FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and merciful God, we implore you to hear the prayers of your people. Be our strong defense against all harm and danger, that we may live and grow in faith and hope, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
“Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” Mark 5:30-31.
If you are crowd averse as I am, you can perhaps understand the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ inquiry. I have stood on many a crowded subway car shoulder to shoulder with people I have never seen before, bumping against them, feeling the heat from their bodies and covering my face to avoid droplets from their coughs and sneezes. Under these circumstances, you don’t smile, speak or even make eye contact with these strangers. You just wait for your stop and, when it finally comes, you get out of that car as fast as you can. You seldom think about or try to imagine that each person in that car has a name, a story and unique reason for travelling with you in the same direction at the same moment in time. Perhaps that is because people placed in such close proximity to so many other people feel pressed, violated and slightly claustrophobic. As a result, they become withdrawn and defensive. Or it may be that such intimate knowledge of so many individuals, each with their own triumphs, tragedies and dreams would simply crush us.
To Jesus, the woman with the ongoing vaginal discharge of blood was no anonymous face in the crowd. She had a face, she had a story and a desperate need, the depth of which not even she was aware. Her medical condition rendered her perpetually ritually “unclean.” Leviticus 15:25-28. Accordingly, she would have been forbidden to touch anyone or anything that might come into contact with someone else, as this would render them unclean. Leviticus 15: 26-27. Obviously, she should not have been out and about in a tightly packed crowd like the one following Jesus. Furthermore, a woman’s intentionally touching the clothing of a strange man was, at best, a breach of propriety and etiquette. Small wonder, then, that she did all she could to remain unseen.
Jesus, however, will not allow this woman to slip out of his sight unacknowledged, unknown and as soulless as another body in a subway car. He knows the woman needs to know that she is known and that she has been healed of more than her medical condition. She needs to know, as does everyone present, that she is, and always has been, a precious child of God-a person Jesus addresses as “daughter.” Her touch does not render Jesus unclean, but he declares that she is and always has been clean in every respect.
Hopefully that was not lost on the other desperate actor in this story, Jairus. Jarius, it should be noted, was a ruler of the synagogue. As such, he may have supervised worship services. Clearly, however, he held a position of honor and leadership in the Jewish community. Nineham, D.E., Saint Mark, The Pelican New Testament Commentaries (c. 1963 D.E. Nineham, pub. by Penguin Books, Ltd.) p. 157; Taylor, Vincent, The Gospel According to St. Mark, Thornapple Commentaries (c. 1966 by Vincent Taylor, pub. by Baker Book House) p. 287; Cranfield, C.E.B., The Gospel According to St. Mark, Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (c. 1959 Cambridge University Press) p. 183. He would have been responsible for teaching and upholding religious standards in the community, including those governing ritual purity. He probably would not have approved of this woman going about in public in her condition of “uncleanness.” Perhaps his presence with Jesus was one of the reasons the woman was so fearful about being exposed.
Jesus publicly commends the woman for her faith and dismisses her with a benediction, calling her “daughter.” I wonder if these words were not also directed at Jairus, who summoned Jesus to save the life of his own daughter. The message here is obvious: “Jairus, I am about to have mercy on your little daughter. See to it that you show some compassion toward mine.” In short, I believe these stories, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the “daughter” with the discharge of blood, are intimately related. Together, they force us to re-evaluate everything we think we know about what is “unclean,” taboo, immoral, socially unacceptable and untouchable.
When Jairus is informed that his daughter is dead, he is admonished by Jesus not to fear, but to believe. He is challenged to be confident, as was the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, that nothing deemed unclean or untouchable by any law, custom or ritual is beyond Jesus’ cleansing touch. Jairus will need such faith. Jesus will soon take the hand of his daughter’s dead body-yet another breach of ritual purity (Numbers 19:16)-and raise her to life.
The gospels don’t tell us whether Jairus took this lesson to heart, but we should. Everyone has a story. Some have more of the trappings we associate with happiness and fulfilment. But even these seemingly happy stories can take a tragic turn-such as when your little daughter dies. Other stories are filled with heartache from beginning to end-yet somehow radiate a joy that transcends the worst of circumstances. There are stories filled with meanness, cruelty and hate, yet even these are capable of redemption. Some of their elements may yet be woven into the fabric of God’s coming reign of peace. Every story, however soiled it may seem in the telling, is holy. That is because it is not beyond the healing touch of Jesus.
Here is a poem about a life lost through neglect and indifference that seemed not to matter. The poet does not tell us how or under what circumstances the life of this young child or infant was taken. He may have been “collateral damage” from some military operation. He might have been killed in the crossfire of a dispute of which he was not even a part. He might have simply been allowed to starve in a squalid refugee camp while waiting for asylum. But his story, though forever unwritten, is still holy and to us who might have given him the gift of life, unknown and unknowable. It illustrates how every human story of which we remain ignorant impoverishes us.
You’ve never met this little one,
nor will you ever see him play
at children’s games beneath the summer sun
on this or any other day.
His drawings will remain unknown,
his songs and poems lost,
the seeds of his ideas, thoughts unsewn,
forever bound in winter’s frost.
The friends he might have had
can’t know they’ve been deprived.
They know too little to be sad,
or feel the crater in their hearts
he could have filled had he survived.
No one will catch his knowing glance,
the fire in his eyes.
No heart will ever know romance
with this young land beneath the evening skies.
All he ever was is what he might have been.
What we’ve lost we’ll never comprehend.
And that is fitting judgment for the sin
of indifference toward this child
whose life, just begun, is at an end.