July 1, 2012
Gospel: Mark 5:21-43
1st Reading: Lamentations 3:22-33
2nd Reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
I’ve mentioned before my best friend growing up dying when she and I were both 14 years old. I used to think of her every day. When that stopped, I felt guilty. Was I forgetting her. Now I don’t think of her very often at all. But the last two weeks she’s been on my mind. The week before last we had the lesson of Jesus calming the storm. That was the scripture read at her memorial service. This week we’ve got the lesson of Jesus raising the girl from the dead. Of course, my friend Charmin came to mind again.
When she died, we didn’t have a lot of explanation of what had happened. It was sudden. A few months later her mom came to visit and to tell us more what had happened that day and the events leading up to her death. It was so nice of her to do it since we had so many questions. I think it helped us to grieve, to be able to ask questions, and to have more of a picture of what went on. And I’m sure it was good for her, too, to recount the story to friends, and to try to make sense of what happened. I remember my mom trying to find the words to express how sorry we were and how much we felt for her, losing a young daughter like that. And I remember Charmin’s mom saying that it must have been God’s will.
That’s the way she was making sense of it. It was what she needed to say to bear her pain. It was what she needed to hold on to as she pictured her daughter in Jesus’ arms, at peace and unafraid, waiting for her family to join her, there with her father by her side, who had also died of the same heart condition as a young man.
The Old Testament reading for this morning says, “Although he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” This is kind of a mixed message that God causes grief but not willingly.
The Bible isn’t exactly clear on this, because the writers of the Bible weren’t clear on it. What is the cause of suffering? If God is all powerful, then isn’t it God’s power which makes sick as well as heals? Or is it another force of chaos and evil that makes sickness? Does God let this other force run rampant? Why does God let bad things happen to good people?
Let’s see what the Gospel is saying about it. So we’ve got the story of two very sick people. Jesus is once again crossing into an unfamiliar place where he might be uncomfortable, where uncomfortable people are laying in wait to grab him and take him home to treat their friends and family members. Jesus is asked to use his healing powers to help a girl who is very ill. As Jesus is walking with him, someone else interrupts for healing. And then the story continues with the healing of the little girl.
You’ve got two very different people who come to Jesus for healing. One is a very important official making an appeal on behalf of his child. He’s got it all together, normally. The other is an unclean woman who no one will go near, hopeless and alone—someone who can’t even pretend to have it all together. These two very different people find themselves level with Jesus, level with each other, seeking the very same thing, meeting the very same Jesus, sharing the very same page of the Bible, the same paragraph. No matter how rich or important you are, you will know illness and grief. And no matter how poor and forgotten you are, you matter to God. Both of these people know pain and suffering. Both of these people are loved by God.
For those of us who like to have things all together, probably everyone here, we still need God. We iron our shirts (or our wife does). We eat right. We exercise. We speak properly. We get a good education. We show up to work. We sit and stand with the asterisk. We pray our prayers. And just like everyone else who doesn’t do these things, we get sick. We lose people we love. We die. And Jesus is there for us.
For those of us who are a mess, who cry in public and embarrass ourselves, who only have time to throw our shirt in the dryer for a moment to get the most obvious wrinkles out, whose shoes smell like mildew, who are unshaven, who limp about, Jesus is there for us, too.
And it is a good thing, because even if we were the one in the all together category we will inevitably find ourselves in this second category. I hear about that struggle all the time. When one can no longer drive, those who once had it all together, now have to ask for help getting place to place. It is a difficult situation to face that loss of independence. To have to rely one someone else is less than ideal. You have to be flexible to someone else’s schedule and reliability. You have to accept their vehicle—is it going to be too high to get into, or too low to get out of? Will it be so clean you can’t eat your snack in there or filled with junk so you can’t fit your bags in there with you? Will the person drop you off and pick you up or wait with you through your shopping or appointment? It isn’t easy. Whereas you once had the ability to do what you want when you wanted how you wanted, now you rely on others who don’t do things the same way you do.
It is a similar situation when you were once healthy and now you’re getting older, can’t climb ladders or eat sweets or hear very well. I experienced it too in my pregnancy. I had to rely on other people. I had to let them love me the way they wanted to, not necessarily the way I would want them to. It turned out to be lovely, but it caused plenty of anxiety. It was probably good. Any anxiety I had about the birth was nonexistent—I transferred it to silly things like my baby’s carbon footprint and not wanting to be the center of attention when I was as big as a house.
Ok, we’re going to have times of trouble no matter who we are. And Jesus is there for us, no matter who we are, according to this Gospel. The general and the old widow get the same treatment. Each approach Jesus for help. They are both quite desperate. They’ve got nothing to lose. They’ve tried everything else. Jairus, the religious leader, is confident. The widow is more meek. She doesn’t want to bother Jesus, she just wants to touch his cloak. Both of them believe in the power of God for healing. One marches right up to Jesus. The other sneaks up.
Jairus is probably used to asking for what he needs. People respect him as one of these folks who has it all together. They give him what he asks for.
The woman has asked and asked. She’s spent her last dime and endured many treatments with no effect. She’s at her wits end. Perhaps in their frustrations, her physicians have made her feel it was God’s will. They might have asked her many questions about her medical history which made her feel guilty. “Do you drink? Do you smoke? What are your eating habits?” These kind of questions don’t directly blame the patient, but don’t you feel kind of guilty as you’re putting down how many drinks a week? Maybe that is why she doesn’t ask Jesus. Maybe that is why she approaches with fear and trembling when he asked who touched him. Maybe she did feel she deserved her disease. Or maybe she thought it was God’s will in some way.
But this scripture makes it clear that it is not God’s will. Jesus came for healing. Jesus came to restore relationships between people. Jesus came to heal this world, to restore balance, to heal people’s physical bodies, to heal their minds of terrible thoughts of God inflicting people with tragedy and sickness. He is going to Jairus’ house, not ignoring him. He isn’t too busy to stop for a woman in need. He touches her even though that makes him unclean. He gives her a clean bill of health physically and spiritually. She is restored. Since he’s already unclean, he might as well touch a dead girl. And in some foreshadowing of his own resurrection he says, “Little girl, be resurrected. Rise up.” And immediately she rose from the dead, just as he would and she began to even walk around, not just lay there in bed.
Any of you who have been close to a child who has died, know how unsettling it is on top of all the other grief. There is that unsettling feeling that this isn’t the way it is supposed to be. God feels that way when we are sick or hurting and sends us Jesus, our great physician, to show us that God is a healer, not an afflicter.
God does not make us sick. God comes for healing. Sometimes that is for our bodies. Sometimes that comes through prayer. Sometimes it comes through doctors. Usually it comes through both. And yet we all know we’re going to die someday. Even Jesus had to die. But we can know that “Whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s.” Jesus will be with us, his broken body at the side of our broken bodies. And he goes to the cross and grave to show us how to die everyday, to practice dying with him and to hear the words “Old man, old woman, rise, get up, you are resurrected with Christ!” Just like I know my friend, Charmin, heard those words, “Little girl, get up!” and welcomed her into his arms. Just like her mom heard those words, “Grieving mother, rise, get up. God is with you as you try to go on with your life having lost your baby girl.” God says to us, “ I, too, know what it is to lose a son and I will be with you through all your losses and bring you together on the last day.”
And leave it to Jesus, that the next thing he says after telling them to get up, is to say, “Let’s eat!”