Noticed

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This sermon was preached at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Dearborn Heights, Michigan and was focused upon Mark 5:21-43. The audio recording is above and a written manuscript is below.

Mark 5:21-43

Desperate, Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet.

Jairus was likely overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion and helplessness, but he kept going and kept pleading because he was desperate.  His precious little girl – only 12 years old – was in his words, “at the point of death.”  We only hear two sentences from Jairus, but they’re packed with desperation. “My little daughter is at the point of death.  Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”  Just two sentences.  But perhaps we can imagine the urgency in Jairus’s voice as he spoke to Jesus, because the story also tells us that while he was lying on the ground at Jesus’ feet, Jairus was begging Jesus repeatedly.  Jesus had compassion at the first word, but we can imagine the desperation in Jairus’s voice.  Perhaps he repeated himself and begged again and again, just to feel a slight amount of confidence, like he was making something happen.  Sometimes silence can feel very scary in times of great need.  Or perhaps as he kept speaking in urgency, his sense of panic and anxiety grew even stronger like a fearful refrain.  We don’t really know.

But we do know this: Jesus noticed this desperation and had compassion on Jairus and the little daughter he had yet to meet.  We don’t know what Jesus said to Jairus, but we can imagine that Jesus’ was moved with love and care.  The story says it simply. “So he went with him.” Jesus entered Jairus’s need and went with him.

Jairus was a person of prominence in his town and in his religious community. As the leader of the synagogue, he was revered as a person of significance and honor.  But even people of privilege can be reduced to desperation when death is so near, especially when a child’s life is in danger – something that should never be, something more frightening and heartbreaking than just about anything else we can experience.

Jesus noticed.  He was present to Jairus’s desperation. Jesus went with him.

But things did not go smoothly or according to plan.  Desperation was rising in other places too.  There was a woman.  There was a woman whose identity had been reduced to mere nothingness.  In her experience, it wasn’t as though she were simply ignored.  That would be a difficult reality for sure, but it would be simpler than the one she was living.  She wasn’t simply ignored.  She was isolated.  Others feared her.  She had a difficult hemorrhaging disease which caused her to bleed continuously, and under the law at the time, that made her continuously ritually unclean.  She couldn’t worship in the public spaces.  She couldn’t come into contact with anyone else.  Because if she did, she would make others ritually unclean too, at least until they performed the essential rituals to become clean again, rituals that would allow them worship freely and publicly.

But she didn’t have that option.  The bleeding never stopped.  She had done everything she could imagine to be healed of this disease, everything in her power to become ritually clean once again, but nothing worked.  She had spent all her money, everything she had on doctors who couldn’t heal her.  Now she was not only sick but financially destitute.  She had nothing, and she had no one.  She had been isolated for twelve years of her life.  Socially, she was a nobody.  She had no prominence, but she too was desperate.

And as the saying goes, desperate situations often lead to desperate measures. She had heard about Jesus, and she came up with an audacious plan.  She said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”  In all of her experience so far, every typical avenue for healing had not worked.  It would be easy to doubt this plan, but she seemed so convinced and convicted.  What a shocking and offensive plan it was!  If she touched Jesus, she would make him ritually unclean under the law and render him incapable of laying hands on anyone else for healing.  She could hijack his ministry, at least for a while.  How offensive this was!  But she was convicted and she trusted this plan.  It went from an audacious idea to an offensive action.  She put the plan into place.  She touched Jesus.

On one hand, what confidence.  . . She had confidence in Jesus.  She believed she could simply touch his robe and she would be made well. And maybe. . just maybe, I wonder if she had confidence  — even just a little bit – that she had worth as a human being made in the image of God. She needed this healing.

I wonder if she thought this action would be insignificant to Jesus. .  . perhaps because another part of her believed that she was insignificant herself, a nobody.  She could just touch him. No one would notice! After all, no one else seemed to notice her pain.  No one else seemed to see her as the human being she was. This would be easy.  She could be healed, and it would over.  Simple and done.

But things did not go smoothly or according to plan.

Jesus noticed.

