christine, my friend from the office came too.
When we got to the ward, I went directly to console the mother, but Christine barged over to the child’s bed and took her hand. Christine asked the little girl if she knew about Jesus, there was a little nod, yes. Christine then gathered us around the bed, and holding hands, she prayed that Jesus would send his Holy Spirit to make the little girl better. The child went to sleep, and we went back to work.
Later that afternoon we received a telephone call to say the child had woken and all her stiffness and paralysis was gone. Typically, the anaesthetist said that it must have been an allergic reaction to the drugs. We said we did not care how God had done it. The mother said it was a miracle. And I was grateful for an object lesson in praying in faith.
Jairus had it, faith, the unnamed woman had it, the little girl’s mother had it, and I had finally got it.
So, in our thoughts and prayers today we must include thanks to God for that most precious gift, the gift of faith, and also for the opportunity to touch our neighbour in ways that during the pandemic might include, shopping or simply just caring, and test out our faith among all with whom we share our lives. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 05/07/2020