With great thanks to the Rev. Karen S. for lending me a great sermon that spoke volumes to me, and for allowing me to alter it and share it with others.
- Lamentations 3:22-33
- Psalm 30
- 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
- Mark 5:21-43
There is something about sharing the truth that fascinated me. There is something in the sharing that is almost cathartic. There is something in the act of speaking truth that is compelling and miraculous and healing. Our Gospel lesson today speaks to two stories of miraculous healings and also, I think, in part, to the power of speaking truth with great vulnerability. In these stories, with what seems is only a touch, Jesus is able to put an end to twelve years of suffering; and then later on, again with only a touch, Jesus brings a young girl back to life.
The very first thing to happen to Jesus and the disciples upon stepping out of the boat into the crowds is Jairus. This powerful leader of the synagogue falls to his feet before Jesus begging him over and over for healing for his daughter, who is close to death. What a stir this must have caused. Jairus … a powerful man? A religious leader? Begging… grovelling in the dust? People no doubt raised a few eyebrows. We know that Jesus wasn’t very popular with the leaders of the synagogue. The Scribes and the Pharisees had been challenging Jesus’ every word and action since he began his ministry. Later on, the chief priests would be the ones to call for Jesus’ crucifixion. So for Jairus to come to Jesus is kind of a big deal.
Maybe before his daughter got sick, Jairus shared the views of the other Jewish leaders. Many of them believe that Jesus is a false teacher: at best he was seen as a blasphemer of the Law; at worst, he was believed to be possessed by a demon. Maybe it was only Jairus’ fear and desperation that caused him to come to Jesus in the hope that his little girl would not die. Or maybe, like Nicodemus (that Pharisee whom we read about in the Gospel of John), Jairus has always believed that Jesus was a teacher who has come from God. Maybe Jairus didn’t dare say so in front of the wrong people. But unlike Nicodemus, he did not come to Jesus privately or at night to make his request in secret.
Instead, Jairus’ falls at Jesus’ feet in the midst of a great crowd. Jairus doesn’t seem to worry about who sees him down on his knees, begging someone who his peers don’t respect and who he’s not supposed to believe in for help. Jarius’ powerful reputation and his prestigious position don’t seem to matter to him as much as getting the help that his little girl needs. He is desperate for someone to actually do something. As he kneels before Jesus’, Jairus speaks truth: the whole truth. Despite all of his power, Jairus is weak and afraid. He is powerless to help his daughter, but he knows that God can do what he cannot. His faith is in Jesus, who simply goes with him to his house. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
On the way, another encounter happens. This second person Jesus encounters, while he is on his way to Jairus’ home, is not powerful or well known. Unlike with Jairus, we don’t get to know her name. She is an invisible member of the crowd, deemed worthless by the standards of her society, ignored in her pain and suffering. She too is made desperate in her need for healing, but she doesn’t approach Jesus the way Jairus did, stopping in front of him, asking or even begging for His help. Instead she blends into the crowd and quietly reaches out and touches Jesus’ cloak, hoping not to be noticed. And she isn’t. At least not noticed by the people around her. However, her touch and her need was noticed by Jesus. Even with everyone pressing in around Him, Jesus sensed what has occurred.
Both the woman and Jesus know what has happened, and Jesus’ response is to immediately find this invisible person. The woman comes before Jesus full of fear, trembling. I think partly because she has been healed of the weight of illness. And partly because she believes that she is not worthy of the miracle that she has just experienced. She falls to her knees and she speaks truth to Jesus. I don’t imagine that the story that she told Jesus was just a story about her hearing about THE Jesus and touching Jesus’ cloak as He walked to Jairus’ house, hoping and believing that even that would be enough. Instead, it was likely a story stretching back all twelve years of struggling to live with her illness. Maybe she tells Jesus about the frustration and the embarrassment and the disappointment of going from doctor to doctor to doctor … of undergoing invasive treatments … of spending every cent she had … all of her money, but still there was never a cure. Maybe she told Jesus about the pain and the loss of never being able to marry or have a child … of being separated from the community by her illness … of feeling like she doesn’t belong anywhere and has no purpose … of only getting sicker and more isolated as the days and weeks and years went by. She is desperate, weak and afraid. All of the doctors she has seen over the years have been powerless to help her, but she knows that God can do what they cannot. Her faith is in Jesus, who simply loves her. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
There is an interesting side effect to this woman’s experience. As she shares truth with Jesus, the whole truth, the people gathered around learn her story, her whole truth as well. She is no longer the invisible woman in the midst of the crowd. She has bared her brokenness and exposed her innermost secrets to the world. There is no doubt that the confession this woman makes of her illness and of her actions would have been shocking and shameful to everyone who heard it. Not only was she unclean, but now everyone who had touched her would consider themselves to be temporarily unclean as well … not to mention that she’s already been sick for twelve years. “Couldn’t she have waited,” they might have thought, “especially for the sake of the daughter of such a powerful person?”
