Sermon for Trinity 5 at Woodlesford St John…
‘A girl restored to life and a woman healed’, the wonderfully triumphant title for today’s gospel reading. But triumphant doesn’t always seem quite right.
The last couple of weeks have been difficult for someone close to me. A different outcome would have brought healing to a life that’s already seen much suffering. So it was an outcome much prayed about, an outcome that then left questions.
I’m not going to share that story as it’s not mine to tell…but it brought me to this gospel reading from a particular starting point.
So stand with me in the crowd around Jesus: a mass of people, some curious, some puzzled, some desperate…As we jostle and push our way to Jesus we pass many suffering from chronic illness who are unable to reach him; we pass many too scared to reach out.
Come as I follow Jesus to Jairus’ house…On the way we pass other houses shut up with grief; houses where no healer came to restore life; where families were left to mourn their dead.
In Jesus’ short ministry there must have been hundreds, even thousands, who hoped for healing but didn’t feel his touch. We don’t hear their stories. In Jesus’ ministry there must have hundreds who were healed – so why were these particular stories recorded?
Perhaps these were the healings people remembered. Perhaps, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, after Pentecost, as the first Christians held onto their faith in the face of persecution – these stories still meant something in their lives.
Because if these stories have anything to say, they surely need to speak when those we care for are not healed, are not restored to life. They need to say more than that on a particular day illness was healed and the dead raised.
This week the stories have spoken to me of fear, how fear separates us from one another and God, and how healing happens when fear is overcome.
After 12 years of haemorrhages the woman in the story must have been surrounded by fear. She’d endured the attention of many doctors – and must have feared any more. She’d spent all she had – she must have feared for the future. She was ritually unclean, so fear would have kept others away from her.
Jairus’ house too would be a place of fear. The agonising fear of losing a child…the fear of coming into contact with a dead body – again seen as unclean…the fear of saying the wrong thing that always surrounds such a tragedy.
Two women isolated by fear. Perhaps what people remembered later was the way Jesus cut through that fear and ended the isolation.
Jews feared the unclean…because they thought it separated them from God. This fear made them isolate people seen as unclean. But not Jesus…touched by someone untouchable, he reached out to her. By his healing touch he showed she was ill, not unclean…that she was not someone to be feared, that she need not fear.
Confronted by a corpse – he held her hand and told her to get up. His actions show there is no condition that need separate us from God.
Or perhaps people remembered how Jesus formed a relationship with those he healed. How he sought out the woman and called her daughter. How he held the hand of the dead child and spoke to her.
Were these stories important to persecuted Christians because they were discovering how a relationship with Jesus is life-giving and can drive out fear?
I wonder too, whether these stories stuck with people because of those who were healed. Women, especially unclean women were near the bottom of society. But in the midst of crowds they were the people Jesus reached out to. No one was beneath his notice.
We can understand all this – but still wonder what the story says when a child is not saved, or a when loved one is not healed.
Perhaps if this was all the story we had, it would mean nothing. But like the gospel writer, we hear this story as part of a larger story. We know that human fear of difference, of anyone who didn’t fit in, lead Jesus to death on the cross. But we also believe that, by his resurrection, Jesus conquered death.
In his lifetime, by a girl restored to life and a woman healed, Jesus showed his power over fear and death. If we believe in his resurrection perhaps we can find a wider picture of healing.
Perhaps it’s possible to hear these stories as promises. Promises that a relationship with Jesus can be life giving, even if suffering isn’t ended, and prayers don’t seem to be answered. This isn’t easy. Sometimes it feels almost impossible. But then, it wasn’t easy for those in the story either…
As a synagogue leader, Jairus should hardly have been begging an itinerant preacher to help. And the woman risked yet more fear and rejection. But these stories remind us that Jesus is worth seeking out.
Jesus tells them it’s by their faith they’re healed…But theirs wasn’t a confident faith…more a desperate turning to Jesus when they’d tried everything else.
I’ve found, in these stories, a picture of fear dispelled not by great faith, but by finding enough faith to reach out to Jesus. Faith that doesn’t necessarily understand, but believes that with Jesus – in the end – everything will be alright.
They can’t be telling us enough faith in Jesus always leads to physical healing – because that is not our experience of life. They don’t make it easy to put our fears, our need for healing into Jesus’ hands trusting that whatever the outcome – things will be alright. No, these stories don’t make that trust easy – but read in the light of the resurrection they at least make it possible.
Lord, we offer you all that needs healing in our lives. Help us to trust that you can take away our fears even when life is difficult. Amen