Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Story of the Unnamed Woman

I'd heard somene last week point out that Jesus told sermons and asked questions, whereas we preached sermons and gave explanations. Today's sermon was my attempt to address that - an imagined account of the unnamed woman in Mark 5:21-43

She’d heard he was going to be there. The talk on the street was of nothing else. The man who worked miracles, who cast out demons, who cured the sick, was in town. She knew she had to be there too. Perhaps, just perhaps, he’d take pity on her? Perhaps this was her chance?

That’s why she was there that day. That’s why she was being jostled back-and-forth in that crowd – every one of them hoping to catch a glimpse of the teacher. For her, though, a glimpse was not enough.

She wasn’t just ill. As awful as the constant bleeding made her feel, that wasn’t the worst of it. She was ‘unclean’. Physically and spiritually. She hadn’t been allowed in the synagogue for twelve years – hadn’t been allowed to worship God for twelve years. She shouldn’t even really be out in public. She knew that God considered her unworthy.

She’d spent so much time trying to work out what she’d done wrong; repented of every sin she could think of, but still she was no better.

She’d spent all she had – every single penny – chasing a cure. She had visited doctors, faith-healers, herbalists. She’d gone through embarrassing rituals, painful treatments, and taken potions that made her horribly ill. All to no avail. In fact, over that time, she’d actually got worse. 

“Trust me,” they said, “That shows it’s working. It’s bound to get worse before it gets better.” 

But it never got better. She’d run out of money. She was running out of hope.

She was desperate – nothing else had worked.

She pushed through the crowd – if they only knew, she thought, they’d recoil, afraid to be touched by her. She could part them and pass through easily, just as Moses did the Red Sea, by only shouting out her illness. But she couldn’t shout anymore; she couldn’t even look any of them in the eye and talk to them – she didn’t have the confidence. She could talk to herself, though – and she did; repeating the mantra. Making herself believe it – “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well. If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well. If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

As she pushed through, careful to avoid eye-contact with the people around her, she saw him there, in front of her. He hadn’t spotted her – no-one ever did – his back was to her as he walked along, his attention drawn by another man, approaching him. It was Jairus – she recognised him too, from all those years ago, when she was allowed to attend the synagogue – when she was not estranged from God. She could hear him begging the teacher as she got nearer. His daughter – as old as her disease – was constantly on the older man’s lips.

“She’s dying,” he pleaded, “she’s dying. She’s dying. Please come – come and lay your hands on her, lay your hands on her so that she may be made well. So that she may live.”

She pushed forward. She could tell the old man was desperate – she’d never heard him like that before. He was normally a proud, reserved man, but now, he was brought to his knees. Literally. He fell at the teacher’s feet, begging and pleading for his daughter’s life.

She saw Jesus reach down and gently help him up. “Let’s go,” he said, and started to follow Jairus. The old man by now was running – the hobbling fits-and-starts of a run belonging to a man who has not run since childhood.  He kept checking behind him to ensure the teacher was following, causing him to stumble several times. He looked foolish, but was moving quickly for a man his age. She had to pick up her pace to keep up with them both.

She was close enough now. Her heart was thumping in her chest.

“If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well. If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well. If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”

This was the moment – her last chance. Nothing else had worked. If this did not, she would not be healed. She would not be made right with God. No, this had to work. She was desperate.

She reached out her hand toward the tassel on his robe. She could see her hand was shaking as she did so. 

She moved to grab it, to hold on, to – Oh!

She knew!

At that moment, she knew!

She had stopped bleeding – she had been healed! 

Her whole body was shaking now, not just her hand – she had hardly dared hope, and now…

“Who touched my clothes?”

She froze. He couldn’t mean her! The whole crowd was jostling each other – and him. His disciples told him as much. Everyone was touching him!

He’d stopped walking. Jairus had stopped too – he was desperate for the teacher to follow him, he was practically bouncing up and down, but the crowd had gone silent, waiting to see what Jesus was doing. Everyone looked at him... and he was looking at them. Jesus was searching the crowd, looking for that one person amongst all of them who had touched him.

So many people had touched him, she thought. Someone else might come forward. She could not. What would he do? She’d stolen power from him. Would he take it back? Her last chance – her reconciliation with God? She’d stolen her healing. Would he give her back her illness, or make it worse?

His eyes met hers. The first time in twelve years, she’d met someone’s gaze, and it was him. Of course it was. It had to be.

It was her turn now to fall to her knees. “Please don’t take it back. I have stolen my healing. I was desperate, but now I am healed. Have mercy!”

He lifted her head. “Daughter,” he said to her – oh, she had not been a daughter of Israel for twelve years now – could it be true?

“Daughter,” he said, “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed.”

She was aghast. She had made him unclean by touching him, and in turn?

He had made her clean.

Where was her punishment? She thanked him over and over, tears of joy and exhaustion running down her face. She rushed to her feet to hurry off, before he could change his mind. But as she did so, another small group approached Jairus. She could tell even before they spoke that they were not bringing good news. “Your daughter,” they said to him, “has died.”

They  took his arm to steady him and lead him back to his house. “Come, let us go and leave the teacher alone.”

But Jesus approached Jairus, ignoring the members of his household who had brought him the awful news. “Don’t fear,” he said, “only believe.” 

And taking Jairus by the hand, he gently led him off, taking only a handful of his disciples with them.
The woman stood there, dumbfounded, as the crowd dispersed. The words that Jesus had spoken to her running through her mind. “Your faith has made you well.”

She had been made well, no doubt, but by her faith? She’d had no faith – only desperation. The teacher was her last chance, not her first choice.  It was not faith that brought her there that day. She’d had no other option. What faith in healing must Jairus have now? His daughter had died. His last chance to save her had now gone. Whatever faith he’d initially had in Jesus’ ability to help – and when she thought about it, Jairus’ ‘faith’ looked just as desperate as hers – whatever faith in healing was originally there in him must have died alongside his daughter.

Her mind suddenly leapt back to a story she’d heard that the teacher had told. That those with faith the size of a mustard seed could move a mountain. She’d thought when she’d first heard it that in that case, her faith must be smaller than even that – she could not even be healed, let alone move a mountain. She had thought back then that he was pointing out the inadequacies of the faith of the crowd; that he was chastising them.

Now? She was not so sure. She was rethinking her interpretation. Her faith, as tiny, as broken, as desperate as it was, had made her well. Was Jesus in fact saying something about the potential of the crowd, rather than their inadequacies? That even the weakest believer had faith at least the size of a mustard seed? That even those who weren’t sure what they believed had the potential to move a mountain?

She hoped so, for Jairus’ sake. If ever a mountain needed moving for him, it was now. Could his daughter be raised from the dead? Could the teacher do that?

What about the others in the crowd – for there surely were others in that large crowd that had now left – who needed healing? Would their faith make them well? Would it raise their loved ones from the dead? The teacher seemed to have suggested it would. For her, it had taken twelve years. For some, she thought, maybe less. For others, twenty? Fifty? Until the ends of the earth?

She set off for home, holding up her head for the first time in years, thinking on these things. All these people, like her, with their meagre, broken, desperate snatches of faith. At some point between here and now, and the ends of eternity, she thought to herself, in this life, or the next, their faith would make them well.

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