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First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

The Rev. Joshua Rodriguez

July 1, 2018

 Little Girl, Get Up

Mark 5:21-43

            Growing up I played football.  I was pretty good at football but I never thought of myself as great.  The height of my football career was freshmen year of high school, which was also the year when my mother bought me a moped.  I drove the thing everywhere and anywhere I could.  A lot of my friends had them too, so we had a scooter gang that would ride around town as a pack.  One day my friend Levi and I were riding together on my moped and he noticed that the person behind us was following a little too closely.  He made note of this to me and I turned around while driving to observe the close driver.  I agreed with him that the driver was following too close and suggested he gift them with a particular hand gesture that I thought would adequately share our feelings about how closely they were driving.  Before he got the chance to offer the gift, I turned back around to notice that there was a car stopped in front of us.  I hit my breaks but didn’t have time to stop.  I wrecked into the back of a Chevrolet Blazer.  Both of us were mostly fine, but I ended up going to the ER that evening to learn that I had torn a ligament in my shoulder.  The doctor informed me that it would keep me from playing football that season.  When I told the football coach he said something to me that I have never forgotten.  He said, “J-Rod, I had you playing varsity by the end of the year.”

            No one had ever told me I was that good at football.  That was in 2002.  Sixteen years later I still remember Coach Dawson’s comment.  Why?  Because he saw something in me I didn’t see in myself.  He named a potential in me that no one else had ever named.  He thought of me as far more valuable to the football team than I ever did.

            In our scripture today Jesus is going to do something similar with a few people.  He is going to name a woman as worthy, the potential of faith in a father, and speak words of hope to a troubled nation.  In the scripture today we see that the one we call Lord, Savior, and God as the one who sees something in us we don’t often see, and names a potential we have that isn’t often named.  He thinks of us as far more valuable than we ever do.

             The last time in Mark’s gospel that Jesus taught in the synagogue was quite the incident.  Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, and the religious leaders decide they want to “destroy him.”  To be fair, the religious leaders wanted to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.  Jesus asks the question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”  Which is the kind of question that really flies in the face of the religious leaders.  They remain silent to his question, and he heals the man.  It isn’t a positive interaction for the religious leaders in the synagogue.  They look like fools.  So, when two chapters later it says that a leader in the synagogue has sought out Jesus, because his daughter is sick and dying, we take pause and realize this man is going against the grain of his peers, his colleagues and perhaps even himself.  But Jesus doesn’t hold Jairus’ position or their last encounter against him; he goes with Jairus to his daughter.

            Likely, Jairus is an important person in his society.  One commentator notes, “Few characters besides the disciples and historically important people, such as Herod and Pilate, are named in Mark’s Gospel. Interjecting the name Jairus may demonstrate how important or recognized he was in Capernaum.  His name must carry weight, significance, and honor.  Jairus is an important person.  But it is not his status, or accomplishments or honor that carries him in this story.  His desperation will be his guide.  His daughter is sick, and dying.  As the father of a seven-month-old, there are few scenarios I find more terrifying than the one Jarius finds himself.  Jarius is desperate for his daughter to be alive.”

            As Jesus is following Jairus to his house, the text tells us that a crowd is forming around Jesus.  Of those in the crowd there is a woman.  This woman doesn’t seem to be as important as Jairus.  Scripture doesn’t give her a name.  In fact, the only detail we are given is that she has been bleeding for twelve years.  Leviticus 15:19 tells us that a woman like this is unclean in the Jewish culture, and anyone who touches her is unclean.  If you are unclean, you cannot participate in the worship rituals and if no one can touch you, well, that is a lonely existence.  For twelve years she has been kept from worship and isolated from her community.  Scripture tells us that during these twelve years, this woman has endured much.  She sought out many doctors, all who promised healing, for a price, and she paid them all, but none of them offered her the healing she was after, in fact, the text says she got worse.

            There is a phrase that floats around the South that, being from the Midwest, has stuck out to me.  The phrase is, “bless your heart.”  I have asked a Southern native to define this phrase for me, and their definition was, “compassion, with a twinge of judgment.”  That seems right because when I hear the phrase it also comes with a little head tilt and is often spoken softly, “Oh, bless your heart.”

            If we met this bleeding woman today, learned about how she squandered her money on one doctor who promised healing after another, we would listen to her say something like, “I was sure that doctor was the one!  I just knew I was going to be healed,” and then we would offer her a warm, “Oh, bless your heart.”

            As Jesus is heading to Jairus’ house, this unnamed and unclean woman who has been bleeding for twelve years finds herself in a crowd surrounding Jesus, hoping once again that she may be healed.  Scripture said this time she thought, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  She is desperate to find healing.

            Two facts provided in this text are that the bleeding woman has been bleeding for twelve years and that Jairus’ daughter is twelve years old.  Anytime the number twelve is used in scripture, it is safe it assume that the author is drawing a parallel between the nation of Israel, the twelve tribes of Israel, and the present situation.  The Jewish people are currently under Roman Rule, which is not a place they thought they would ever be, ruled by another people.  So, likely, a Jewish reader in the ANE would have been listening to this text, and understood that Mark was saying that just like this father is desperate for life, and this woman is desperate for healing, so too is the nation of Israel.

            Jairus is desperate for life.  The bleeding woman is desperate for healing.  The nation of Israel is desperate for both: life and healing.

 How many of us are desperate for life?

How many of us are desperate for healing?

How many of us are desperate for both?

