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Women in the World of Jesus: A Suffering Woman and a Dying Girl

March 11, 2007

Mark 5:21-43

I was thinking how appropriate it is this morning to have Nancy, a career nurse, read this scripture about a suffering woman and a dying girl. I tried to imagine how many times Nancy has been at the bedside of people just like this.

We have a wonderful passage before us, one I want to put in context. In order to do that, I would like you to turn with me to the first chapter of Mark. Mark’s gospel, the earliest gospel written, is most condensed. He omits some information found in Matthew and Luke. Mark seems to be in a hurry, as evident in his use of the word immediately thirty-eight times in the course of his gospel. His purpose is to show that Jesus Christ is the son of God, the promised Messiah, the Savior who has come into the world. One way he does that is by emphasizing the healing ministry of Jesus.

As early as the first chapter, we see two accounts of this healing. The first, found in Mark 1:21, occurs in the synagogue at Capernaum. There, Jesus heals a man who has an evil spirit. We move then to Verse 40 of Chapter 1 where we see Jesus heal a man with the dreaded disease of leprosy. Leprosy was so contagious that lepers had to warn people not to come close to them. They were required to shout out, “Unclean! Unclean!” This leper comes to Jesus and falls at his feet, saying, “Lord, if you will touch me, I will be healed.” Jesus reaches out and touches him, healing this man of his disease.

Chapter 2 begins with the remarkable story of a man who is paralyzed. His friends carry him on a pallet to the home of Simon Peter where Jesus is staying. They try to get inside the house, but the crowd is so large that they resort to drastic measures: climbing on the roof, removing tiles off the roof, and lowering their sick friend to the feet of Jesus. Jesus not only heals the man’s physical paralysis, but he also heals his spiritual weakness. He forgives the man of his sins. Chapter 3, Verses 9-10 record the effect this healing had on the people who heard about Jesus: “Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.”

Chapter 5 begins with another remarkable healing. Jesus has gone across the Sea of Galilee to a different region. There he encounters a man we know as the Gerasene demoniac. This man has multiple illnesses, one of which is a multiple personality disorder. When asked his name, he says, “My name is Legion,” which is a way of saying that many, many people live inside of him. He was so violent, so out of control, that the people had put him in chains and relegated him to live among the tombs beside the Sea of Galilee. Jesus touches this man and heals him. When the people of the town come out to see this man, the Scripture says he is clothed and in his right mind.

Some of you will be very preoccupied in the next three weeks watching the NCAA basketball tournament. I have already watched an overload of basketball games this weekend, as some of you have. The new technology in television makes it possible to watch more than one game at a time. Some televisions have the ability to present two different channels, at once. The screen shows a picture within a picture so that you can watch two basketball games simultaneously.

Following the healing of the demoniac, Mark records two additional accounts of healing, this time intertwining the two. In the account in Mark 5, Mark gives us a picture within a picture. In the middle of one healing, he performs a second healing in Capernaum. Jesus heals a woman who is suffering and a girl who is dying. Mark comments on the fact that the woman has suffered for twelve years under the care of many doctors. She has spent all of her money, but the physicians had not been able to heal her. Luke, who also records this incident, is a physician. It is interesting that he omits that particular detail when recording this miracle. I guess Luke knows that malpractice was a problem, even as it is now. It is also interesting to consider how Matthew’s presentation of this account differs from Mark’s presentation. After Jesus called Matthew as a disciple, Matthew invited him to his home for a meal. Jesus is dining with this new disciple, a tax collector, when a ruler of the synagogue, Jairus, interrupts. Matthew records this because no doubt he and his family remembered the interruption.

Think now about Jairus’ interruption. He fell at Jesus’ feet, probably out of breath from running to find Jesus. He pleads, “Lord, my daughter is dying! If you will come and touch her, she will be healed.” Isn’t his prayer the prayer of every parent? Do you want Jesus to touch your children? Do you want Jesus to touch your grandchildren? They may not be at the point of death, but you want the Lord to have his hand on the life of your children. I certainly want him to touch my children and my grandchildren and help them become what he wants them to be.

Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue, which probably means he was the president, responsible for the business matters and committee organizations. Being the president of a synagogue would be somewhat analogous to being the chairperson of the deacons in our church. For Jairus to come to this controversial itinerate rabbi and ask for a miracle reveals his desperation. Remember that Jairus had seen Jesus perform other healings earlier in the synagogue, as found in Chapter 1. Now that his daughter needs help, this man of prestige and authority, this man of prominence, this man of great wealth, falls at the feet of Jesus and makes his request.

Jesus gets up from his interrupted meal at the home of Matthew and begins the journey to the home of Jairus. Along the way, Jesus encounters another interruption. As he is pressing through the crowd, a woman touches the hem of his garment or perhaps the tassels of his prayer shawl. She takes the initiative to reach out and touch Jesus though she tries to do so in a discreet manner.

This woman, the Bible says, has had an issue of blood for twelve years, a common problem then. Though the problem still exists today, treatment is readily available. The physicians and this woman had probably tried every possible suggestion for a cure. The Talmud even listed eleven possible “remedies.” One suggestion was drinking a mixture of crushed garlic in wine. Other treatments, based more on superstition, included burning a bulb, mixing the ashes with wine, and throwing it over the shoulder. I cannot imagine either suggestion helping any medical problem.

Do you realize what the illness meant for this woman? Leviticus 15 states that society treated a woman with an issue of blood as ritually unclean. She was not contagious like the leper, but she was no less unclean. She was prohibited from being in society and worshipping in the synagogue or temple. Once the bleeding had stopped, the priest would announce that she was clean after a period of purification. For twelve years, this woman has been an outcast. She was not to touch anyone, and no one could touch her because that person would also be unclean. There were no hugs, no handshakes, and no physical contact.

Having heard about Jesus, this woman presses through the crowd, reaches out to touch only his garment, and then falls at his feet. This is not the first time the crowd’s have pushed forward to touch Jesus. Read back in Chapter 3, Verses 9-10. When Jesus feels healing power go out of his body, his response is to stop and acknowledge that person by asking, “Who touched me?” Why did this woman fall at his feet? She was embarrassed, ashamed, and afraid. She thought Jesus would fuss at her, condemn her. He was, after all, a rabbi; and her touch would make him ritually unclean. Jesus was not concerned about that at all; he was concerned about the woman. He looked at her there at his feet and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Jesus had restored her health for the first time in twelve years. He restored her dignity. He restored her integrity. He restored her community. This healing would have a tremendous effect on her life.

Jairus, an important man facing a life-or-death situation, is off to the side. He might have said to Jesus, “Why are you stopping to tend to this woman? She is an outcast, but I am the president of the synagogue. My daughter is dying! Why are you taking time away from my daughter to take care of this woman? After all, she has lived with this condition for twelve years. She can live with it a little longer.” Though Jairus did have a sense of urgency, I doubt he had that kind of attitude.

Then servants from the home of Jairus come and give him the news that his daughter is dead. He might have thought, Jesus, if you have just gone to my house without stopping, maybe my daughter would be alive. Jesus, who could sense his fear, turned to him and said, “Jairus, do not be afraid. Just believe. The child is not dead. She is sleeping.”

Mark tells us that Jairus’ daughter was near death when Jairus approaches Jesus. Matthew indicates that she was actually dead. Whether she was dead or alive really does not matter. What matters is that Jesus went to the home to find a wake in progress. Professional mourners were already there, wailing and weeping. Everyone laughed at Jesus when he asked, “Why are you doing all of this? Why is there all of this commotion? The girl is not dead.” It was neither the first time nor the last time that others would laugh at the Messiah. Jesus sent them out of the house, only allowing the father, the mother, and three disciples at the bedside of this little girl. He reaches down to her as she lies on her pallet on the floor and touches her hand. In one of those rare instances, we find in the gospels his Aramaic words, Thalitha koum! (which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”) The girl sat up, and Jesus instructs her parents to bring her some food. That was proof that she was alive if she could eat something. Jesus restores this daughter to her parents.

