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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 07/01/2012

If I were teaching a class on the gospels, and I had to choose one text that was representative of the Gospel of Mark, today’s might be as good as any to help illustrate some of the characteristic features of Mark.  First of all there’s a lot going on; it’s fast paced, scenes change quickly, Jesus is busy, multi-tasking we might say, all of which is typical Mark. 

One of the ways that Mark creates that urgent pace is by using a technique the commentators call “framing;” the fancy name is “intercalation” if you want to learn a new word today, but what it means is that in the middle of one story, Mark shifts to another and then goes back and finishes the first one.  So in this one you start with Jairus asking Jesus to heal his dying daughter, then as Jesus is on the way to do that, the hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus robe which heals her but also gets Jesus’ attention, then, following an exchange between them, we return to the story of Jairus’ daughter.

It’s a technique that keeps things moving, creates something of a sense of urgency and it also creates some suspense.  As readers we’re left hanging for awhile, waiting to find out what’s going to happen to Jairus’ daughter while Jesus is busy with this other woman, so we keep reading in order to find out.  Another thing and maybe the most important thing this framing technique does is to provide commentary.  You can assume that when Mark combines stories like this he does it for a reason; the stories are related in some fashion; they are meant to help interpret each other sometimes with comparison, sometimes with contrast.

In this case, it’s comparison; there are parallels that connect these two healing stories.  In both of them the one who is in need of healing is female and ritually unclean, one as a result of being sick and finally dying, the other as a result of hemorrhage, blood.  Being ritually unclean meant that touching such people was forbidden according to the purity laws which often seem odd to us and in some cases I think they are odd when you look at some of the things they were worried about, but to give them proper credit they may have been on to something regarding the spread of disease when you consider how doctors and dentists do very little these days without wearing rubber gloves for fear of contamination of some kind.  That’s our modern version of ritually unclean.

So that’s one parallel, both women are unclean but in addition to that both of them are connected to the number 12, the girl is 12 years old, the woman has been hemorrhaging for 12 years and whenever the number 12 shows up you can assume it means something so we want to keep that in mind.  Both of them are also called “daughter,” the girl being Jairus’ daughter, the woman is called “daughter” by Jesus.

These are usually classified as healing stories, but sandwiched together as they are with these parallel features it may be that they are more about crossing boundaries than they are about healing.  All the parallels seem to have to do with boundaries that would cause someone to be separated or excluded in that society and then contrasted with that is the consistent move of Jesus to cross the boundaries in order to welcome and include.  In these stories the healing is the tangible evidence of the boundary crossing, healing that makes the girl and the woman part of the family again, healing that makes them daughters.

As Mark tells it, there’s amazement when the girl is healed, a bit of confusion when the woman is healed but is it about the healing or is it about the fact that Jesus was willing to engage and touch these two people who were considered untouchable?  It’s probably both but I do think a big part of it is Jesus making known the fact that no one is out of bounds for him and that no one should think that they are out of bounds for any reason. 

Society might have told the hemorrhaging woman that she wasn’t good enough to approach Jesus as she did; pride might have told Jairus, a prominent leader of the synagogue that he was too good to have to approach Jesus, falling at his feet as he did, but with a combination of boldness and humility, they both came to Jesus and both were received by him. The use of the number 12 in this story, a number that represents completeness, may be another hint that for the God revealed in Jesus, all are welcome, everyone including those we might feel are unworthy of welcome and inclusion, those we think are ritually unclean for whatever reason.

It is a story of crossing boundaries and inclusion, but it is a healing story too and for me that’s where it becomes problematical.  In both cases the desired healing takes place.  Boundaries are crossed and healing happens; but I know too many cases where people I have prayed for and you have prayed for have not received that healing and it doesn’t seem right, it doesn’t seem fair that God would let this happen.  We console each other with words about a different kind of healing and God knows best and somehow it’s all part of God’s plan, we just can’t see it right now, all of which is true in some fashion.  But in the Bible none of the stories like this end with someone touching Jesus’ garment and nothing happens.  Jesus doesn’t arrive at the bed of the little girl or anyone else who’s sick and say, “Sorry; too late,” yet we know that even our most faithful prayers aren’t always answered the way we’d like them to be.  It seems like the power has left Jesus or that he has been distracted causing him to arrived too late.  We sometimes feel like God doesn’t know best. 

So the question becomes, what then?  Some get mad at God, they give up on God, you know people like that; they disappear.  Others find the means to persist in their faith, confident that something new and good will come out of their grief.  It doesn’t remove the loss and they don’t grieve any less than those who give up, but they refuse to give up; they refuse to give up on the hope and promises of God.

Obviously we would say that the correct response is to persist in faith, but…the correct response might also be to get mad at God because that might be what enables you to persist.  One of the things I hear every year at Synod Assembly is someone will go to the podium and say, “God is good!” and the response is “All the time.”  Then the speaker will say, “All the time,” and the response is “God is good!”  I hate that.  It’s a camp thing I think, but I hate it.  I know what they mean, and I agree God is good and maybe even all the time, but from our side of things it doesn’t always seem that way and I don’t think we have to pretend otherwise.  When I hear that little call and response I don’t like it because I think it can make someone who doesn’t feel that way at the moment feel like they don’t belong, that their faith isn’t good enough because they don’t feel like being in praise mode all the time.

You’ve heard me say before though that lament and complaint directed at God can be a profound act of faith, a declaration of trust that God can change the situation because of his steadfast love, because he is good and the Bible is full of examples of such lament and complaint.  Today’s portion of the David story has moved us forward quite a bit from last week’s battle with Goliath.  King Saul and his son Jonathan who David had become very close to, have been killed in battle and David mourns their loss.  If you’ve been following the daily lectionary readings you also know that Saul has been trying to kill David for quite awhile, but still David mourns.

It’s not a classic mad at God lament that David offers in today’s reading but it is an expression of grief that doesn’t pull punches or pretend that everything is OK. “How the mighty have fallen!” is the refrain.  It doesn’t seem right to David that Saul and Jonathan should have been killed the way they were and he finds words that express his feelings and he speaks them to the Lord.  He’s honest; he trusts that the Lord is good, but he dares to say things don’t feel so good right now.

It’s that kind of honesty that can allow faith to persist, it can allow the relationship to continue, it can allow healing to happen.  If those feelings of grief and anger are suppressed they trap us and confine us to the past.  Expressed in the manner of David though, these feelings and the words attached to them open up to the future; they get us through grief and back to praise.  That’s where we want to be, rejoicing with Jairus and his family, offering praise with the woman now healed.  It does happen because the Lord is good and does make all things new.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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