Exactly one year ago this week I got a frantic phone call from our daughter Elizabeth who lives in Colorado Springs with her husband Carl and their now 18-month-old daughter, Gracie. Lizzy was calling me because she’d just been told while at work that her neighborhood, her workplace and Gracie’s daycare had all been given 30 minutes to evacuate because the winds had shifted and were now driving a huge wildfire at 60 miles an hour right at them. Elizabeth’s husband worked from home and Gracie’s daycare was very near their house but the cell lines were so overloaded that she couldn’t reach Carl or the daycare. Plus, the police had blocked off all access to both her home and the daycare and were directing her away from her family. She was now stuck in a huge traffic jam watching an inferno travel across the mountains. I think she called me partly because she actually could get through to me and partly because I’m her dad. I have never heard such desperation in anyone’s voice. There was absolutely nothing she could do; she didn’t know where her daughter was or if she was safe; she didn’t know where her husband was or if he was safe and she didn’t know anything about their home. And she couldn’t do anything but sit and watch. I tried to encourage her, to reassure her that Carl and Gracie were probably fine and tell her that she couldn’t worry about the house. I prayed fervently with her but in truth I felt inadequate to help her in her desperation. And I think that what I heard in her voice that day was probably very close to the desperation we will encounter in our Legacy passage today. Let’s turn to Mark 5:21-43 and I’m confident you’ll see what I mean in a minute. (page ????) Now, just a bit of background: this event is recorded in 3 gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke so I will be referring to Matthew and Luke a bit. And it’s important to know that when we read this passage Jesus had already had a long day. He’d started the day on the east side of the Sea of Galilee where he’d had an encounter with a demon-possessed man… he’d delivered this man from the demon but in the process he’d so frightened the local, gentile population that they’d pleaded with him to go away. And this is where our passage begins: Verse 21.
When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?” Overhearing what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.” He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
The large crowd that greeted Jesus on the shore that day was excited to see him. But one man in that crowd was desperate. And he wasn’t just any man; he was Jairus, a synagogue leader. Synagogue leaders were usually well-to-do and well-connected. But none of that could help him now and in his desperation he fell at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with him to come to his house. Synagogue leaders were not men who tended to fall at anybody’s feet, much less plead with anyone, but he had good reason to be so desperate: his young daughter, his only daughter, Luke tell us, a girl who was only 12 years old, was dying. And his only hope was Jesus. Look at verse 23. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” He must have either heard about Jesus’ healing powers or possibly even witnessed some of his miracles. And he believed that Jesus, simply by putting his hands on her, could heal her. And Jesus, realizing Jairus’ desperation, left immediately to go to Jairus’ home. But the crowd followed and pressed around them. The word ‘pressed’ often refers to crushing seeds. This was some crowd! And in this crowd was another desperate person: a woman who Mark tells us in verse 26, ‘had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.’ Mark gives us almost no details about this woman… but, if we were 1st Century Jews, hearing that she’d had a flow of blood for 12 years and had spent all she had with many doctors, we would have been shocked… especially that this woman was in this crowd at all. You see, any Jewish woman at her time of the month was unclean and this meant that anyone and anything she came into contact with also became unclean… in fact, holy men like rabbis and teachers of the law often avoided ever touching women since you never knew. During this time of the month women couldn’t sit on any furniture or sleep in a bed someone else might sleep on; they couldn’t touch any kitchen utensils or pots and pans and they certainly couldn’t go to the temple or participate in any religious festivities. Women were to keep their distance during this time of the month. But this woman had been suffering with a constant flow of blood for twelve years: for 12 years she’d been continually unclean, untouchable and avoided. The assumption then was that any woman whose monthly cycle was simply irregular had probably been dabbling in witchcraft. 12 years of constant flow would have implied that she’d been doing more than dabbling in witchcraft. Plus, 12 years like this meant no children and since a man could divorce his wife after 7 years of not producing a child, this woman, who could not be touched by her husband remember, had probably been, ‘put out.’ A good clue to her having been divorced is that she had money to spend on doctors. For most women the only significant money they ever had was their wedding dowry, money set aside on their wedding day just in case they were suddenly left alone through death or divorce. If her husband had divorced her, she would have been given her dowry as survival money. This woman had spent all she had ‘under the care of many doctors.’ Now, don’t picture our respected physicians when you read this verse. Doctors were not held in high esteem by 1st Century Jews. Doctors were generally slaves trained in Egyptian healing methods. They did learn some medical procedures like setting broken bones, stitching up wounds and filling teeth but most sickness was regarded as punishment sent by some angry god and doctors were primarily trained in ways to appease the gods in order to bring about healing. Two of the suggested cures for this woman’s suffering were carrying the ashes of an ostrich egg in a linen bag around your neck or carrying a bag of barley corn found in donkey dung. Jews thought that this was crazy and that most doctors were pagan charlatans. Jews believed that all sicknesses, which included all mental illness, leprosy and any diseases that made a person unclean, were caused by demons that God enlisted to punish sinners. Jews didn’t go to doctors; they went to priests. Doctors were suspicious and any Jew who went to a doctor was also suspect. This woman had been so desperate for healing that she’d spent all that she had with doctors that, even if they had been able to help her, lowered her standing, if that was possible, in her community. But, she’d heard about Jesus and in her desperation she’d mustered up enough hope to brave a crowd and enough faith to believe that if she just touched Jesus’ cloak she’d be healed. Can you imagine what the response would have been if anyone who knew about her condition had seen her in that pressing crowd? And past experience told her that she’d have to touch his cloak secretly because chances were, if he was like most other holy men, he’d never allow her to touch him and he certainly wouldn’t touch her. Yet, somehow she got close enough to touch his cloak and I love the Greek here… it says, “And immediately was dried up the fountain of her blood and she knew in her body that she was cured from the plague.” Mark calling this “the plague” is accurate. This ‘plague’ had taken so much from her … yet in one moment she’d gotten so much back. her healing gave back the possibility of family; she could now cook in her own home, sit on the furniture, sleep in any bed, maybe have children; she’d been given back her community; she could walk in a crowd, go to the market, go to the temple; and maybe most importantly she’d been given back her reputation: her healing implied that she’d been forgiven of whatever sin had caused her illness. Now, nothing in this story says she’d done anything sinful to deserve this ‘plague’ but being healed in this way ended all suspicion that she was still guilty of sin. Jesus responded immediately; he knew, how I do not know, that power had gone out from him. “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples responded “Look at this crowd and you’re asking, ‘who touched you?’” But Jesus wasn’t having it and he kept looking around. Luke’s gospel tells us that the woman knew with everyone looking around she couldn’t go unnoticed; someone would spot her and that would have been terrible. But she also knew that she had been healed and so trembling with fear, fear that she’d be in trouble for making Jesus unclean, fear that he’d chastise her for sin that had brought on this problem, fear that the crowd would turn on her before she’d have a chance to prove she was healed… she fell at his feet and told him the whole truth. And Jesus’ response is wonderful. “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” What an amazing affirmation! Jesus knew this was more than a just a physical healing; it was a moment of complete, life-changing restoration.
But there was still another daughter in this picture. While all this was going on, as wonderful as it was, Jairus was still standing there worrying about his dying daughter. And the next sentence is very sad. “While Jesus was still speaking people came from the house of Jairus saying, “Your daughter is dead, why bother the teacher anymore?” But Jesus immediately calmed Jairus saying, ‘Don’t be afraid, only believe.’ It was as if he was saying, ‘Jairus, you sought me out because you believed that I could help you. Hold on to that faith. Don’t be afraid that all is lost.” And when they arrived his house people were crying and wailing and Matthew tells us there were even people playing pipes… the ancient way of telling the whole community that someone had died! Now it is true that young girls had very little standing in much of Jewish life, but families loved their children and an only child was especially precious. This little girl’s death would have been tragic for this family. And Jesus’ saying, ‘Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep,’ sounded ridiculous to the crowd. Contrary to what some argue today when trying to disprove anything miraculous happened here, ancient people knew when someone was dead and when someone was asleep. All three gospel versions of this story add, ‘And they laughed at Jesus.’ But Jesus was undeterred. He put everyone out of the house but the parents and Peter, James and John. I’ll bet that was something to see! He then took the little girl by the hand, something that if she was dead, and I believe she was, would also have made him unclean and ordered her to get up… which she does to the amazement of everyone in the room. And then he gave 2 orders: don’t tell anyone about this and get her something to eat. Now, in the case of the woman with the 12 year flow of blood it was very important that her healing be known publically; Jesus knew her standing in the community could quickly be restored if a large crowd spread the word that she was no longer unclean. But in this little girl’s case, Jesus didn’t care if everyone thought she’d actually been asleep. The last thing she needed was the public notoriety of being raised from the dead. It was better that everyone just thought, ‘Boy, we sure missed that one, didn’t we!’ and she could live her life in peace.