In the midst of a crowd that was pressing in on every side, Jesus noticed.  When the woman touched his robe, he felt that power had gone out from him.  And he asked a seemingly ridiculous question: “Who touched my clothes?”  The disciples were perplexed by this question.  The crowd was so large and intense, that the people were pressing in on them, likely making it difficult to keep moving ahead with Jairus to meet his daughter.  “You see the crowd pressing in on you,” they said.  “How can you say, ‘Who touched me?” But Jesus pressed on with his question, turning around to see who had done this.

Then the woman, who thought she would be invisible, could not avoid being noticed.

Jesus noticed and loved her.

Desperate, the woman fell at Jesus’ feet.

We don’t know what this woman said to Jesus, but we can imagine the desperation in her voice.  The story tells us that as she lay there at his feet, she told Jesus the ‘whole truth,’ – the truth about her condition and the truth about her audacious plan.  She must have expected great condemnation, first from Jesus who was now ritually unclean because of her choice and also from the crowd who was admiring him and pressing in on him the entire way.  She must have expected a terrible ending to this attempt at healing, just like all the other attempts.

But things did not go smoothly or according to her expectations.  Jesus was overcome with compassion and was in awe of her trust and conviction. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Daughter. . . What an amazing word!  What an amazing thing to say to a woman who had been robbed of all her dignity.  This woman was no less worth healing – she was no less worth noticing – than the little daughter Jesus was on his way to save.  Jairus’s little girl was twelve years old, at the point of death, and this woman, who had been bleeding continuously for twelve years, was always at the point of death. This woman was also a daughter, a person of great faith, a person of worth to God.  No sense of desperation could ever take that holy birthright away.  In the moment, she was healed of her disease.  But she was also healed of her invisibility.  She was seen and noticed as the person of worth she was.

But then tragedy struck.  Some people came from Jairus’s house and said, “Why trouble the teacher any further?  Your daughter is dead.”  These were the words that Jairus had dreaded and feared.  They had been delayed too long, in large part, by this audacious woman.  What could be done now?

Surprisingly, Jesus could not be deterred in his determination to accompany Jairus in his own pain.  Jesus noticed, saw Jairus in need, and saw more possibilities than could anyone else could imagine in the moment.  Jesus, who was now technically ritually unclean, marched into a scene with mourners who were weeping and wailing, and he said, “The child is not dead but sleeping.” How audacious that was.  If he but touched the girl, she would be made whole, and she would live.  And that is what he did.  “Talitha cum!  Little girl, get up!” And this precious daughter of Jairus and this daughter of God was made whole, restored to life.

In life and in death, we belong to God.  That is a conviction we voice together. We say it in our creeds and confessions.  And we hear it in the words of scripture, written by the Apostle Paul.  In life and in death, we belong to God. This is good news for us today.

This is good news for us every day of our lives because we too know desperation, and we live in a world where people are experiencing desperation greater than anything we can easily imagine.  In life and in death, we belong to God.  We are God’s people, and God desires to heal us.

This is good news for us today because we can take such a conviction with us when times get difficult.  We do need healing.  We have weathered forms of sickness from which there has been no cure.  We have also known death.  I wish I could preach from this passage and tell us that every disease will be healed in this lifetime and that even when little children die, they can be raised to life again if we will just take them by the hand.  I wish I could say that.  But we have seen difficult situations.

But here is some healing truth: Jesus notices.  Jesus enters our pain and transforms it, and he will not let us go.  He will not let disease or death or any other kind of tragedy separate us from the love of God.  He will not let anything separate us the worth we have as God’s human beings.  He will always accompany us.  And he will heal us in a myriad of ways along the journey.   We can have peace in the midst of great difficulty. That is a real form of healing. 

And in just a little while, we will experience this kind of love and healing in a very tangible way at the table, where we will take our need, and we will bring it to Jesus who says, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”  So we invite one another: Come in audacious faith.  Come and see him.  Come and know the Holy God who will walk with you toward healing – toward faith, toward peace, toward confidence, toward worth.  Come.

Renee Roederer

[1] I found this image here

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