First Reading Lamentations 3:22-33
Second Reading Psalm 30
Gospel Reading Mark 5:21-43
How do you feel about interruptions? Annoyed? Sometimes frustrated? Depending on what you were trying to do, or perhaps, sometimes even relieved. It sort of depends on what we were doing, doesn’t it? We make a plan and start down the list, and then something else happens. Someone needs help, something unrelated breaks or just random chaos comes along and rearranges our priorities.
The Gospel lesson this morning is about an interruption. As the story begins, Jesus has just arrived back on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee, Having spent some time over with the Gerasenes and having restored a man with many demons. Even though the man was very grateful and begged Jesus to travel with him, the rest of the folks over there actually begged Jesus to leave. Now he and his disciples were back in Galilee and once again surrounded by a large crowd. It was then that a man named Jarius comes and falls at Jesus’ feet – begging him to come to his house where his little 12 year old girl lay near death. His plea is heart wrenching and his faith obvious, so Jesus begins to follow him home.
It’s on the way, that the interruption happens. Jesus, still surrounded by the crowd, suddenly feels that his Healing power had been tapped, and so he stops and asks “Who touched me?” Now his disciples were really puzzled. They thought they were in a hurry to get to Jarius’ house and now here in the middle of a jostling crowd, Jesus asks “ who touched me” Who hadn’t! But this touch was not casual or accidental – it was a touch made with great intention and desperate faith. The physical healing had already happened. Jesus could have simply walked on, but he needed to do something first. Jesus will not let her fade away anonymously into the crowd. He needed the woman to come the rest of the way to restoration. Her need of healing was not just a matter of disease but of isolation and exclusion.
You see as Mark explains, that. This unnamed woman had been ill for 12 long, isolating years – likely some sort of uterine issues that caused continual bleeding. In circumstances that sound entirely modern, Mark records that she had been to doctor after doctor, wiping out her savings to no avail. To compound her problem, the Jewish law held that the issue of blood made her unclean and anyone who touched her. Or anything that she had touched would be similarly unclean the rest of the day. Simply put, according to their traditions, she shouldn’t have been in that crowd in the first place.
No wonder she was so shy and secretive about reaching out to Jesus and so fearful at being found out and called to account. Nevertheless, she came and told her entire story. Jesus’ words to her were gracious and wonderful – He calls he “daughter” meaning that she now belongs again. He assures her that her faith has been rewarded by her healing, her suffering has ended and she can at last be at peace.
At this point the in the story Mark returns to the original story line with the heart wrenching news that the little girl has died. The people assume that all is lost, but Jesus assures Jarius that he must continue to believe and not to fear. That would be a hard thing to do, would it not? By the time they get to the house, the professional mourners are already there and the place is in a loud commotion. Jesus is laughed at when he says that the girl is merely asleep, these are professionals, they know death when they see it. So Jesus throws everybody out of the house, all but his three closest disciples and the girls parents. He now breaks another tabo by taking the dead girl’s hand. You see touching someone who was unclean from bleeding made one unclean until evening, but touching a corpse made one unclean for an entire week. Nevertheless, he says “Little girl, get up” and so she does!
In Mark’s telling these two stories are sandwiched together, inviting us to treat them as one – to contrast and compare and learn even more from the combination. First, it seems there are some huge differences. Jarius is a man of position, wealth and prestige as leader of the synagogue; the woman on the other hand is untouchable, destitute and powerless. Jarius seeks out Jesus boldly and publically, while the unnamed woman seeks him out secretly. Yet they both wind up at the feet of Jesus in desperate hope. Both profess faith in Jesus authority and power to heal. It is interesting, which one takes priority with Jesus – its the one who is on the margins.
Perhaps we should take a lesson here – the less visible ones are not unseen by God and they are at least as deserving of our attention and service and time as any other. Another common point here is that both stories proclaim, it is never too late for the grace of God to apply. The woman had been ill for 12 long years, the little girl had lived only 12 years, not quite yet a woman and now was dead. Yet amazingly it was not too late for either of them.
At this point, we have to address the proverbial elephant in the room: if it is never too late, then why do some of our most earnest prayers seem to go unanswered. We hesitate to say it out loud, but the question lurks anyway: “Does prayer really work?” If we interpret the question to mean: “do we get what we pray for?” Then the answer becomes – “Sometimes, but not always”. Sometimes our prayers are answered in different ways. Wholeness and fellowship with God do not depend upon physical health. Prayer is not simply a matter of trying to bend God will to our needs and our hopes. To pray is to enter into a deeper relationship with God. Our bodies and our dear loved ones might or might not receive what we ask according to God’s will, but our hearts and minds certainly may.
I take comfort from the observation that Jesus dealt with life as it came. Interruptions happened even to the Son of God. Interruptions are not always bad things. Sometimes, they may be God’s way of tapping us on the shoulder to get us to look up from our own pursuits. Seeking to be about the will of God might sometimes be as simple as being aware when opportunities present themselves – even if they don’t have an invitation or a place on our calendar! James reminded his readers of the need for this sort of openness to God’s interruptions when he wrote: (James 4:13-16 NLT)  Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog-it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.  What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.”  Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.
Another thing that these stories remind us of is the plain fact that illness is perhaps the greatest interrupter of all. Whether physical or mental, illness puts most everything else on hold and we experience a whole series of losses. Loss of control and certainty first. We no longer get to proceed along with our plans, work becomes difficult or impossible. We just have to hang on a wait. I hate waiting! In more serious cases, we may even lose some measure of Identity and status. We become a patient or even worse an example of disease rather than our former selves. This is what happened to the woman with the bleeding. She became no more than her condition. It still happens, we become the one with cancer, or the one who is depressed, or the one who is dying.
It is here that our response must take it clues from Jesus. Jesus who comes and gives the gift of touch, who breaks isolation and who speaks the grace of God into places where hope is gone. That is our example. We, who as Martin Luther said, are to be “little Christ’s”. The power of human interaction and touch is hard to overstate, the power of such faithful interaction mediated by the Holy spirit with prayer and focus on the things of God is astounding. Our humble approach to God in faith connects us with the ultimate source of life and wholeness just as surely as the woman who interrupted Jesus. Jesus insists that we are daughters and sons of his. We belong to him and Paul assures us that there is nothing in this entire universe that can separate us from the the love of God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a privilege for all of us to be able to share in that ministry. It is our special joy in just a few moments to ordain yet another of our number to special service as an elder. Matt, the congregation has recognized God’s gifts in you and has called you to the work of leading and serving this congregation, will you come as you have been called.