Lamentations 3.22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43
The stories we hear today are rich with meaning. They are about healing and faith and resurrection. But they are also about power. These two stories wrap up a section of Mark that focuses on miracles of Jesus. The section starts with Jesus calming the sea, showing he has power over nature and storms. He goes on to use his power to remove and confront the demons destroying a man’s life. His next display of power is to restore a woman’s health, and finally he raises a little girl from the dead.
Jesus is powerful indeed, but these miracle stories show us that God uses power differently than we are used to seeing. From ancient stories of the gods that ‘rule the world’ to the present stories of the people who do; power is generally connected with physical and military might. Power is grabbed and hoarded through violence and manipulation. Power is about force and forcefully keeping others down. Power is given to people based not on their merit but on the color of their skin, the size of their bank account, or the family they are born into. This is not the only power present in the world, but it seems to be the most visible kind.
Into this world steps Jesus. Jesus’ miracles remind us that God uses power differently, and brings it to earth as well. There is a different way to share your message. Jesus shows the power God truly has by crossing boundaries and making family out of strangers.
Both the woman and the little girl were considered unclean in their context. There were a number of things that would classify someone or something as unclean, and uncleanliness was considered infectious. You could catch it by touching it. There were three forms of uncleanliness considered serious enough that you would be excluded from society: leprosy, having an illness that included bodily discharge, and if you had contact with a dead body. There are stories of Jesus not only interacting with and healing people classified as unclean for the first two reasons, but touching them to do so. And while Lazarus was raised with a shout, this little girl was raised with a touch. With Jesus actions, with his holiness, uncleanliness is transformed. People who have been ostracised and forced out of community are made worthy once again.
Our two stories today, told together, show us that clean/unclean isn’t the only boundary Jesus crosses. Jesus’ healing is for old and young, men and women, rich and poor. He redefines who gets to be in the presence of God and those with money and earthly status are not prioritized over those who have neither.
Jairus advocates for his daughter. Jesus calls the woman ‘daughter.’ Jesus makes family out of strangers. Today we read a story of a man desperately falling at Jesus’ feet to beg for healing for his dying daughter. Parents will do anything for their children. This is the story of refugee families - willing to risk their lives to escape places where life is not possible and hope is gone. As we hear the cries of Jairus, we hear the cries of those separated from their children at the border. While death will eventually separate (temporarily) all of us from our parents, other people should never have that power over us. Jesus calls the woman daughter. He makes her family. And families belong together.
The reality is, whether we had this news story of separated families or not, the world still has a problem when it comes to power. Looking around, it seems that might and money and manipulation often win at the end of the day. But we do not lose hope, because not only can we look to a God who uses power differently, we are invited to use our own power in this very way.
No, we are not Jesus - we cannot raise the dead with a touch, people cannot become healthy simply by touching our clothing. But we can echo what he did while physically on this earth, and in those echoes, his power continues to heal.
The fact that we are warm and dry and well fed means that we are luckier than many on earth. The fact that we have a voice in who are leaders are means that we have more agency than many on this earth. Those of us who are white, who live above the poverty line, who speak English without an accent, who happen to be male - we are handed power in our culture, no questions asked.
So what do we do with that power? Jesus used his to cross boundaries, to touch those who were unclean. While we use different words, we still label people unclean and unworthy. We literally use the world ‘sweep’ when we remove those without a place to sleep from our most public places. We generally only live next door to people who look or sound like us. Not only are we part of systems that prop up racism and division, we often benefit from them.
Jesus used his power to welcome people into family and to remove barriers that prevented people from being fully included in community. Fred Rogers said “The greatest thing we can do is to help somebody know that they’re loved and capable of loving.” Won’t you be my neighbor? Is a question that has in many ways shaped a generation. And in so many ways, our world and our society has changed for the better over the generations.
When it comes to individuals and neighborhoods and the people standing right in front of us, it seems it has become easier to set aside differences, to cross boundaries, to follow the example of Jesus. As a student of history, I can see that much hate has been broken down, dissolved, and dismantled. But while history may not repeat itself, it often rhymes. It rhymes because while things like racism and fear may be dismantled in our hearts, it is written into many of our systems.
When Jesus healed the woman, he wasn’t just doing a nice thing for a person. He was pointing out a broken system. It literally took a miracle for this woman to be included in community again. But that is only because the community left her outside to begin with. The community had the power all along to include her, they simply didn’t. Not because they didn’t like her, not because they were bad people with hatred in their hearts. But because they were afraid, and they thought they were doing what was best, what was right. Makes me wonder what we are doing that is ‘right’ that would take a miracle of Jesus to point out that perhaps we have it wrong.
We do not have the power to enact miracles like Jesus did. We must find other ways to point out injustice and nudge the systems in our world into something more resembling the kingdom of God. Not only should we vote, we should encourage others to do so. Not only should we give money and food to feeding programs, we should advocate on a local and national level so that that world has no need for feeding programs. Meeting immediate needs is important, but preventing future needs is vital.
Restoring the woman to community was a gift to the woman, but it was also a gift to the community, as her God-given gifts could once again be a part of what they could do together. We must remember that while we echo Jesus, we are not Christ. We must remember that we are also the community that Jesus is working to change. Changing the systems of our world that are oppressive means recognizing our part in them. Knowing when our fear and our mistakes fuel the broken systems means that as much as we work for a better world, we must also, in desperation, fall at the feet of Jesus. Like Jairus, begging for his help and and like the woman, profoundly grateful for the healing only he can give us.