My daughter was supposed to have her first ice skating lesson last night. She didn’t, because of a sick brother. But it got me to thinking about learning to ice skate. Just like so many things, skating begins with the fundamentals. You don’t just skate onto the ice and start jumping and spinning. You begin with learning a good foundation. They teach the kids to take tiny steps, to hold their hands out in front for balance, and how to stand back up when they fall. Every beginner in the class gets the same instruction, but different kids will respond differently. Some kids will stay on shaky legs for a long time, afraid of falling. Others will take that foundation and run with it. Ice skating will click for them, and they just may be doing jumps and spins in no time.
What does this have to do with our passage in Mark? Well this week we see two people who knew the fundamentals about Jesus – that he had power to do miraculous things. They had a foundation on which to trust him. It was the same foundation that so many others had in Jesus day. But these two took that foundation and ran with it. They had radical faith that Jesus could and would provide for them in their desperation.
In response to their remarkable faith, Jesus shows deep compassion by turning their desperation into joy. And through these amazing accounts, we see more of who Jesus is. From the beginning of the book of Mark, we have been encountering Jesus’ authority. Mark has been building a foundation on which readers can place their faith in Jesus. Jesus has power and authority over everything. And so we face the question, how will we respond?
In this week’s passage, Jesus reveals his authority over sickness and death, and his compassion toward those with radical faith.
We see this first as Jesus makes an unclean woman clean, and second as he makes a dead girl alive.
We begin our passage in verse 21. We learn that Jesus (and presumably his disciples) have crossed back to the other side of the lake. They are back on the Capernaum side, where Jesus’ fame has already spread. He finds himself surrounded by a great crowd, ready to see what sort of miracle he might perform or what sort of controversy he might stir up.
I picture the crowd splitting, making way for Jairus to come through. He is the ruler of the synagogue, so he is a man of power and authority himself. Maybe there’s whispers in the crowd, people wondering what Jairus will say. Will he challenge Jesus like some of the religious leaders have been doing? But no, Jairus is there seeking Jesus’ help. His daughter is dying, and Jesus is his last hope. His desperation has brought him here. And this is a matter of urgency, because the daughter is on the brink of death.
Jesus follows Jairus, and the great crowd follows too. Can you sense the excitement in the crowd? They are going to witness another miracle. This is what they came for!
But along the way, something unexpected happens.
Jesus makes an unclean woman clean
In the throng of people is a woman who is also desperate. In fact, she has no right to even be in the crowd. She has a flow of blood that makes her unclean. She cannot touch anyone else, and no one can touch her. So jostling around in a crowd of people would have been unthinkable, I imagine, because everyone she brushed up against would be made unclean for the remainder of the day.
This is one way that we know she was desperate, but our passage gives us more detail. She’s been bleeding for twelve years. For twelve years she has been outside of her community, according to Jewish law. She has been set aside from her family, friends and neighbors. She has been to doctors, lots of doctors. But to no avail. She’s spent all of her money trying to get better. But she only gets worse.
Some of us can relate to this woman. I know too many people who have sickness or pain that goes undiagnosed for a long time or always. It’s a familiar story to hear of someone seeing multiple doctors but getting few answers. Medical care is still expensive today, and we have to balance the need for treatment with the high cost of getting it. Chronic health problems often make us feel desperate, defeated and helpless. Just like this woman was feeling.
It seems likely that after twelve years, she had pretty much given up hope of getting better and being restored to her community. But then Jesus comes along. He’s healing people of all kinds of conditions, and I imagine that a glimmer of hope stirs in her once more. Desperation makes faith a little easier, sometimes. When there’s no where else to turn and nothing else to try, but the thought of things staying the same is unbearable, suddenly the inconceivable sparks hope. The question for her isn’t “can Jesus heal her?”
The question for her is “will he?” Will she be able to get close enough? Will this last-ditch effort work?
This woman is likely counting partly on Jesus’ power and partly on mysticism or magic, for she is confident that if she just touches his clothing she will be healed. There was a popular belief in Jesus’ day that the power of a person was transferred to what they were wearing. And so she goes for it. She pushes her way into the crowd, reaches out, touches him and immediately she can tell that she is healed. Sure, she had faith that it could happen, but I picture her kind of dumbfounded that it actually did. For one moment, she has this jubilant secret. Maybe she starts to turn away but then Jesus stops and speaks “Who touched my garment?”
Trembling, she falls down at his feet and tells him the whole story. I wonder, does she expect him to be mad that she has touched him? What we know is Jesus’ response – “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” These are such words of grace. He calls her daughter. He affirms that she is indeed healed and can live at peace within her community once more. And he clarifies that it was her faith, not some bit of mysticism, that brought about her healing. It was not magic. It was an encounter with the compassionate Lord of life.
Oh, there is so much about this story that is remarkable. But one aspect that we should not miss is the issue of cleanliness. Purity was a huge part of Jewish law. To improperly handle uncleanliness had huge consequences – risk of remaining ceremonially unclean for the remainder of one’s life. So what happens in this story should catch our attention. Jesus is touched by an unclean woman, but rather than becoming unclean himself, both of them walk away clean and she is reconciled to her family and friends.
