Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8B)
June 27, 2021
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Last week we learned that, in the Hebrew mind, the sea is the place of chaos and death, the very haunt of demons. But the disciples in the boat are kept safe from all this, even as the storm rages, because Jesus is in the boat with them. The Church is the boat, the ark, and you are safe from all the chaos and death and demons of the swirling sea, why? Because here is Jesus, the Creator of wind and wave, the Savior of the world, in the boat, with us. Now, where do we find Jesus in our Holy Gospel this morning? He is beside the sea. I like how the King James puts it: “nigh unto the sea” (Mark 5:21; KJV). That is, when the chaos threatens to engulf you, when death touches you, wherever the demons afflict you, there is Jesus, nigh unto you. He is not far off, leaving you to whatever fate awaits you at the hands of evil. He is not unable or unwilling to help and save. He is right there with you. That is why He came.
Jairus had been touched by death. Not his own. That would have been far better, as any father will tell you. But this was his precious little girl. Twelve years old. She hadn’t died yet, but that is where this is headed if Jesus doesn’t hurry up. “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live” (v. 23; ESV). Every sickness, from the common cold to terminal cancer, is a symptom of death. That is why when someone you love is sick, no matter how seriously, you pray. You ask Jesus to come and make the person well and give them life. And this is especially true of moms and dads. You know the great anxiety that afflicts you as you care for a sick child. “Lord Jesus, help him. Make her well. Give my children life.” Well, here Jairus knows this sickness is not just a rough night of holding the bowl by the bedside. His daughter’s illness is very serious. She is at the point of death (v. 23). Come, Lord Jesus, raise her out of that. And what does Jesus do? He immediately goes. Now, you know what will happen, the great crisis and the great miracle about to unfold for the girl, but remember, at this point, Jairus does not know, and here it is sufficient to point out that when you pray, for yourself or for others, when you ask Jesus to come, that is what He does. Immediately. You can be sure of that. “(C)all upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (Ps. 50:15). Our table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus,” is always more than simply asking Him to bless food. It is a prayer for His presence now and always, and especially in times of sorrow and affliction.
So they go to Jairus’ house, and a great crowd follows them. But along the way, there is a woman who is suffering a discharge of blood. A feminine issue, unrelenting, for twelve long years (incidentally, as many years as Jairus’ little girl has been living). And it makes her unclean. Time does not permit a detailed explanation of the Levitical purity laws at the moment, but suffice it to say, in the Old Testament, when bodily fluids exit the body, they become unclean. And in some sense, we still have this today. For example, blood doesn’t gross you out when it’s inside you, flowing through your veins. But when you see blood, or someone bleeding, you may start to feel faint, and those treating the bleeding person put on rubber gloves and use personal protective equipment so the blood doesn’t get on them. And so it is with every bodily fluid.
But here it is more than that. The blood makes this dear Jewish woman ritually unclean, and so separates her from God and the community. She can’t be around people. She can’t attend Synagogue. She can’t be around her family. She can’t approach God’s presence in the Temple. She is an outcast. And the doctors, who were not the medical professionals we have today, took advantage of her. They took all her money and she wasn’t any better for it.
Now here comes Jesus. The chaos is swirling all around Him. He is in the midst of it, on His way to the place where death has touched Jairus and his home. The woman has heard about this Jesus. She knows if she could just get near Him, even just touch His garments, she would be made well. What is going on with those garments? Well, we know from Matthew and Luke just what part of His garments she touches. It is the “fringe” of His garment (Matt. 9:20; Luke 8:44). This could well be one of the tassels Jewish men wore on the four corners of their robes to remind them of God’s Commandments, and that they belonged to God. In other words, in touching that tassel belonging to One who had perfectly kept God’s Commandments, and who belonged to God as His very Son, she would be cleansed of her uncleanness, restored, and made well. Touching the tassel was a confession of faith.
Or, perhaps, whether intuitively or explicitly, she understood that Jesus is her true High Priest. In the Old Testament, the priests were made holy by partaking of the holy sacrifices, by eating them. The people were made holy and thus given access to God by touching the priests’ garments. Jesus is not only the Priest, He is the Sacrifice. To touch His garment is to receive His holiness. It takes away what is unclean. It cleanses and restores.