Let us look at some connections here between the suffering woman and the dying girl. In Jesus’ day, society did not have a high regard for women. I hope you can see by now in this sermon series that Jesus consistently tried to elevate the status of women, to treat them as people of worth. He certainly does that with these two females. Jesus restores the woman to health. He also restores this girl of twelve, the age when a girl had her bah mitzvah, a ceremony that marks her becoming a daughter of the covenant, a daughter of the Torah. The girl is right on the verge of being a woman. Jesus refers to both of them as “daughter.” To the woman with an issue of blood, he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” To the little girl, he refers to her as “daughter,” which means, “God loves you. You are a child of God.” Another connection may exist here with the number twelve. The woman had an issue of blood for twelve years. The girl was twelve years old. The Hebrew people regarded twelve as one of the perfect numbers. Maybe the significance here is that both of these females, one older and one younger, are made complete, restored to wholeness.

Everybody wishes that Jesus would touch him or her. Some of you here today wish that Jesus would touch your life, healing you from a disease that has bothered you for a long time. We all have times when we wish for the miraculous touch of Jesus. A miracle, by definition, does not happen very often. Leslie Weatherhead, a Methodist pastor, has helped me understand how God’s will works. In his book The Will of God, Weatherhead identifies three components of God’s will. First, God has an intentional will for us, a desire that we will have good health and long life. We live in an imperfect world though, a world where people get sick, where young people are at the point of death. Second, God activates a circumstantial will. God can take the difficult circumstances of our lives and make something good out of that. It is the jest of Romans 8:28: “…all things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.” Third, God has an ultimate will of redemption for us. No matter what the difficulties of life have been, God intends that all of us will be redeemed, that we will know that we are children of God.

When Clare broke her arm the Friday afternoon before Mother’s Day, we had trouble finding an orthopedist. We finally found a young doctor, Dr. Jaworski. When we walked into her office, we both thought she ought to be in about the tenth grade. Dr. Jaworski started talking with Clare about all kinds of things, such as pocketbook styles and Mother’s Day. I noticed that as Dr. Jaworski talked, she started rubbing Clare’s arm very gently. Her touch became more and more forceful. Toward the end of their conversation, she was tugging hard on Clare’s hand. Clare never missed a beat in that conversation. She kept talking. Finally, Dr. Jaworski said, “Mrs. Neely, I have been able to set your arm.” She used no anesthesia. By starting with a gentle touch and slowing increasing the pressure, she moved those bones back in place.

Touch is amazing. Touch can be healing. We see it here in Jesus’ ministry. He reaches out and touches a leper, a paralytic, a woman with an issue of blood, and a dying little girl.

Years ago, I worked as a chaplain in an institution for juvenile delinquents in Louisville, Kentucky. A girl, the mother of two children, came into our institution. Her children were born before she was sixteen years old. Then when she became pregnant a third time, she had a back alley abortion. The coat hanger used for the abortion punctured her uterus, and she almost died. After that horrible experience, she became addicted to street drugs. She came into our institution an adjudicated delinquent because of her drug habit.

Even as a young child, this girl had sung in clubs around Louisville. She had a beautiful voice. She often sang at our worship service, usually singing “Amazing Grace” though with an incorrect word. She sang, “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wench like me.” Wench fit her life. One day, she said, “I want to sing a new song in church.” She sang, “He Touched Me,” written by Bill Gaither in 1963.

“Shackled by heavy burden,

’Neath a load of guilt and shame.

Then the Hand of Jesus touched me,

And now I am no longer the same.

He touched me, oh He touched me,

And oh the joy that floods my soul.

Something happened and now I know,

He touched me and He made me whole.

A woman reached out to touch the Master. Jairus went to Jesus and fell at his feet, pleading, “Lord, if you will touch my daughter…” Have you reached out to Jesus? Have you allowed the Master to touch your life? Have you accepted his healing touch? Have you invited him to become the Lord of your life? Doing so would make all the difference in your life. We encourage you to make whatever decision God has laid on your heart. Some of you need to accept Christ as your Savior. Some here today need to unite with this church. Whatever decision Christ has laid on your heart, we invite you to respond as we turn together and sing, “Jesus Is Lord of All.” Come, as God leads.

© 2007 Kirk H. Neely

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