Just as the woman had been separated from her community because of her disease, we are separated from God because of our sin. Try as we might, we cannot get better. We can expend our every resource trying to make ourselves better, but we find that we only get worse. We need to be made aware of our desperation. It’s when we are ready to acknowledge that we are desperate that we can come to Jesus with faith that just a touch of him has power to save us.
He saves us because he makes the unclean clean. The digging deeper section of our homework had us look at Hebrews 9. Those who are unclean need a sacrifice to make them clean. They would have a priest offer this sacrifice at the temple, after the allotted number of days had passed. Hebrews 9:11-14 explains why Jesus could make the unclean clean. He was a better sacrifice, able to purify us from all unrighteousness so that we can serve the living God.
Has Jesus made you clean? Have you come to him in your desperation, realizing that he is your only hope? Do you believe that just a brush up with Jesus is enough to solve your greatest need? If we have put radical faith in Jesus, believing his authority, we need to remember the desperation that he has saved us out of. We need to remember that he has reconciled us to God, healing us of our sickness of sin just as he healed this bleeding woman.
Not only does Jesus make an unclean woman clean, but
Jesus makes a dead woman alive
Jesus’ delay proved fatal for the dying girl. And yet, Jesus presses on toward Jairus’ house. He urges him “Do not fear, only believe.” Because of the way that Mark has structured this account, we have the sense that Jesus is telling Jairus “Be like the woman we just encountered. Trust me to do an amazing thing. You came to me believing that I could heal your daughter, don’t lose hope now.”
Throughout his gospel, Mark has been recounting the varied responses of people to Jesus. Here we get a little different perspective. Jesus is telling Jairus what his response should be. Prior to this day, Jairus has seen or heard enough about Jesus to believe in his power. And he has just witnessed an amazing display of both power and faith. The proper response now is to trust Jesus.
Now, we need a disclaimer here. Faith does not obligate God to do things for us. If you are sick and have prayed for healing to no avail, your lack of healing may not have anything at all to do with your faith. God’s good will for our lives sometimes means that our circumstances don’t change regardless of our faith. But true, deep faith believes that Jesus has the power and authority to overcome sickness and death. Faith submits to the will of God in our lives, believing that he is always good even when we don’t understand it. Faith rests secure in the presence of Jesus, knowing that he is compassionate and kind through it all.
And so Jesus continues on to Jairus’ house, but he forbids the crowds from following. He takes only Peter, James and John with him. When they arrive, they find a big production. Jewish practice was that mourners would gather for a mourning ceremony. Somewhere along the line, this had resulted in professional mourners whose job it was to perform mourning music and wail along with it. “Even the poorest man was required by common custom to hire a minimum of two flute players and one professional mourner (The Gospel of Mark, William L Lane, p 330)” so it stands to reason that the ruler of the synagogue would have quite the assembly. It seems to have been quite a circus.
Upon Jesus’ pronouncement that the girl is not dead, but only sleeping, they laugh at him. Now, does Jesus’ statement make him a liar? Scripture makes it clear that the girl was indeed dead. We should understand Jesus to mean that the girl’s condition is not permanent. She has not “been delivered over to the realm of death with all of its consequences.” She will soon wake.
Jesus banishes the circus from the room, allowing only the three disciples, Jairus and his wife in the room. Then he grabs the girl’s hand and tells her to get up. And she does. Here again, Jesus should be made unclean. But instead, he brings the dead back to life. Something only God can do. On his command, the girl rises from the dead.
The response from the onlookers is total amazement. Because how else do you respond? The man in their midst has just done the impossible. He has just done what only God can do. The man in their midst is God himself. How could they be anything but amazed?
This is not the last time these three disciples will be amazed by resurrection. Soon they will realize that Jesus too has risen from the dead. Our passage this week teaches us that Jesus has authority over death. His authority over death extends not just to raising someone from the dead. It is authority over death itself. He proved this authority when he died on the cross. He willingly submitted to death in order to be the once and for all sacrifice for sins. His blood purified us to serve the living God. His death made us clean. But death could not keep him or contain him, so at the right time, just like the girl, he got up and started walking. Because of his resurrection, we too have the hope of resurrection from the dead. For those who, by grace, put radical faith in Jesus, we can rest assured that death cannot keep us either. Just as Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead, just as he raised himself from the dead, he will raise us from the dead also.
And he already has. Not only will we not stay physically dead, but we don’t stay spiritually dead. We were once dead in our trespasses and sins, but he has made us alive together with Christ Jesus (Eph 2:1). This is new life in Christ. This is a life of being able to follow him and rest secure in him. It is a life of putting our full trust in him, knowing that he has authority over all things. Life with Jesus means he compassionately responds to our faith, caring for each of us just as he knows we need. It means that we go in peace, healed of our disease of sin.
Mark wants us to respond to this authority of Jesus over sickness and death. Do we believe? Do you believe that Jesus really does have this authority, that he is who he says he is? Have you trusted him to make you alive, to heal your spiritual sickness? And if you have believed, do you run to him in your desperation? Without Christ, we are hopeless,
just like Jairus, when he was powerless to save his daughter. Just like the bleeding woman when she had exhausted her resources and kept getting worse. We have nowhere else to turn. But in Jesus, there is hope. Do you believe that he is your hope in all things? Mark gives us a great foundation on which to believe. Let’s pray that we will run with that, putting radical faith in the compassionate Lord of Life.