            We know the desperation of Jairus.  We know what it is like to have money, resources, and honor in society, and still we find ourselves at the feet of Jesus desperate for life.  I met with a young adult guy who graduated from the right college, got hired by the right wealth management firm, wore the right kind of suit and drove a white Audi convertible, and he was meeting with me to talk about joining a men’s bible study.  The question on my mind as we spoke was, “What are you going through in life that none of these things are enough?”

            We know the desperation of the unnamed woman.  Scripture doesn’t name this woman, but we could all give a name to this situation.  We know what it is like to feel unworthy and isolated and looking for healing anywhere that offers a glimpse of hope.  We know what it’s like to watch someone go year after year never finding the healing they so desperately want.  I have two brothers who have struggled with addiction and who have been incarcerated several times, and both are currently in prison.  I have spoken to both of them and heard the plea for healing, only to watch another season of life nourish the same addictions.

            Certainly we know what it is like as a nation to be desperate for both life and healing.  In America we can’t hardly speak to one another about things that demand our attention.  We can’t hardly speak of things like immigration, sexuality, the Supreme Court, Fox News, CNN news, and the list goes on and on.  We are marked by our difference, hatred, silence and fear.   We are desperate to be alive, to find healing and to hear words of hope.

             Where does this desperation take Jairus and the unnamed woman?  Their longing for life and healing takes them to the feet of Jesus.

            Before Jesus has time to get to Jairus’ daughter, the bleeding woman makes her way through the crowd to touch Jesus.  As she touches him she is healed, and the text says power goes from Jesus’ body and he knows it.  He turns and asks, “Who touched me?”  The disciples, dumbfounded, as usual, say something unhelpful, “There are so many here, how can you ask that?”  Jesus pays no attention to the question.  St. Augustine notes in this moment, “Few are they who by faith touch him; multitudes are they who throng about him.”  Plenty of people surround Jesus, but only a few have the faith to touch him, confident of his ability to heal them.

            The woman doesn’t make herself known right away.  But after a few moments of Jesus’ persistence, she comes forward in fear and trembling.  Why is she afraid?  Perhaps she is overwhelmed that it finally worked.  Perhaps she expected Jesus to do as so many had done, and charged her money for the healing, which she had no money to offer.  We don’t know the source of her fear, but we know that she comes forward, falling at the feet of Jesus, and her fear is met with the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”  She has been an outcast for twelve years.  She has been unclean, broke, and not allowed to participate in society.  Certainly, no one has praised her faith.  No one has called her daughter.  But at the feet of Jesus, she is named daughter.  Daughter is a familiar term used to reference a child, which this woman is not Jesus’ child, and a term used to identify someone who is acceptable before God, which this woman has not known herself as for a long time.

            Jairus goes to Jesus in desperation, hoping for life for his daughter.  As Jesus finishes the healing that interrupts his way to Jairus’ house, people come and tell Jairus, “Your daughter has died, there is no need to bother the teacher.”  You can imagine the heartbreak, the feeling in his gut, the lump in his throat, every emotion that such news carries with it welling up, ready to pour out through tears, anger and utter devastation.

            But in that very moment, Jesus tells him, “Do not fear, only believe.”  That statement is ludicrous to say to a father who has just heard the news of his daughter’s death.  But, if we set aside that absurdity for a moment, and consider, Jesus is not in the business of telling people to do things that they are incapable of doing.  Jesus is in the business of telling people what they are truly capable of.  Jairus has come to the feet of Jesus looking for life, and he is met with the phrase most repeated in scripture, “Do not fear,” in a moment where fear is the most logical response.  At the feet of Jesus Jairus learns what he is truly capable of.  At the feet of Jesus Jairus learns the true possibility of faith in Jesus; he learns about life in the face of death.

            Jesus goes to his house, observes those who have already started the grieving process with their tears and cries, and asks the question, “Why are you crying?”  He follows the question up with the statement, “She isn’t dead, only sleeping.”  As a Jewish person reading this text, noticing the twelve year facts, likely you would have been waiting to see what conclusion was drawn that was applicable for the nation of Israel, and the words that Jesus offers, “You aren’t dead, only sleeping.”  At the feet of Jesus the nation of Israel is met with an incredible statement of hope.  When Jesus speaks the words, “Little girl, get up!” that is for the bleeding woman who finds healing, the desperate father looking for life, and the nation of Israel who has fallen asleep to the work of God in their world.

            At the feet of Jesus, the unnamed woman is named daughter, Jairus learns of his true potential, and the nation of Israel hears a word of hope.  The good news for these people is still good news for us.  At the feet of Jesus we are named worthy, we learn of our true potential, and we hear words of hope.  We can find life, we can find healing, our nation can hear words of hope at the feet of Jesus.  A professor of mine writes about this text, “A male, pure and wealthy is no advantage over being female, unclean and destitute.  In the kingdom of God, faith enables all to meet Jesus with equity.”  That is to say, anyone can find healing at the feet of Jesus, because at the feet of Jesus we learn about our true worth, our great potential, and we hear words of hope.

The sick and dying will find life and healing at the feet of Jesus.

The right wing Trump supporter will find life and healing at the feet of Jesus.

The left wing liberal who still stands with her will find life and healing at the feet of Jesus.

You may still be feeling the Bern and you will find life and healing at the feet of Jesus.

The border patrol officer who enforced the policy as they were told will find healing at the feet of Jesus.

The child separated from their parent will find life and healing at the feet of Jesus.

Those who protest with signs and those who remain silent will find life and healing at the feet of Jesus.

            Coach Dawson told me I could have played varsity, and I never forgot his words.  Your greatest worth and potential are named at the feet of Jesus.  Listen for the people and places in this world that name your worth and potential, in faith.  Go there, spend time there, and never forget how you are named in that place.

 

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