We may not live in first century Palestine, where sickness made you ritually unclean and a system was kept strictly in place to determine who needed to be kept separate from whom, but in our time and place of twenty-first century North America, illness and vulnerability can still carry a large stigma. Such a great stigma that there is now a classification of illnesses that are termed: Invisible Chronic Illness. Though I am been known in my circles of friends to be rather outspoken about my life, I have become careful about sharing information about my invisible illnesses. I have a large number of friends who all have one form or another: illnesses that are unseen, but affect a person’s life deeply and greatly. There are a number of these invisible illnesses out there. People suffering deep pain, and few around them knows.
Being sick is more than just a diagnosis. The whole truth of being sick is the way that it affects every aspect of your life. Not just your health, but maybe the way you look. The way you talk. The way you move. What you can do. What you can’t do anymore but wish you could. How you see yourself. How others see you and treat you. It makes you different: different from the people around you, different than you were before, different than you wish you could be. But perhaps worst of all, when it happens to you or to someone who you love, you are faced with the fact that you are powerless to make it go away.
That’s something most of us aren’t eager to admit: either to ourselves or to anyone else. Because it’s pretty scary to be vulnerable, especially in a society that is so focused on getting ahead and having it all together. Or, more specifically, a society that tells you that if you can’t have it all and have it all together, you could at least look like you do.
But there is something compelling and powerful about speaking the truth of our vulnerabilities. In recent years, many people who suffer health problems have begun using websites such as Caringbridge or Carepages or Posthope to share information with family and friends and to journal about their experiences. A few years ago, some of you might have heard of Hélène Campbell, the 20-year-old Canadian girl who received a double lung transplant. She and her mother used her blog “A Lung Story” not just to promote the cause of organ donation, but also to share what it is like to live with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and to be on standby for a donor in Toronto while the rest of the family was in Ottawa. Through that site, Hélène admitted how self-conscious it made her whenever she would start coughing due to lack of oxygen, because people would look at her as if she was contagious. She talked about how much she wished that she could clean her room – or sing – or dance – or have a job – be in university – exercise – or go camping with her friends. How sad it made her that making a cup of coffee for her mom was too difficult for her to do. How happy she was after her transplant to make breakfast for her family. Hélène dared to share her feelings about her suffering, and I can’t help but think that there was healing for her in airing her life, healing for friends and family as they learned more about what she was going through, and new communities of support, relationship, and prayer as still others learned and journeyed with Hélène through her sharing.
Yes, there can be something healing sharing the whole truth: something powerful in making oneself vulnerable to others, and something powerful in revealing the truth of one’s life, but it can remain scary because you really have no idea how other people will react. To which I say that the biggest, very real truth of them all is this: we can, however, tell the whole truth of who we are to Jesus and be absolutely sure of Jesus’ forgiveness and acceptance.
It would seem reasonable to us for Jesus to have rejected Jairus’ request, based on the mistreatment and disbelief Jesus has encountered in the past from other religious leaders, but he doesn’t. Jesus instead acknowledges Jairus’ need, goes with him to his home, and heals his daughter. Jesus doesn’t cringe and back away from the haemorrhaging woman who no one else would dare to touch. Even though her community does not accept this woman as she is, Jesus welcomes her and cares deeply for her, calling her “daughter”. He proclaims not only that healing is hers, but also that she is a beloved child of God.
And at the end of this cool gospel reading we encounter the extreme and radical love and acceptance that Jesus brings into our lives through speaking truth. As Jesus continues on to Jairus’ house, someone arrives to inform them that Jairus’ daughter is dead. Jesus will not be stopped. At the house, there is much wailing and grieving – the child is dead. Jairus’ daughter, the most desperate and the most vulnerable of all of the people in our reading today, cannot even advocate for her own needs. She cannot speak her truth. Yet, Jesus takes mother and father upstairs and he reaches out and touches this child. She is healed without any action on her part. Jesus is faithful to a request. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Jesus restores these people not only to health, but returns them to wholeness, free to rejoin life and relationship in community with others. And just like those in our Gospel lesson for today, we can reach out to Jesus with the whole truth of both our brokenness and our need. We can lay our needs at his feet and admit to Jesus when we are feeling weak and when we make mistakes. We can talk to Jesus when we feel insecure about who we are and who we wish we were. We can confess our sins to Jesus with the confidence that they do not separate us from the love of God. And even as we come before the altar, we know that we are not worthy. We know that our own power cannot save us. We kneel down before Jesus and receive this gift, which God, out of love, has freely given to us. And even as we kneel there, God already knows the whole truth of who we are and calls us children. Out of love for us, God renews and restores us in faith and in life. Maybe it makes us different from other people to admit the truth and roots of our brokenness, and to place our hope in Christ’s power instead of in our own … but there is something healing and compelling about speaking truth and knowing that you are loved. And that’s pretty powerful stuff.
Let us pray:
Compassionate One, we give thanks that you are always present to hear us speak our truth, our whole truth, to you. We give thanks that, you, who created us, know us even better than we know ourselves. Give us faith to continually speak truth into a world full of hidden shame and sorrow. Give us courage to speak of our faith being in you to those around us. Empower us to live our lives full of faith in you, regardless of how broken, how unworthy, how ignored we may feel, knowing that we are your children and we are already accepted and loved. Amen.
This post’s Image from An Elf’s Life – Illustration by Audrey Lopata.
For more information about Hélène Campbell and “A Lung Story,” please visit: http://www.alungstory.ca/