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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost - July 2, 2006

Today’s gospel text is an example of a literary technique used quite often in Mark; the fancy name for it is intercalation but I’ve also seen it referred to as framing which is a little easier to get a handle on than intercalation.  What framing refers to is having two stories, one framed by the other.  In this text, first there is the beginning of the story of Jairus’ daughter, but before that story is resolved, the story of the woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years is inserted so we deal with this second, framed story before the first is finished.  The effect of this framing is that it creates a little bit of suspense as we have to wait to get resolution of the first story, but even more, the framing provides commentary and reinforcement.  The two related stories illuminate and enrich each other, clarifying the meaning Mark is trying to get across.

So I think it is useful to look carefully at some of the similar and contrasting details of these two stories in order to try and get at the overall meaning.  First of all, both stories speak of a daughter; in the first Jairus makes reference to his own daughter who was ill; in the second, at the end, Jesus himself calls the woman daughter following her healing.  It’s a slightly different use of the term daughter, but still the same word is used both times.  Second, the woman with hemorrhages had been suffering for 12 years.  The little girl in the other part of the story is 12 years old, another similarity involving one of those biblical numbers that represents completeness. 

In both stories someone falls at Jesus’ feet; Jairus an influential leader of the synagogue in one case, a ritually unclean, frightened woman in the other case.  Both stories contrast fear and faith, both talk about being made well.  Contrast is made between the respected man who confronts Jesus face to face and the outcast woman who creeps up behind Jesus.

Those are some of the details, so what conclusions might we draw here?  What message is Mark trying to get across by framing these stories this way?  The most obvious one perhaps is the need for healing, the need for Jesus’ presence, a need which is there for everyone in some fashion regardless of any categories of class or gender.  The message is that we are all in need of healing and the framing of the stories serves to intensify the need of each of the people involved, need which is pretty much the same despite differing social status.  The need for healing is an obvious but important point here.

Jesus does wind up restoring both the woman and the young girl to wholeness and life in this passage, but still there is an element of God’s ways are not our ways here.  It kind of reminds me of the Lazarus story.  In the Lazarus story from John’s gospel, when Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick he didn’t rush to heal him; he stayed where he was.  In this story, Jesus does go with Jairus on hearing that his daughter is ill, but he also allows himself to be delayed by the woman with hemorrhages, a delay during which Jairus’ daughter dies.

Jesus does ultimately transform that situation too, but we don’t know that right away and the crowd of people with him doesn’t know it so one can imagine those present wondering what he is doing, wasting time with this unclean woman rather than rushing to tend to the needs of Jairus who according to their standards was far more important, a well respected man about town.  So another conclusion might be that Jesus doesn’t evaluate things the same way we do.  Jesus sees people in need, period.  He sees them without all those other ways we have of categorizing and determining who is worthy and who isn’t.  Jesus can’t be bothered with such barriers and boundaries. 

That seems to be another pretty obvious conclusion from this pair of stories, but it’s one individuals and the church have always had trouble accepting.  Despite much evidence that Jesus welcomed pretty much everybody, we are always trying to get him to join us in excluding those we would like to exclude.  Individual churches as well as church denominations have a long history of welcoming certain kinds of people but not being very welcoming to others and this pattern continues in the present time in a variety of ways. 

There are biblical voices and voices from the tradition of the church that are more exclusive, but the voice and example of Jesus, the one to which I think we ought to pay the most attention is quite consistently about breaking down the barriers that exclude.  I’ve said before that a good exercise for any church is to think about who wouldn’t really be welcome here and to think about what Jesus’ judgment on that would be.  There’s truth to the fact that no church can be all things to all people, some are bound to feel more welcome than others, but before we jump to that conclusion (or excuse as the case may be) it’s good to ask who is fully welcome and on whose terms.

Those are a couple of things I think are worth thinking about relative to these stories but still hanging out there is the question of what Jesus’ power over illness and death as revealed in this story and many others like it, what does this mean for the church today.  Texts like these make it seem like Jesus is ready to cure every physical ailment that comes his way.  We know however, that is not always the way it works.  The number of funerals we had just from this church in the month of June have been a reminder of that. 

A dangerous conclusion from these stories is that if only my faith were as great as that of Jairus or the woman, then my prayers would be answered and healing would take place for me or whoever I want it for.  Faith is a good thing and it is important, but going too far down this path and quantifying faith this way winds up making the healing more about me or you and less about God and that is a slippery theological slope.

The question of why healing takes place in one case and not in another is one of those questions that will always be with us and from our side of things, none of the answers are very satisfying.  More relevant for us perhaps is what Jesus’ power over illness and death mean in regard to his call to his followers (that’s us) to cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers and cast out demons when we know that while Jesus can and sometimes does these things, we can’t?

Jesus’ healings always witnessed to his will for the world.  With the hemorrhaging woman he did effect healing, but he also showed compassion for someone outside the boundaries.  Jesus desires compassion; that’s his will.  There is forgiveness here, not in so many words as there is in other healing stories, but it is implied in that the woman would have been seen as a sinner by others.  She must have done something to have suffered so for so long.  Jesus desires forgiveness; that’s his will.  With healing, this woman was restored to the community.  No longer would she be an outcast hanging around on the fringes.  Jesus desires restoration and wholeness; that’s his willl.

With Jairus’ daughter, the same desires of Jesus would be illustrated except this time it’s the wholeness of the family that is restored.  Plus, in this story, Jesus’ reveals that even death is under his power.  His desire is that we know that even death does not end life with him so it shouldn’t be viewed as the ultimate enemy for us.  These stories are about Jesus’ will, and his promise and our prayer is that his will be done.

We respond best to healing stories and the call for us do the same kinds of things Jesus does when we engage in activities that promote and facilitate Jesus will for wholeness and health, for compassion and forgiveness, for communities and people to be restored to one another.  We can’t do this the same way he did, but when as individuals and churches we stand for something other than the world’s ways of exclusion and division and revenge and intolerance, we do act as agents of healing in the world.

When we do that, our stories, as limited in scope as they may seem, as insignificant as what we are able to do may seem, when we act as the alternative community Jesus’ proclaimed, our stories become intercalated or framed by the gospel message of Jesus.  What we do, our story, is reinforced by the power of Jesus himself, and his will, his kingdom are made known. 

There is a lot that Jesus did that we can’t do; but there is also a lot that he did that we can do.   

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
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