Saturday, June 27, 2015

Don't Worry, He Will Get to You

Mark 5:21-43
Ordinary Time 13
June 28, 2015
William G. Carter

Her health care plan was not working. The woman had been sick for a very long time. So long, in fact, she didn't know what to do. She didn't know where to turn. Everybody suggested a different remedy, but none of them would work. She visited many physicians, but none of them could help. She stayed sick. As time passed, her health grew worse. All those medical bills were bleeding her dry.

So when she heard Jesus was coming to town, she pushed her way through the crowd. She'd heard about him, of course. The last time he worked on this side of the sea, "he had cured many," says Mark. "All who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him."

Now she believed it was her turn to get well. She pushed through the multitude, saying, "I don't need to talk to him. I don't need to bother him. I don't need to slow him down with a lot of bedside chatter. All I need to do is touch the edge of his garment, and then I will be made well." As we have heard, that is precisely what happened.

Well, mostly. Because, as we have also heard, two things went wrong. First, no sooner did she touch his clothes when Jesus spun around and said, "Who touched me?" Apparently he did not want anybody to get healed anonymously, much less this anonymous woman. "Who touched me?" Jesus said. He stood there, looking for her, scanning the crowd. He looked at every face: some of them eager, some curious, some confused. He kept looking until he spotted her. And her anonymous touch became a conversation face-to-face.

She told him what she'd done. He said, "Daughter, faith has made you well. Go in peace. Be healed of your disease." It was a big moment for her. There she was, sick, desperate, and anonymous. And Jesus healed her, blessed her with his peace, and gave her the name "daughter." 

What I want you to notice is Jesus took the time to do all of this. For twelve years, the scriptures had diagnosed her hemorrhage and called her "unclean." But Jesus took the time to heal her, restore her to full status in the community, to risk touching a ritually unclean woman and making himself unclean – all for the sake of making her well. For twelve years, she shuffled through her days without dignity. On the day she touched Jesus, he turned and restored her as a human being.

I want you to notice he took the time to do that; because I also want you to notice that, because he took time for that woman, he ran out of time to help somebody else. He was late for a previous appointment. That's the second thing that went wrong. While Jesus was busy healing the woman who had been sick for twelve years, a sick twelve-year-old girl died.

Fortunately this sort of thing doesn't happen much in the gospel of Mark. Jesus got interrupted from a healing by a healing. Jairus begged, "Please heal my daughter." He intended to make the young girl well by a touch and a word. On the way, however, Jesus got interrupted by a sick woman he called his daughter. She interrupted him with a touch and a word. And the daughter of Jairus died because Jesus ran out of time.

It must have been an embarrassing moment. Imagine how that pushy woman must have felt. The word of death came, says Mark, "while Jesus was still speaking" to her. She stood there, healed and whole. Refreshed for the first time in years. Yet because of her demand on Jesus, death came to somebody else.

Imagine how that woman must have felt. She had been sick for twelve years. If only she had waited another fifteen minutes, Jesus could have healed the little girl first. The woman could have pushed to the front of the line then to touch the edge of his garment. I mean, her timing was all wrong.

Not only that, it must have put Jesus in an uncomfortable spot. Picture the girl's father. Jairus insisted that Jesus come to his house and help. The man stood by patiently as Jesus paused along the way. He grew hopeful as Jesus restored the sick woman. But then came the message from his house: "Jairus, don't trouble the teacher any further. Your daughter is dead."

In the face of such news, what should Jesus say? "Sorry, Jairus, I meant to heal your daughter, but I guess I got held up." No, he couldn't say that. It's a difficult dilemma. Jesus meant to heal one, instead healed another, and the first one died.

As you know, Jesus eventually goes to the house and raises the little girl from the dead. But that merely suspends the problem; it doesn't solve it. Because we all know that for every person who ever gets healed of a disease, someone else will suffer and pass. For every person who can push through the crowd to claim the power of Christ, somebody else stands close at hand, having just lost a daughter or son.

I guess we need to take a little time away from the story to sort it out. Sometimes people get well. Sometimes others do not. What can we say about that?

At moments, the words fail us. Years ago I received a phone call from a pastor friend. It was late and he sounded distraught. Among his hospital rounds, my friend had begun to visit a young boy from his church. The child had leukemia. There was nothing anybody could do. This minister visited faithfully through the rapid stages of the disease. They became friends. They played checkers together. They shared an occasional meal.

When the end was near, they were alone in the hospital room, quietly sharing the evening. Suddenly the boy broke the silence. He said, "Reverend, I think I know why God isn't able to make me better."

"Why is that?" said my friend.

And the boy said, "Because I think he's busy helping somebody else."

My friend said, "I left in tears, got in the car, and drove around for a while. I didn't know what to say." What can we say?  Some people get well, others do not.

The gospel of Mark would probably say, "That is the way this world is." All the gospels agree Jesus was a healer. He restored life in the face of death. Some of the stories sound quite successful. Luke says, "People came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases . . . and all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him, and he healed all of them." (Luke 6:18-19) Matthew says, "Jesus cured every disease and every sickness among the people . . . They brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them." (Matthew 4:23-34)

By contrast, Mark adds a note of restraint. Mark says, "They brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. The whole city was gathered around the door. And he cured many who were sick." (Mark 1:32-34) Do you hear the difference? Jesus "cured many," not all. Many got well around him, but not everybody.

