Year B Proper 8 (2009)
Turning things around
Irishman walks into a bar with a pig under his arm ‘where did you get that’ asks the barman? I won it in a raffle’ replies the pig….
Firstly, I am allowed to tell Irish jokes because I'm Irish (kind of). Second, at the risk of taking one of my favourite jokes to bits too much, I like this joke because like all the best jokes it thwarts our expectations! Jokes are funny (if they are funny) because something happens that we weren’t ready for! Likewise the things which stick in our minds from the Bible are the things which turn the world upside down, that remind us that there is more to this faith business, and especially to this Jesus chap, than we could contain in all of our theologies, philosophies, traditions or ideas.
And if you need any proof of that, let’s look at the Gospel reading for today. It’s one of those familiar Gospel readings which we can loose the impact of because it is so well known to so many of us.
It is, of course, two stories, two events woven together, where each has an impact upon the other. They share a common theme as well as a common place – actually they share a number of common themes but I want to talk about one – the way in which Jesus does the unexpected, and makes people whole even as he makes other people uncomfortable as he does so.
Firstly we have Jesus crossing over the lake of Galilee where he has just come from the encounter with a demon possessed man who was known as legion. From that chaos he comes to a different type of chaos! The crowds are desperate to see him, they want to be near him but, it seems, are kept from getting too close by the disciples who find themselves on bodyguard duty! Still the clamour of the crowd surrounds him.
Into this clamour comes one of the local religious leaders – a man given the name Jairus. I say given the name because it seems to be a made up name meaning ‘one who will be enlightented’ or ‘God enlightens’ – a reference perhaps to the purpose of this carefully crafted story. Anyway, this man, this leader is obviously important enough, or distressed enough, to be let through to meet Jesus. And there is good reason for his distress, his daughter is sick, to the point of death, and he doesn’t know where to turn. Despite the suspicion towards Jesus that we have from many of the religious authorities it seems that some are open to the idea that Jesus may have something of God’s purposes about him. Or perhaps its just desperation…
Having said that, plenty of people turn to us in the church when they go through desperate times, many of who have very little understanding of our faith or of the Church and we would do well to learn from Jesus’ example. He went, no discussion, no questions, he went. He saw a need and responded.
But on the way something happens. A woman who had experienced bleeding for twelve years presses in and touches the hem of Jesus’ garment, or perhaps one of the tassles on his cloak that Jesus (as an orthodox Jew) would have worn. And at the moment she does this she is healed.
And in the midst of the crowd, in the midst of the clamour, in the midst of this urgency to get to this young girl’s sick bed, Jesus stops. He stops and takes time to talk to this woman who has sneaked up, probably hoping not to be noticed, he takes time to talk to her, to affirm her, and to send her on her way with a blessing.
I can imagine Jairus wondering what’s going on, and we catch a glimpse of the disciples’ exasperation at Jesus saying ‘who touched me?’ “Lord, not sure you’ve noticed by everyone and his mother are touching you at this particular moment – you are in the middle of a big crowd, lots of people are doing the touching thing.” Admittedly, that is something of a paraphrase by you get the idea!
But Jesus says ‘no, someone touched me’ not jostled, or bumped into, they touched me. And, I suspect somewhat anxiously the woman says ‘it was me’. And what does Jesus do? Does he say ‘OK, well that’s fine then, another one healed, hooray, lets move on’. No he takes time to tell this fearful woman that it was her faith that healed her.
For twelve years this woman had been excluded – her bleeding made her unclean so unable to worship in the synagogue that Jairus was a leader in. She would have been untouchable or whoever was near her would also be excluded from society until they went through certain ritual purifications. For twelve years (the same time as Jairus’ daughter had lived) this woman had either been scorned, or been invisible.
Jesus takes time for her.
I don’t think it’s labouring the point to really look at this. It’s in these moments that we see Jesus more clearly. In fact the miracle here is not so much that the woman’s bleeding was healed, but that Jesus heals her pain too, by taking that moment to affirm the faith she had. He doesn’t take the super-religious route of saying ‘you really shouldn’t have touched me because I am now ritually unclean, you know’. He doesn’t take the busy-ness route of saying ‘Well we have something very important to get to, so off you go’. Jesus doesn’t respond to the pressure around him to move on, even though there was an urgency in Jairus’ plea. Jesus recognises that God is in control, and meets each moment appropriately. Open to the touch of the Spirit Jesus takes time where needed to bring out faith in someone who was a write off in the eyes of the society around her.
And it doesn’t take much to realise that this is part of our calling as the people of Christ too! To resist the pressures of speed, urgency, agendas, time. To resist the pressure of the society around us and take time for faith – for our own faith, and to affirm the faith around us. And not just the faith of those who are in the club, or who we like, or who we would hope to draw into our fellowship. Our calling is to have eyes which see faith in the most unexpected and unlikely places, and to respond to that faith wherever and whenever it appears.
And then Jesus goes on to the place where he was originally headed, and does what he was planning to do, he prays for Jairus’ daughter.
But even here the unexpected happens. When told the girl has died, he dismisses that and says ‘she is not dead, but sleeping’. Of course, in a society such as Jesus’ where death was much more commonly seen, and most people would have experience of bereavement and loss, they would have been pretty much used to seeing death, and the idea that this girl was asleep was enough to make even the professional mourners laugh. But he takes no account of the laughter, and steps out in faith to touch this young girl and speak the worlds ‘talitha cum’ – little girl get up. He addresses her and she is brought from death to new life, he turns reality for that family and for that little girl upside down.
And this is what the word of faith can do. For the woman who had been without a life for twelve years, and for the twelve year old girl on the edge of death all their expectations are turned upside down.
That’s a real cause for rejoicing and for laughter – better than the best joke! That the word of faith, the right word in the right place, brings life and hope and love.
And again the parallels are obvious, these are stories given to us to encourage and inspire us, to enlighten our eyes of faith. We are called to speak faith into situations of hopelessness, to bring the life and light of Christ into all parts of our world. We risk being laughed at, we risk the scorn of those who see the world otherwise. We will need to resist the pressures of a world that is too quick to move on, or to write people off, but we are those who are to bring Christ, no matter what the cost, to a world so in need of him.
May God give us grace to speak faith into all life, and to know when to respond, and to hear his voice as he leads us from death to life, from despair to hope and from darkness to light. Amen.