The Touch of Jesus [Sermon 6/28/2015]

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June 29, 2015 by jmar198013

My sermon from yesterday, June 28, 2015. Presented to Central Church of Christ in Stockton, CA, with special guests Valley View Church of Christ and New Life Church of Christ. My first “official” Sunday as Central’s preaching minister.


 

A few moments ago, we heard a reading from the Gospel of Mark. Now, brother Mark had this trick he liked to show off. A little storytelling technique peculiar to him. What he’d do is he’d wrap one story inside another like a pig-in-a-blanket. That was sort of like Mark’s signature as a craftsman. Anyway, our reading from his Gospel—Mark 5.21-43—is one of those times he wrapped one story inside another. The first story involves a synagogue official named Jairus, whose daughter is about to die. He begs Jesus to heal his daughter. But before they get back to Jairus’ house, they get word that the girl has died. Jesus protests that, The child isn’t dead. She’s only sleeping. This draws scorn from the crowd that has gathered to mourn for the child, but Jesus is undaunted. Taking the girl’s parents and a handful of trusted disciples to her sickbed, Jesus commands: Young woman, get up. And that’s exactly what happens, which shocks the little group of onlookers privileged to experience this miracle. The second story interrupts this one—it’s the pig wrapped in the blanket. Which may suggest it’s where the real meat is. In this second story, a woman has what Mark’s rather graphic Greek calls a spring of blood (Gk. πηγὴ τοῦ αἵματος, 5.29). No doctor has been able to heal her, but she’s heard that Jesus can fix anything. She reaches out for Jesus with one desperate thought: If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed. And so she is. As far as we can tell, that’s the only time Jesus ever accidentally healed anyone. Okay, so at first glance, it seems like these stories have absolutely nothing to do with one another, other than miraculous healing. Like it was just some happy accident that the hemorrhaging woman bumped into Jesus on his way to heal Jairus’ daughter. But like I said before, Mark told it that way on purpose. Look at it and you’ll see a lot of common elements. Both of the recipients of Jesus’ healing were unnamed females. The word daughter is applied to both. The sick girl is Jairus’ daughter; and Jesus tenderly addresses the bleeding woman as Daughter. Jairus’ daughter is 12 years old; the woman has been bleeding for 12 years. There’s this common thread of fear and faith in both stories. The bleeding woman is full of fear and trembling when she approaches Jesus; but he tells her, your faith has healed you (5.33-34). Likewise, after hearing that his daughter has died, Jesus tells Jairus: Don’t be afraid; just keep trusting (5.36). But the most significant element the stories share in common is the experience of touch. Jairus begs Jesus come and place your hands on [my daughter] so that she can be healed and live (5.23). The bleeding woman is healed when she touches Jesus’ clothes, and Jesus responds by asking, Who touched my clothes? The disciples poke fun at Jesus, asking: Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you? Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’ (5.27-31). And as Jesus spoke the words that revived Jairus’ daughter, Mark supplies the tender detail that Jesus took her by the hand (5.41). So these are stories of healing. They are stories of faith wrestling with fear. But at their core, they are stories about touch. About contact. About suffering people reaching out for Jesus. About Jesus reaching out for suffering people. They are stories about the touch of Jesus. That’s why Mark wrapped them together like he did.

Slide1So our text for this morning began at Mark 5.21: Jesus crossed the lake again, and on the other side a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. We’re being thrust into the middle of the action. We are told that Jesus crossed the lake again. Where had he been? Well, he’d been out east, on the Gentile side of the lake. While he was there, he had performed a sort of reenactment of the Exodus starring a demon-oppressed man and a herd of pigs. But that’s another sermon. So Jesus crosses over from a miracle tour of Gentile territory, and is swarmed by a crowd. What did these people want from him? Were they there for healing? Doesn’t seem like it. Were they disciples? No—they were admirers. They were fans. Jesus was a celebrity to these people; a rock star. They wanted to brag to their friends that they got this close to Jesus. They wanted to pose for a selfie in front of Jesus. They wanted his autograph. And this desperate father with a critically ill child has to push his way through the crowd to get to Jesus. This woman who has been bleeding for twelve years, who is probably weak and anemic, has to sneak up on Jesus to get her hands on a corner of his garments. They needed hope and healing. They needed Jesus’ touch. And all these other folks, with their own agendas, were getting in the way. Hardly seems fair, does it? And the lesson there, church, is that Jesus isn’t looking for fans or admirers. Not long afterward, those same fans would be calling for Pilate to crucify Jesus. There are broke-down, bruised, battered, bleeding people all around who need Jesus. Jesus wants hurt and hopeless people to come to him for healing and hope. He wants disciples who will get in the boat with him and cross boundaries and borders to incite a holy insurrection of hope. To proclaim with him that another world is possible, and have a crowd of salvaged lives and communities and relationships to prove it. So if what we want is to press Jesus into our agenda; if we want his autograph on our own prejudices and hang-ups and politics, we’re getting in the way. Jesus wants a church full of disciples and witnesses. Not fans.

So this synagogue leader, Jairus, wades through a sea of adoring fans and makes contact with Jesus. His daughter is at the point of death. Please, he begs Jesus, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live. He wants Jesus to come touch his daughter and redeem the promise of her young life. You know what that means, church? Sometimes there are people in places and situations who are in such pain, such distress, such darkness, who are so devoid of hope or meaning, they can’t approach Jesus themselves. They may have lost the ability to hope or to trust or to dream. They have dwelled so long in darkness that the darkness has come to dwell in them. So they can’t come to Jesus; we have to come to Jesus for them. We have to reach out to Jesus on their behalf. But—O church!—we are also called to be the body of Christ (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12), which means that we reach out to people on Jesus’ behalf. Jesus has gifted the world with the church to change lives and heal wounds and make peace and rescue the lost and redeem hopeless situations. Our work in the world is to offer the healing touch of Jesus. We are here to be life-givers. To be called the body of Christ means that the church is given healing authority. We don’t leave our neighbors or our neighborhoods in the conditions we found them in. We have the mission and the means to grant healing.