In any case, even with all the people in the crowd touching Him and rubbing elbows with Him, He knows when someone has touched Him in faith. And there He is where death and demonic chaos have touched this woman. He feels the power go out of Him, and He calls her on it. He turns and evokes from her a confession of that faith. And when she falls down before Him in fear and trembling, confessing the whole truth, what does He say to her? You wicked sinner! Those who are unclean cannot touch me or even be in my presence! Go away until you can figure out how to cleanse yourself. Then I might receive you! No, that is not what He says. “Daughter”… and think already about the significance of that one word for a woman who had been excluded from fellowship with God and all other people for the last twelve years: You belong to God as His own Child… “Daughter, your faith has made you well,” or, also a possible translation, has saved you… “go in peace, and be healed of your disease” (Mark 5:34). Now, this is not to say that if you do your part of having enough faith, Jesus will do His part of healing you. That would be a misunderstanding of what is going on here. It is simply to say this: Faith, which is given by God in the Word (the woman had “heard the reports about Jesus” [v. 27]), knows that cleansing, health, and life are found in Jesus Christ alone. Faith trusts this Word of God. It believes Christ. Faith receives what Christ has to give. Because it lives in relation to God as a child to the Father. “Daughter,” Jesus calls her. And so she is freed from her burden, and restored to God and to people.
Well, this is all wonderful, isn’t it, what Jesus has done? But in the meantime, during the delay, the poor child dies. And what can Jesus possibly do now, in the face of death?
Remember what Jesus said to the dear woman, prostrate before Him in fear? Your faith has made you well. Your faith has saved you. Now He bids Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe” (v. 36). And He kicks out the crowds and the professional mourners, and it is a beautiful scene there with Mom and Dad, and Peter, James, and John. Jesus takes the little girl by the hand, and remember, death is unclean. Jesus grabs the unclean corpse. And He says to her, “Talitha cumi,” which is Aramaic for, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (v. 41). And she does. She gets up, and walks around, very much alive, and Jesus even tells them to give her something to eat, because, after all, being dead is hard work, and, more to the point, Jesus will eat after He rises from the dead, proving He is no ghost, but a living, breathing, food digesting Man of flesh and blood. Resurrection is nothing less than this real, tangible, bodily reality.
So there is Jesus, nigh unto the sea, so to speak, and He is present right where the chaos and death and demons afflict you. But there is something else important here that you must not miss, and I’m going to warn you, it will touch you right where it hurts. Yes, Jesus always comes when you pray for His presence, and truth be told, He is always present with you, even when you forget to pray. Yes, Jesus always takes away your uncleanness by forgiving your sins, and He restores you to community and Communion with God and with your fellow believers here in the holy Church. Faith receives that always from Jesus. Sometimes He even heals your temporal afflictions. So never be afraid to pray for healing, for yourself and for others, and always, when you are healed, praise Jesus, your Great Physician of body and soul. When you are healed, He is the One who did it.
But, notice, Jesus didn’t prevent the death of the girl. That is not the Promise here. The death of a child is the greatest pain in all the world, and there are a number of you here present who know that pain, and suffer deeply. In any case, every one of you knows the pain of death stealing away a loved one… and if you don’t, some of you young ones… you will. Death touches us all. But what is the Promise? Where there is death, Jesus is nigh unto it. “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15). Where there is death, He wraps His hand around it, and robs it of its teeth. And then? Talitha cumi! Little girl, I say to you, arise! Lazarus, come out (John 11:43)! What is the Promise? Resurrection! Jesus will restore your children and your loved ones to you, and you to them, on that Day.
For Jesus does not just take death by the hand. He gives it a full-body embrace, arms outstretched on the cross. For you. For them. For all. And on the Third Day, He rises. There is His authority to heal, restore, and give life. Arise! Daughter, Son, your faith has saved you. Fear not. Go in peace. Healed. Restored. Whole. Alive.
For now, the sea continues to rage. In this fallen life, there is chaos, death, and demons. It is what it is. But Jesus is nigh unto it, and that is enough. Do not fear. Only believe. And now come forward and touch the Sacrifice, your High Priest, under the garment of bread and wine. Eat and drink. Being dead is hard work, but here you are, alive again. Partake of the Sacrifice. And so be holy, and so be healed. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son X, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.