Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Scripture Readings

This morning’s gospel reading is a fascinating drama with many entry points for our imaginations, beginning with the first line. I wonder what it would have been like for the disciples to get back into the boat and cross over the sea again with Jesus, after their experience of the overwhelming storm and astonishing actions of Jesus on the previous journey, which Br Aelred reflected on with us last week? Interestingly, this time Mark does not even mention the disciples. It is almost as if Jesus is alone in the boat.

Jairus is a man so desperately concerned for his daughter that in front of a large crowd he abandons all dignity of a synagogue leader to throw himself at Jesus’ feet and beg him earnestly to go with him and heal her. The crowd goes along with them, pressing in all around Jesus in a way that makes me feel quite claustrophobic.

Moving through that crowd is someone who should not have been there. A woman had been discharging blood for 12 years, which we later discover to be as long as Jairus’ daughter had been alive. This illness would have made her ritually unclean and banished anonymously to the margins of society.

She had suffered for so long with her condition being worsened by ineffective medical treatment that she was desperate enough to plunge into the crowd in the hope that Jesus might be who people were saying he was. The woman had faith enough to believe that just touching Jesus’ clothing would be sufficient. Surely, she could do that without him being aware of it, and then slip away again without anyone else noticing her presence.

Jesus does notice, though, when her faith draws power out of him for her healing. Her touch has been quite unlike that of anyone else in the crowd. Jesus insists on finding out who she is. How she must have feared the exposure with its public shaming … but Jesus doesn’t shame her, he completes her healing by pronouncing her free to go in the peace that he gives to her.

I wonder what it would have been like for Jairus then to hear that his daughter had died while Jesus was distracted by the woman. How easy it would have been for him to lose hope … but Jesus immediately reassures him and steadies his faith to keep him from despair. Banishing the noisy crowd at last, Jesus draws the child’s parents to himself, takes them into his care, and allows only them and his closest disciples to accompany him as he restores life to the young girl.

The story is a wonderful meditation on the nature of faith as that which connects us to God and enables us to receive the healing that God would bring into our lives.

The story might be a difficult one, though, for those who struggle with not having received the healing they asked for from God. Such people might be like Jairus, looking at a woman who had been healed and set free by Jesus while his own daughter had died.

We are in the presence of mystery here, and I think we do well not to reach too quickly for answers that might betray the reality of our lives. Perhaps the reading from Lamentations we heard earlier this morning might help.

The book of Lamentations was written in response to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians some hundreds of years before Jesus. It gives voice to the desolate anguish of a people whose lives have been shattered, whose sustaining centre of gravity has been destroyed, whose primary source of identity has been lost.

In the very middle of the communal expression of grief, which will be taken up again as long as this reality persists, a lone voice dares to suggest something else.

This I call to mind, it says,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.

Faith connects us to God who is the deeper reality beneath the reality of our struggles and disappointments. Faith enables us to receive the healing that God would bring into our lives, even when it is not the healing we had hoped for. When we are shaken by life’s hardships, let us listen carefully to the voice of Jesus whispering into our hearts as he takes us into his care: “Do not be afraid; only have faith.”

And then let us help one another to recognize and to receive the lovingkindness of our God in whatever form it might come to us as it brings its healing into our lives.

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