There are a ton of interesting comparisons in these two stories: the woman had been bleeding the same length of time the little girl had been alive. The woman touched Jesus secretly; Jesus touched the little girl secretly. One hoped to be healed privately and ended up on a public stage; the other was the center of a very public event and was then healed privately. There are a lot of these… but we weren’t given these stories just because of interesting contrasts. No, we were given these stories because they both tell us two important truths about Jesus: First: you matter to Jesus; he cares about you. Even if you may feel that you are one of the most unimportant people in the world… like both of the people Jesus healed were… Jesus knows what is going on in your life and he is concerned about the smallest of details; he knows what you need and he wants to care for you. And second, Jesus is always right there with you and he is trustworthy no matter what the circumstances. All he is asking of you, even in the midst of desperation, is to not be afraid and to trust him… to place what faith you have, no matter how small it may be, in Him. I am confident that there are those of you that, like the woman in our passage, are desperate about something very personal in your own life; your own physical health; your situation at work or school; something that has you frustrated, overwhelmed, feeling hopeless and worthless today. This passage tells us that Jesus knows and cares and can do something about it. I am also certain that many of you are desperate for someone you love: a child, spouse, parent or a friend, someone whose life seems to be on the edge. Again, this passage tells us that Jesus knows and cares and can do something about it. In all desperate circumstances his desire is that you seek him out, call out to him, admit your desperation and trust him. We’d initially scheduled looking at this passage in the early spring but we had to move it to this week for a number of reasons. As a result I’ve had a lot of time to think about what God might be saying to me through this passage. Also, during this time both sorts of desperation have come up in my life: personal concerns and concerns for others I love and what I’ve learned is this: I’ve needed to be more like the two desperate people in this passage; they both fell on their knees before Jesus, they admitted they were unable to do anything and they trusted him. I’ve tended to work overtime looking for ways to fix things on my own. Truth is, I rarely admit a desperation that leads to letting go and unreservedly calling out to God. But, this passage has changed me: it’s shown me that admitting my helplessness is not a sign of weakness to God; admitting my desperation actually creates an opportunity for him to amaze me with his love for me. I’ve begun to pray something like this, “I can’t do a thing about this. I’m going to have to trust you. Jesus, please come and put your hand on this situation.” This has been a huge lesson for me… to learn what it truly means to surrender to Jesus and to trust him… to believe and not be afraid. And guess what… He has come… not yet in all circumstances… but in many ways, like the little girl’s parents, I have been completely astonished at what he has done.
My daughter eventually found Gracie and Carl and their house was spared from the fire… for some reason, in the midst of much loss and tragedy, they were protected. But she will tell you that seeing God work in the details of that desperate moment changed her. It gave her a deeper sense of God’s presence and what it means to trust Him; it opened her eyes to what was really important and it gave her a new heart for the suffering of others. She says that she knows God has the power to answer our prayers in amazing ways but often the key that unlocks God’s actions is our admission that we are desperate… and this desperation leads to the kind of faith that opens the door to the unexpected. The truth is that when we run out of all of our humanly-possible hopes our prayers change and in our desperation we are led into His overwhelming compassion for us. We may not receive exactly what we want but we will know that he is with us, that he cares and that he loves us as daughters and sons… and if it is true that he is present, that he is powerful and that he loves us, and I believe that it is, then we need not be afraid… we only need to believe.