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A sermon on Mark 5:21-43

GPS devices are great for lots of things, but they have fundamentally changed how people travel on the road. When I was a kid, we stopped at rest areas along our road trips. Of course we stopped there for bathroom breaks, but we also stopped there because they had maps and information about the area we were entering. Typically, a large map would be framed and mounted on the wall, and the map would contain an arrow pointing to the location of the rest area that read “You are here.” This marker helped travelers to see where they were in relation to where they were headed. As opposed to a GPS that usually only shows you where you are along the way, these rest area maps showed you both where you were and where you were going all in one picture. 

For the summer, we will be doing what we are calling a sermon unSeries. The idea is that, over the course of this summer, we will be taking a roadtrip with God – just like so many people are taking overdue road trips and travel excursions right now. This will be like a sermon series because all of our messages will follow a basic theme – that we are on a journey with God – but it will be unlike a series because each sermon will make sense even if you haven’t heard any of the other sermons in the series. So – an unSeries. And, in this unSeries, we will explore the Scripture texts for the week like they are scenic sites along our journey with God. We will ask what God is teaching us at each stop, and we will marvel at the beautiful and sacred sites we find in each story along the way.

This week, we have begun our journey, but we’ve pulled over at a rest area. We explore the map, and we see the sticker that says “You are here.” Where exactly is “here?” We have pulled over on our road trip with God, and we have stepped out of the car to look closely at two intertwined stories in Mark 5 about two remarkable women in the faith, one who was beginning her journey into womanhood, and the other who was ostracized because of her womanhood. So, as we take this journey of faith, let’s pull over in Mark 5, get out and stretch our legs, and see what the Spirit might have to teach us.

The story begins as other gospel stories do: Jesus gets out of a boat and is promptly greeted by a crowd. But unlike other gospel stories, the person who pleaded with Jesus for help was not an outcast or a marginalized person. Instead, Jesus meets Jairus, a leader of one of the synagogues. Jairus falls before Jesus’s feet and begs Jesus to heal his sick daughter. Can you imagine this powerful person falling down before Jesus and pleading with Jesus to heal his sick daughter? Jesus does not say a word to Jairus. Instead, Jesus listens to Jairus and goes with him immediately.

The large crowd continued to press in on Jesus as he followed Jairus. I imagine that many of the people in the crowd were straining to get close to Jesus because he was becoming famous in the region. Others probably wanted to see what Jesus would do when he made it to Jairus’s house. Still others may have been hoping to ask Jesus for some healing for themselves. But, among all of these people was a woman who was the opposite of Jairus. She had no power of position in society. She was a woman who suffered from an illness that made her ritually unclean. This meant no one could touch her. She could not go to worship. She was expected to keep her distance so that her uncleanness wouldn’t rub off on anyone else. What was a woman in her shoes supposed to do?

She had spent everything she had trying to get well, and everything had failed. She was desperate. But, she knew Jesus couldn’t touch her because she was unclean. And she knew she couldn’t afford to pay to be healed. So, she hatched a plan to touch the hem of his robe in secret. She hoped that she could do this without notice, and just maybe she would be healed. She reaches out and touched Jesus’s garment, but her action doesn’t go unnoticed. She is healed immediately, and Jesus notices what happened. 

Yet the thing that stands out for me isn’t so much her healing, or the fact that Jesus noticed what she did, but instead what Jesus says to her. Jesus’s statement brings me to the first scenic overlook on our journey with God. 

The stories of healing in the Bible don’t teach us that whenever we pray, we will get the physical healing we are looking for. Instead, they point us to the ultimate destination – union with Christ. 

In Anne Lamott’s little book Stitches, she says Christians describe the meaning of our time this way: “Life’s meaning is to seek union with God and be Jesus’s hands and eyes for the people who need help and companionship.” This is what it’s all about. The woman who wanted healing from her physical ailment thought she could slip in and out of the crowd without notice. But, Jesus had other ideas. Instead, he called her out. He asked who had reached out and touched him. When she admitted what she had done, Jesus brought her out of anonymity, out of hiding, and brought her into his family. He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Daughter. The woman went in search of physical healing, but she received so much more; she received belonging in the family of God. She was no longer a stranger, and outcast, an unclean person. She was a daughter, beloved by God. Perhaps I’m picking Jesus’s words apart too much, but I find it interesting that he says her faith made her well, and then tells her to go and be healed of her disease. If she was already made well, what did she need to be healed from? We don’t know for sure from the text, but I have an inkling that her healing came in her belonging. She was no longer an outcast. She was a daughter – united with Christ.  