The gospel of Mark knows what you and I know: sooner or later, one way or another, all of us become sick. The warranty runs out on our moveable parts. A stain appears on the X-ray. The blood count changes without warning. Or we develop a hemorrhage that lasts twelve years. That's how it is, in a world like this. Like it or not, sooner or later, one way or another, time will run out.

Sometimes the human body develops a problem that cannot be fixed. Just like the daughter of Jairus. She died. Other times, somebody may stop the clock prematurely. That's what happened to Jesus. He was put to death on a tree. Like it or not, every human life will run its course. Mark is brutally honest about the ways things are.

One of the great illusions of our age is that we can live forever through better medicine. So we spend billions of dollars on medical research. We build machines that keep our lungs breathing. We design great drugs to keep our hearts ticking. Somebody raises the premiums to pay for all of this. Like that sick woman, we are willing to spend all that we have to clot up that hemorrhage. But it doesn’t always make us better. Maybe it buys a little time.

The gospel of Mark starts with what we know: this is a world of sickness and death. Sooner or later, every single life runs out of time.

But the gospel of Mark knows something else. Jesus came preaching, "The time is fulfilled; God's kingdom is near." He wrapped his words into deeds. And every sick person he touched became well, one person at a time. Every hopeless person who trusted his word found peace, one person at a time.

And do you know why? Two reasons, I think. The first is that the healing work of God is never anonymous. It is for this person right here, who has a name, who has a story. In the healing services that we have held four times this past year, there is a point at which the person who comes forward for prayer is asked, “For what would you like me to pray?” It’s a specific need for a specific time, and it is offered to God who alone can address it. It is not random; it is for you.

I remember that afternoon some of us spent in a mission hospital in Port au Prince. The sisters of the Missionaries of Charity welcomed us into a room of sick children. Some of these children were whimpering, some were too weak to whimper. And if you went to hold a child, you turned your back on another. And if you turned to help this one, you turned away from three behind. The need was overwhelming. My heart was breaking, my head hurt. What should I do?

A nun in blue could read my mind. She smiled and said, “We hold one at a time, for each is precious.” One at a time. This is the one in front of me, this is the one who gets my attention for now. Jesus takes the time for the woman with the hemorrhage. He does not do it from a distance; he does it for her.

And the second reason is because he has all the time in the world to get to the next person, to that little twelve year old girl. Or to put it another way, he has all the time in eternity to get to that little girl. For that is the grand secret of the Gospel of Mark, the enormous open secret of the Christian faith: in Jesus Christ, the eternal realm of God intrudes upon our world of timelines, limitations, and life spans.

In Jesus Christ, the God beyond time intrudes upon our business-as-usual. That is, even though Jesus didn't heal everybody, the day will come when he will. Even though he ran out of time, he never really runs out of time. It is his intention to make every person well, whether like the old woman they wish to be well, or like the daughter of Jairus they run out of breath. Time does not matter to Jesus, for he is the eternal healer, God in the flesh, and his slow work is to make all things well. That's the good news according to the Gospel of Mark.

So let's go back to the story . . . The messengers said, "Jairus, your daughter is dead. Don't trouble the teacher any more." But Jesus said, "Jairus, do not fear, only believe." At the house, there was a great commotion, with people weeping and wailing loudly. Jesus said, "Why do you make a great commotion? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him, because obviously they think he doesn't know what kind of world this is.

But Jesus had the last laugh. He took the child by the hand and said, "Get up!" Immediately she got up, alive and well, and she began to walk.

In one of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, there is a character who speaks a great line. He says, "Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn't have done it. He thrown everything off balance."[1]  Indeed he has. A sick woman pushed through the crowd to touch the garment of Jesus. We could expect him to rebuke her and say, "Get out of my way." Or he could have ignored her because he was busy. Instead Jesus interrupted his work to do his work.

When the interruption caused Jairus to hear the sad news that his daughter was dead, we might have thought, "Well, that's that." At best, we could expect the tardy Jesus to make an apology. Or maybe we could ask him to lead the funeral service. But Jesus has never led a funeral. Instead he presides over a Resurrection. Thanks to Jesus, this weary world has been thrown off balance. And it is slowly becoming "the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ." (Rev. 11:15)

In the meantime, whenever any of us gets healed of a disease, let’s see it for what it is: it is a sign of God's will, a sign that God’s dominion is breaking in. Whenever a surgical procedure makes us well, we are reminded of the final destiny when all shall be well. Whenever we are saved from the jaws of death, it is a blessed disruption of the world as we know it. It is a glimpse of God's new creation, already present yet still coming through Jesus Christ our Lord.

We cannot be naive. We know what kind of world this can be. There are occasions when life cannot be saved or sustained. There are moments when it looks like Jesus our savior has run out of time.

But we also know Jesus Christ will never really run out of time. For our Lord is risen. He is stronger than every power than damage, hurt, or destroy. And he will not cease his labor, until one by one, he takes each of us by the hand and raises us from the dead.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

[1] Flannery O'Connor, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1983) 28.

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