As we read through Mark, week after week, in our Sunday worship we’re dealing with stories woven together to persuade Mark’s first readers, and us, that Jesus was a King. Last week we thought about Jesus’ authority over the created order when he calmed the storm – if not the disciples, this week we see his authority over sickness but we see more than that, we see how Jesus uses his kingly authority – in fact authority is the key theme in the passage.
At first we meet Jairus. Jairus is an important man, an official in the Synagogue so he had authority in Jewish life at the time. As such his authority would come from his position in society, his learned understanding, and observance, of the Jewish Law and for the reader, there is a sense of his authority in that he correctly perceives that Jesus could help. By coming to Jesus, Jairus realises that whatever authority he has is less than that which is possessed by Jesus.
Like any parent with a desperately ill child, he would do anything to save her. We have seen the pain of parents fighting in the courts for hospitals to do anything to save their children when all hope is gone, we know from our own lives the pain of illness and the nearness of death. We see those cases when the authority and knowledge of doctors is queried by the authority of the Courts and the child is caught in the middle of medicine, law and desperation. We can relate to Jairus, we can see that he is an important man, driven by his desperation to see if this new preacher and miracle worker can help save his little girl.
Then, as now, there is much that medicine can’t do. Then as now there are questions which can’t be answered. We don’t know why awful things happen in life, why some are struck with illness, why some people seem to have more than their fair share of pain, why some have to deal with multiple bereavements. Then, as now, people were tempted to think these things were punishments from a wrathful God; we know this isn’t the case but in the face of the mystery of pain, evil and illness there is little we can do to understand; instead we are left with having faith that God will give us the strength to continue.
Jairus was at the end of his tether and went to Jesus to seek his help to save his little girl; the text says he fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him. Desperation makes us do things like that. Jesus responds and starts to go with Jairus, after all he was in need, he was an important man, he had authority and influence.
Then we turn to the next sign of Jesus’ Kingship when the woman with a haemorrhage touches him. This is all wrong. A woman who bled was ritually unclean – there were rituals to go through at the end of the monthly cycle but this woman could never be ritually clean because of her bleed. Unable to attend Synagogue or Temple she was cut off from the worshipping life of her people, touching another made them unclean so she was cut off from the social life of her people. Then there were the effects of the illness on her physically – I read the line “”she had endured much under many physicians” and shuddered wondering what horrors she had endured – she’d spent all the money she had on them too. She was on the edge, poor, ill, unclean.
She clearly had faith but I wonder what her self-esteem was like – unlike Jairus she didn’t approach Jesus directly. She didn’t even kneel and beg but knew that if she touched him she’d be made well. Not wanting to trouble the rabbi, perhaps, but she would have risked more social ostracism, anger and condemnation as, by touching Jesus, she made him unclean too. She had no business touching Jesus – no authority to as a woman and as a ritually unclean one too.
The drama in the passage when Jesus asks who touched him is palpable. She must have been terrified he would condemn her, admonish her for making him unclean – he was, after all, a rabbi. Instead, however, he names her daughter and tells her that her faith made her well.
We see, of course, Jesus’ compassion here but we also see something about the priorities of the Kingdom. The needs of the poor, the marginalised and vulnerable are put above the needs of the important and wealthy. Both were in need – indeed one could say that Jairus’ daughter was in greater danger than the woman, but Jesus made time for the woman who recognised his authority and, in her desperation, reached out and took her healing.
Whilst Jairus, and this, of course, unnamed woman saw Jesus’ authority the professional mourners just laughed at him – though I suspect they stopped when he “put them all outside” and raised Jairus’ daughter.
So What Do We Learn from This Passage?
I think we learn a number of things from this passage.
We continue to see Mark make his case for Jesus’ kingship. He has authority over the natural elements – as we saw last week – he has authority over life and health; he has authority over the Law – disregarding the rules about ritual uncleanliness and being touched by a woman.
We see that Jesus’ authority is exercised gently – in direct relationship with those whom he interacts. He searches out the woman, he goes to Jairus’ daughter instead of healing her from afar.
Priority is given to those on the edge – the poor, the suffering, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the unclean – over those who have status, wealth and importance.
The challenge for us is to reflect all this in our church and in our lives.
Do we live as if we really believe that Jesus is King? The Christian claim that Jesus is Lord was deeply subversive in the Roman Empire where there was only one Lord – the Emperor. We’ve grown used to the title Lord being something spiritual but the Earliest Christians understood that to name Jesus as Lord, or King, meant that he was truly in charge. Not the Emperor, or the Senate, or the collaborating local rulers, but Jesus. Of course we elect, and moan about, our governments but we need to remember that they too will need to give account to the Lord, the one to whom the world has been ransomed. Our role is to remind them that they too need to give account, they too need to recognise that there is one greater than them and His interests are different to theirs.
Do we, in the Church, seek to exercise our authority gently and in relationship? Church leaders accomplish much more if they have made the effort to build relationships with those they serve; if they recognise that their authority, such as it is, is fragile and can easily be compromised. For far too long the Church assumed it had authority to tell others what to do and how to live – and expected not to be questioned. Thankfully those days are long gone.
Who do we prioritise?
Jesus’ priorities always seem to be the poor, the vulnerable and the outcast – are ours?
Wil you pray with me?
O Christ for Whom we search.
out help when help has failed,
give us courage to expose our need
and ask to be made whole;
that, being touched by you,
we may be raised to new life
in the power of your name