Healing the Heart – Rev. Amanda Wagner
July 28, 2015 (Fifth Sunday after Pentecost)
Lamentations 3:22-33, Mark 5:21-43
Last week we talked about how Jesus and his disciples were crossing the Sea of Galilee when a great windstorm arose and the boat nearly sank. The disciples were terrified and so they woke up Jesus, who was tired and sleeping soundly in the back of the boat. “Don’t you care that we’re drowning?” they asked. And Jesus woke up, calmed the storm and saved them. Presumably, following that scare, the disciples were able to navigate the boat safely to the other side of the sea.
I did a little bit of research, and I found out that the Sea of Galilee is 13 miles long and about 8 miles wide. So Mark isn’t kidding when occasionally refers to Galilee as a “lake.” It’s not terribly big, as far as bodies of water go. Now I’m no boater, but I’ve got to assume that between the storm and the lack of a motor to help them get across, the disciples may not have traveled far, but it was still a long trip.
And when they got to the other side, they were immediately met by a man who was possessed by demons. The demons had taken over the man’s life to the point where he had been kicked out of town and was living in the graveyard.
When the man approached Jesus, Jesus cast out the demons and sent them into a herd of pigs. The pigs then ran off a cliff, which made the pig farmers so angry (understandably so, but angry nonetheless) that they ran Jesus right out of town.
So there they were, Jesus and the disciples, back on the boat after possibly the fastest turnaround trip ever. And with no time to rest in between, they must have been at the point of exhaustion. But when they reached the shore, there was no time to rest, for they were met by a huge crowd of people.
Maybe the news travelled really fast to bring all these people out to meet Jesus. However, I suspect it was the same crowd that Jesus had been teaching before he and his disciples got into the boat and headed across in the first place, waiting and hoping that this charismatic teacher would return.
This is where today’s Gospel reading begins. Jesus steps off the boat, right into the crowd. And since he’s back on land, there’s nowhere to escape from this crowd of people who are determined to follow him wherever he goes.
At the same time, there are two people on a journey to see Jesus. One is Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue. The other is a woman who has been hemorrhaging nonstop for the past 12 years. What sets them apart from the rest is that neither of these people are interested in being part of this crowd of Jesus groupies. They each want a few moments with Jesus, and then to get on with their lives.
Jairus wants to find Jesus and bring him back to the house so that Jesus will heal his daughter. The woman is seeing to be healed from a 12-year bleeding disorder. Both have heard about Jesus and his miraculous healing power, and both are seeking the aid of this famous teacher and healer.
As a leader in the synagogue, Jairus has heard all the stories and conversations concerning Jesus. He is a rebel. He is a troublemaker. He is a threat to the power held by the Jewish authorities. Jairus has heard all of these stories and yet he believes that Jesus just might be the only hope to save his dying daughter.
We can imagine how the crowd, pushing and prodding to get closer to Jesus, must have parted in deference to the powerful community leader as he walked purposefully toward Jesus. This was a man on a mission, and he would stop at nothing to make sure that his daughter received the help she needed.
So that’s exactly what Jairus did. When he reached Jesus, this man of power and status abandoned all pretense of superiority, and literally fell at Jesus’ feet and begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Jesus didn’t say a word at this spectacle. His only response was to immediately turn and set off for the house.
Now contrast this encounter with the interruption of the hemorrhaging woman. She’s the exact opposite of Jairus. She’s not powerful. She has no status in society. Her perpetual bleeding makes her unclean, an untouchable whose very touch makes others unclean.
She’s probably not married, and she is poor, having spent every cent she had on doctors who were unable to provide the healing she so desperately needed. The only similarity that this woman bears to Jairus is that she too has a problem and will stop at nothing to find a solution.
Now consider what happens when someone is made an outcast, branded untouchable. They are ignored and overlooked until they become virtually invisible.
Where Jairus’ status caused the crowd to part in front of him, the woman’s lack of status allowed her to walk through the crowd unnoticed, to sneak right up behind Jesus and even touch his cloak.
But then something happened that got her noticed: some of Jesus’ power left him, was transferred to the woman, and she was immediately healed. Now, Jesus had the option of ignoring it. He could have continued on his way, potentially making it to the little girl’s bedside before she died, and the entire crowd would have been none the wiser.
But Jesus didn’t do that. He stopped and turned to confront the woman. You see, even though the woman had been physically healed, she was still invisible. She was still the poor, unclean woman who had been bleeding for years. By confronting the woman, Jesus forced the crowd to look at her, to really see this woman who had been ignored for 12 years, for as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive.
In a way, Jesus raised two people from the dead that day. When Jesus publically acknowledged the healing that occurred, he restored her place in the community. She wasn’t dying, but she may as well have been dead. Jesus both healed her disease and also gave her back her life when he restored her status in community.
Both Jairus and this unnamed woman experienced a need and did what it took to receive healing. All too often, Jesus’ admonition of “Do not fear; only believe,” is used to support the notion that if we only have enough faith and just pray hard enough, we too will receive everything we ask for. But you and I both know that’s not the case.
We all know that good and faithful people die and suffer from disease every day. I don’t know why some people experience miracles while the prayers of others seem to go unanswered. I don’t know why sometimes we cry to the heavens, don’t you care that there is so much death and disease in this world? and it just seems like God is still asleep in the back of the boat.
There was a man of deep faith who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when he was still in his fifties. He and his wife prayed constantly that he would be healed, but after twenty years, he was nearing the last stages of the disease. Yet, when asked about it, the man explained that his prayers had indeed been answered. When questioned, he replied, “I have been healed, not of my Parkinson’s, but I have been healed of my fear of Parkinson’s.”
For Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman, their prayers were answered. They sought healing and received it. Yet sometimes our prayers seem to go unanswered. When, through the course of our prayers, we seek to change God, to make God’s will into our will, we often find that we gain something else instead. We come to understand that it’s not God’s mind that has been changed; it is our hearts and minds that are changed.
Does prayer work? Absolutely.
Do we get what we pray for? Sometimes, though not always.
But when we open our hearts and minds to seek the healing power of God, however that healing might take place, we enter into a deeper relationship with God, and whatever happens, we will not be the same.
It’s not the easiest thing to turn ourselves completely over to the will of God. As he approached his death, even Jesus asked that this burden be taken from him. Yet as he prayed, he conceded, “not my will but yours, O God.”
Jairus risked his status as a respected religious leader to prostrate himself at the feet of Jesus. His prayer was for healing for his daughter, yet his heart was also healed. Where the other religious leaders couldn’t see the Son of God right in front of them, Jairus let go of his self-importance and had a heart-changing encounter with Jesus.
The hemorrhaging woman snuck through the crowd with the hope that this might finally get the bleeding to stop. Her own faith healed her, but Jesus changed the hearts of all those around as he reinstated her place in society.
Surely after ten years of praying to be cured of his Parkinson’s disease, the man and his wife must have realized that physical healing wasn’t going to happen. Yet they continued to pray for at least another ten years.
That couple knew something about prayer. They knew something that Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman and the entire jostling crowd learned that day:
We don’t pray to change God, we pray and continue to pray so that God can change us. Amen.