 No matter where life takes us on this journey – whether we are experiencing beautiful things, or going through the hardest of times, Christ is longing to be united with us. He is walking with us, helping us carry our burdens, and he is inviting us home. I love the way Julian of Norwich put it: “The place which Jesus takes in our soul he will nevermore vacate, for in us is his home of homes, and it is the greatest delight for him to dwell there.” Isn’t that astonishing? Jesus’s greatest delight is dwelling within our souls. We find our greatest and most profound healing when we embrace this union with Christ. We find the peace and wholeness of being children of God.

Before Jesus has even finished speaking to the woman who has been healed, people come to tell Jairus it is too late. His daughter has died. They tell Jairus there is no point in bringing Jesus. Jesus is a healer, but no one could raise the dead. But Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus continued to journey with Jairus, even though Jairus’s desperation had turned to grief. 

When they arrive at Jairus’s house, Jesus asked the mourners who had gathered, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” The next verse is a short one, but it has always gripped me whenever I’ve read it. “And they laughed at him.” Jesus did not respond to their mocking. Instead, he continued his journey with Jairus. He took the little girl by the hand and told her to get up. She was raised to life and Jesus told the people to give her some food. I always find it amazing that after the mourners laughed at him, Jesus did the miracle of healing behind closed doors anyway. He didn’t go out of his way to prove who he was to the crowd. He simply journeyed with Jairus and did what he had come to do.

This brings us to our second scenic overlook on this stretch of our journey. The stories of healing in the Bible can be painful as we remember the times when we did not receive the miracle of healing we so desperately prayed for.

The story of Jairus reminds us that even when physical healing does not come, Jesus accompanies us in our pain. Jesus walks with us. He endures the mockers with us. He enters into the sacred and private room of grief with us and sits at the foot of the bed and weeps with us. 

I read this little story in Reader’s Digest about a boy who had injured himself and needed crutches to get around. On the boy’s birthday, he had cupcakes to bring to school to share with his class, but he could not use his crutches and carry the cupcakes at the same time. The boy asked his older brother to help him carry the cupcakes, and the brother said he would rather not. The father saw this as a teaching moment and asked the son who had declined to help, “Now, what would Jesus do?” The older brother responded, “Heal the birthday boy so he can carry his own cupcakes.” [1]

Wouldn’t that be nice? But, in those moments when healing doesn’t come, Jesus still goes with us. And often, he sends other people to walk with us in our time of need, too.

This week as we travel on the road with God, we need to pull over at the rest stop and check out the map. Where are we, and where are we headed? The woman who touched the hem of Jesus’s robe reminds us that no matter what we’re going through, no matter how much we’ve been beat up by life or pushed out by others, that we are beloved children of God. He draws us into the center and calls us sons and daughters. He invites us to be united with him because that’s ultimately where we’re headed. We can get sidetracked by other stops along the way, or by the unexpected problems that arise along the journey, but our destination is union with Christ. 

Jesus also demonstrated the lengths he was willing to go for us as he walked with Jairus in his grief. Friends, we are never alone. Even when the whole world laughs at our pain, Jesus draws close to us. He goes with us into our quiet spaces and sits with us because he cares. 

This is where we are. You are here, at the place where Jesus draws you close and calls you his child, at the place where Jesus sees your deepest pain and goes with you anyway. May we rest in the comfort that God gives to us, and may we extend that comfort to others. 

In 1932, Rev. Thomas Dorsey experienced the unspeakable pain of losing his wife in childbirth. The child died as well. As he wrestled with this deep grief, Dorsey wrote these words: “Precious Lord, take my hand/Lead me on, let me stand/I am tired, I’m weak, I am worn/Through the storm, through the night/Lead me on to the light/Take my hand, precious Lord/Lead me home.” The image of Jesus taking hold of our hand and leading us when we are too weary and heartbroken to continue on our own is vivid in my mind as I think about these stories from Mark 5. Whatever we might endure, Jesus is with us calling us his children and leading us home. This is the most beautiful thing of all.

Friends, take heart. No matter what the world says, Jesus calls you “Daughter,” “Son.” Whatever your heartaches and heavy burdens, Jesus is walking beside you and helping you carry the load. This week, let us go forth in the comfort and the joy that our God goes with us every step of the way. And whenever we can, let us pay that blessing forward to others as they walk through whatever life throws their way.

[1]  Based on the birthday boy on crutches with cupcakes joke, , submitted by Rachel Nichols