The Human Touch – Sermon on Mark 5:21-43

Readings

The Gospels have not been written randomly, the ordering of the stories is deliberate and careful

It is normal to look either side of a reading to see how it fits with what surrounds it – the surrounding stories and events inform what lies within – they help us understand them

Here we have two stories which not only interrelate they are interwoven,

So we should look for connections

What do we see?

  1. We hear that “many were in the crowd pressing in on him”

Despite the crowds these are private encounters one-on-one

First Jesus identifies the woman who has touched him despite the crowd.  Despite the multitude he knows her

Then Jesus gets rid of the crowd so that he is left with only Simon Peter, James and John. Finally, he clears Jairus’s house of the crowd of mourners to leave himself alone with the father and the mother and more importantly the girl

Despite the crowd, Jesus is meeting with people individually – offering a personal encounter

2. These are encounters with women

But two very different women – the interwoven stories invite us to compare

  • The young girl who is the daughter of rich man who has died at the age of 12 – when she was just about to enter society as a woman of marriageable age
  • A woman who has hemorrhaged for twelve years and so been kept from society – in particular, it kept her from worship – she has impoverished herself by trying to buy a cure

In some societies women still face social exclusion if they do not keep the rules

I have just come back from the middle east and it is extraordinary to see women veiled – and apparently through choice – though I wonder how much choice there is really

To see how differently people can be treated on grounds of gender

The woman with the haemorrhage faced a particular issue

No one wanted to risk being touched by her

Issue of pollution from childbirth continued till very recently

Churching of women is in the prayer book -though its words speak of the ‘thanksgiving of women after child-birth’ it is difficult not to see links back to the laws of Leviticus 12 in which a woman was kept from society for 40 days after the birth of a child

There was some sense in this of course in that a woman should be given time to recover from the exertions of childbirth and to focus her attention on the wellbeing of the newborn

The idea of pollution around menstrual blood served less purpose but was very strict:

If a woman has a discharge of blood for many days, not at the time of her impurity, or if she has a discharge beyond the time of her impurity, for all the days of the discharge she shall continue in uncleanness; as in the days of her impurity, she shall be unclean. 26 Every bed on which she lies during all the days of her discharge shall be treated as the bed of her impurity; and everything on which she sits shall be unclean, as in the uncleanness of her impurity. 27 Whoever touches these things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe in water, and be unclean until the evening. (Lev 15:25-27)

This is the context for the women in our story – she is not allowed to worship in the temple – she is not allowed to touch anyone or anything – especially not a man

I know women who have suffered from this condition – endometriosis – and it is hard enough to bear physiologically and psychologically without the stigma of ritual pollution

This is the context for the woman who reaches out and touches Jesus

In Old testament terms, by reaching out and deliberately touching Jesus she is polluting him

In New testament terms,  by reaching out and touching Jesus she is making contact with the living God.

And God incarnate in Jesus Christ calls her ‘daughter’

What of our other story?

Here we are with another ‘daughter’ but at the other end of the social spectrum – while the haemorrhaging woman has spent all her money on doctors – the leader of the synagogue is a rich and powerful man – but disease and death are levellers of social class

The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little. (2 Corinthians)

– not only that but Jesus makes him wait!

There is an Old Testament parallel in this story with the Elijah’s meeting with the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17) – a widow whose son is ill and without her son she was in great peril – economic hardship and exposed to predation – often such women would be forced into prostitution

By contrast a woman – especially a daughter was of little value – indeed she would cost money in the form of a dowry

And yet when Jesus heals her, the parents celebrate

In Greek it is given great emphasis – ezestesan euthus ekstaei megale – “they were immediately ecstatic with great with ecstasy” They are beside themselves – taken out of themselves – transformed

It is revealed that she is a young woman – a kore, an adolescent – just of an age to be married – as Mary was, Jesus’s mother

Indeed she is 12 years old – born at the same time as the other woman had started bleeding

The effort of bringing up a child – those years of investment of love and patience might have been wasted just at the point where she is on the point of marrying and starting her own family

After her encounter with Jesus – after he takes her by the hand – these years are now not wasted – he speaks to her in her own language – Talitha cum is Aramaic – and she is healed – And given something to eat – we will come back to that

 

What do we take from this stories serve to establish Jesus as someone quite extraordinary  – in Mark’s Gospel he is often portrayed as a kind of epic hero

With super-natural knowledge – he knows a woman has touched him (in Greek he looks for ‘the woman who did this’ the feminine gender showing he knows)

He is a super-natural healer – healing people that no doctor can heal – bringing people back from the dead

What are we to make of that in our contemporary scientific, secular, sceptical cynical society?

As often these stories make most sense today as exemplars of our own journeys to God through the message and ministry of Jesus Christ

Of our own coming to spiritual health and wholeness

Many were in the crowd pressing in on him – but those who had need, received and received through an intimate, physical encounter

There is a need for patience – even a little suffering in the journey of faith

12 years for the afflicted woman

12 years for Jairus to look after and nurture his daughter

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations)

Ultimately God waits for us to make our response to him

With honesty – in confession – Jesus knows it is a woman – but it is important that she responds, humbly, on her knees,

As the afflicted woman we are encouraged to boldly reach out to Jesus

As the child who has looked into the face of death – we put out our hand and allow ourselves to be led by Christ and to follow him in the way of life

Jesus brings the old and the young back to God – back to spiritual life

The love of God in Jesus Christ particularly reaches out to those who find themselves outcast – outside of society

In the incarnate Christ, God reaches out to us in our humanity – in human touch

And asks us to respond

In our lives, in our faith and in our worship

And when we reach out – with faith – then we will find healing

and we will find joy – we too will be transformed

we too will be ecstatic with great ecstasy –

It is for this reason that the physical encounter with God in bread and wine is called the eucharist

The giving of great thanks

—-

Like the afflicted woman, like Jairus’s daughter, you will shortly reach out your hands to receive communion

So you too will touch God.

May you find the healing you are looking for

May you be ecstatic with great ecstasy

Amen

Sermon delivered by Christopher Hancock at St Mary’s Headley, 1st July, 2018

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