So Jesus and Jairus take off, with the Jesus fan club still buzzing along behind them. And this woman, this poor woman who has been bleeding for twelve years—as long as Jairus’ daughter has been alive—cuts through the crowd. She touches his clothes, and is instantly healed. Now when I called her a poor woman, I wasn’t just expressing sympathy. Mark makes sure to tell us that she had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better. In fact, she had gotten worse. So she was literally poor. Experimental treatments and infomercial cures and televangelists had taken all her money and left her worse off than she was before. I want to contrast this poor woman with Jairus’ daughter. Jairus’ daughter had her whole life in front of her. She was getting to the age in that culture where she would be betrothed, and then she would marry and have children of her own. Her life was full of promise. This bleeding woman—well, she was a hopeless case. Her life was mostly behind her. And beyond that, she had no money. What did she have to offer? But she has the audacity to cut in line and steal a miracle. And it’s just then that word came from Jairus’ house: Your daughter has died. Doesn’t that offend your sense of justice? This woman has taken Jesus’ time and energy and attention that could have been used to save the life of Jairus’ daughter. What a waste of resources! Why didn’t Jesus tell her off for interrupting? That there were other people—like Jairus’ daughter—who were more deserving of healing? Couldn’t he have said, Woman, put that healing back right where you got it! Shouldn’t he have been outraged that her miracle grab had perhaps cost a little girl her life? How selfish of her! How entitled! But of course, we can’t imagine Jesus doing anything like that, right? So my question is: do we ever think and act that way? And if so—Why? Why do we prioritize some people as more deserving of help than others? Why have some of us written off certain people or neighborhoods? Why might we give sacrificially to help pay Jairus’ daughters medical bills, but tell the other woman that her bleeding is a matter of personal responsibility? Why would we recite the proverb, Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime, to people who can’t even get access to a clean pond? Who do we think we are? Well, look, church—the Bible tells us who we are. In Eph. 2.10, brother Paul proclaims that we are God’s accomplishment, created in Christ Jesus to do good things. To be the church, to be disciples, means God is re-making us in the image of Christ. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains the practical consequences of this divine makeover: “Those who follow Christ are destined to bear his image . . . That image has the power to transform our lives, and if we surrender ourselves utterly to him, we cannot help bearing his image ourselves.”[1] I said all that to say this: when we are tempted to prioritize who receives our attention; when we fear being taken advantage of; when we are suffering compassion fatigue from all the needy people who interrupt us—the only way to be ourselves is to be true to the image of Christ God is perfecting in us. And what we see Jesus do in these interwoven stories is to restore both the bleeding woman and the daughter who has died. We must not fear, only believe that in Christ, God gives us the time and patience and compassion and creativity and discernment to offer healing to whomever God places in our path. We are free not to have to write anyone off. From this tale of two anonymous daughters, we learn that the interruptions may very well be our true work. And we learn that Christ honors both the faith that boldly reaches out and grabs for healing; and the faith of those who must trust in God’s goodness on behalf of others. Christ honored both, and so will we.

A final lesson I suspect brother Mark was trying to teach us with these two interwoven stories is that the healing is not a quick-fix. Jesus restored these two daughters to life, but that means that they still had lives to live. Lives that needed to be sustained and nurtured. I think we tend to read Jesus in the Gospels as a sort of walking urgent care clinic. He heals a disease, or casts out a demon, problem solved. Everyone lives happily ever after. Life goes on as if none of this tragic stuff ever happened. But that’s sitcom reality; that’s not real life. Even after Jesus heals these daughters, they are still both women in a culture that didn’t treat women as fully human. They were still Jews living in occupied territory, oppressed by Rome. Think about the woman with the hemorrhage. According to Lev. 12.25, the woman’s bleeding issue made her unclean. Now, she had been unclean for 12 years. That means whatever she touched was also unclean. And that means she probably didn’t have many visitors. Think of how lonely, how isolated, she must have felt. You don’t get over 12 years of solitary confinement just because the bleeding stops. And she couldn’t get back the money she had given to the doctors. She was still destitute. Somebody, or several somebodies, would have to continue to work with her to rebuild her life. After her healing, Jesus tells her to go in peace. That doesn’t mean kick back and take it easy. It’s an invitation to go begin the challenging work of reclaiming her life. Or check out what happened after Jesus gave Jairus’ daughter her life back. Mark says Jesus told them to give her something to eat. She has her life back, but she still needs to be nurtured and nourished. The healing encounter with Jesus wasn’t the end of the story. It was the beginning. And it’s the same with us: we will encounter hurting people. We will encounter places and situations that seem hopeless. And we will reach out. We will offer care and healing. But once the crisis is addressed, we don’t get to sit back and believe that we have fixed the problem and all is well. The healing is the outward and visible sign of an inward, transforming grace that must be nurtured. Both in the bleeding women and daughters of Jairus we meet; and in ourselves. And that, brothers and sisters, is the ongoing work of the church.

 

[1] The Cost of Discipleship, rev. ed. (New York, Macmillan, 1963), 337.

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