“True Sight” Colchester Federated Church, July 1, 2018, (Mark 5:21-43) Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Episcopal Priest and College Professor Barbara Brown Taylor reflected that she had been teaching World Religions for years before she realized that many of them grow out of suffering.  It’s true.  Buddhism began when Prince Siddhartha, a spoiled prince protected from suffering, left the palace one day and encountered a sick man, an old man, and a dead man.  That experience of suffering shook him to his core.  The prince decided to leave his old life behind and spend his remaining days easing the suffering of others.  In fact, the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism mostly revolve around suffering: “1) Human life is full of suffering; 2) suffering stems from cravings for pleasure and avoidance of pain; 3) suffering can be eradicated; 4) the path of freedom from suffering is the path of enlightenment.”[1]  You see, it’s all about suffering and attaining freedom from suffering.

The central story of Judaism is the story of the Exodus.  God hears the cries of God’s people suffering slavery, forced labor, beatings, and the murder of newborn sons in Egypt.  God recruits Moses who leads the people through the Wilderness and eventually onto the Promised Land.  God observes suffering, is moved to do something about that suffering with the help of Moses, and acts to end suffering.

Christianity has its origins in suffering.  When Jesus emerged from his Wilderness encounter to minister to folks suffering under Roman occupation, many felt that God had abandoned them.  So Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, taught people that God’s love surpasses all human understanding, and that it’s our job to create the Kingdom of God to ease suffering.  In Barbara Brown Taylor’s words, “His death on a Roman cross became both the epitome of human suffering and the proof that even suffering such as that could not force one chosen by God to leave the path of love.”[2]

Finally, Islam began in a cave outside of Mecca, where Muhammad prayed to God for solutions to the tribal warfare tearing his land and his people apart.  The Angel Gabriel appeared and commanded him to recite the first verses of the Qur’an.  That night, Muhammad had the start of God’s answer to his people’s suffering, and Islam would become one of the major religions of the world in time.[3]  But Muhammad went to that cave that fateful night to ask God to help ease the suffering of his people.  So when we consider some of the major World Religions, suffering is part of the story.  It ends up that people of faith have engaged with suffering from the beginning, seeking healing.

In today’s text from Mark’s Gospel, we read two stories of suffering.  These are some of Jesus’ classic healing stories where he sees and responds to suffering.  As he crosses back over the Sea of Galilee Jesus lands in Jewish territory and encounters Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue.  He sees Jesus and falls at his feet, pleading, “My daughter is about to die.  Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.”[4]  Jesus doesn’t hesitate and immediately goes with him.

As Jesus makes his way to Jairus’ home, a whole swarm of people follow him, crowding in on him.  There’s a woman in that crowd that had been bleeding for twelve years, hemorrhaging in pain.  That medical condition made her unclean in her own community.  The woman’s case is truly desperate because she had spent everything she had on all these doctors who promised they had a cure.  Only they didn’t.  So she’s suffering physically, emotionally, socially, financially, and spiritually.  And that makes her desperate enough to reach out and touch Jesus when his back is turned and that crowd has pressed in on him.  Because she figures that there’s no way he will know that she, an unclean woman, reached out to this famous healer, Jesus of Nazareth.  And she senses deep in her bones that if she but touches his clothes she will be healed.  Except Jesus knows that someone just touched him.  In one of the most fascinating lines in our text, Jesus recognizes that power has gone out of him.  And Jesus turns around in that crowd and asks, “Who touched my clothes?”[5]

It’s a hilarious question.  He’s in a crowd.  People are swarming around.  It’s like asking while in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, “Hey, who bumped my arm?”  Hence the reaction of the disciples who must have looked at each other before saying, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you?  Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”  Yet Jesus looks around carefully to see who the person was who touched him, the person who needed to be healed with his help.  And that’s when the woman comes forward, full of fear and trembling.  She falls down at his feet just like Jairus had done in pleading for the life of his daughter.  And the woman (whose name we will never know) tells Jesus the whole truth.  We can imagine that the immense suffering she endured for years poured out of her as she told Jesus her story.  Jesus listens and sees her, truly sees her.  Not just as a person who was an outcast.  Not just as someone who suffered.  He sees her in the present moment as a beloved child of God and restores her to the community.

But here’s the amazing thing.  She didn’t ask him to heal her.  She acts on her own initiative, trusting Jesus so much that she knows if she but touches his clothing her faith in him will make her well.  Jesus restores this unnamed woman to her community by naming and claiming her for God, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.”[6]  This woman embodies trust in Jesus in a profound way.  He tells her that her faith has healed her.  And Jesus sees her, truly sees her in a way that no one else does.

Then he goes on to heal Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter.  Even though messengers come to say that the child has died while he is still speaking with the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, Jesus tells those with him to not be afraid and to just keep trusting and journeys to the home of Jairus.  Jesus says that the child isn’t dead, only sleeping.  He takes Peter, James, John, and the child’s parents into the room where the child is lying.  And Jesus takes her hand and tells her to get up.  Oh, and friends—get her something to eat, will you?

Jesus is and was so many things to so many people.  And he was a healer.  Jesus cared about people being made well.  Jesus responded to a frantic father who fell at his feet begging for Jesus to save his daughter’s life by going to their family home to lift her up.  Jesus found the woman who touched him in that massive crowd of people, singling her out to call her daughter and to tell her that her faith made her well.  If we want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, it ends up that we have to care about people who are sick.  We have to care about people who are on the margins.  We have to care about parents who would do anything to save the lives of their children.  Why?  Because Jesus did.  That’s what we see this morning in Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus cared and he reached out.  He saw people as children of God when others may not have seen these folks with his eyes of love.

The world is full of suffering.  We experience suffering in our own lives and in our own families.  Life is not all sunshine and roses.  You don’t need me to remind you of that, but it’s helpful to name that reality anyway.  Though the challenge ever before us as Christians is to not lose hope, and to have the kind of vision Jesus challenges us to have.  We may not be able to physically heal people who are sick.  To have someone touch the fringe of our clothes and stop bleeding, to take the hand of a dying child and raise them to new life.  But we can see people as beloved even when they are trying to be anonymous in a crowd.  We can truly see parents who sacrifice so much to give their children the best lives possible and respond with compassion as Jesus himself did.  We can see people who are hurting, and we can respond.  That is within our power to do.  Sometimes we are called to see in someone what they cannot yet see in themselves.

The world is still in desperate need of healing and hope.  What became clear to me this week in the midst of sadness both in our own church family and beyond is that we’re not powerless.  Jesus never said that this whole following him deal was going to be easy.  And there will be many times where we ask ourselves what would Jesus do?  I mean, really, what would Jesus do?  Jesus would heal.  Jesus would truly see people on the margins and restore them to the community.  Jesus would care about the little children, reminding all of us, “Allow the children to come to me.  Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.”[7]  So let’s see people as beloved children of God, seeing the world with the eyes of Jesus.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

[1] Julia Hardy, “Religion Library: Buddhism” Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/Library/Buddhism/Origins/Beginnings.html
[2] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, 156.
[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, 155-156.
[4] Mark 5:23, Common English Bible.
[5] The CEB Study Bible with Apocrypha, Footnote for Mark 5:25-26, 76 NT and Mark 5:30.
[6] Mark 5:34.
[7] Mark 10:14.