Mark 5:21-43: Compassion
Our gospel reading today has two more of Jesus’ miracles, healings this time, as we follow on from the calming of the storm that Claire talked about last week (Mark 4:35-41): Jairus’ daughter and the woman suffering from bleeding.
Claire’s sermon asked, Where is the miraculous today? Does God intervene in response to prayer? It is a tricky question. It feels as if we should say, of course. Miracles are in the Bible, how can we doubt them? Jesus said to the disciples, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these (Jn 14:12). But miracles are rare. The church is not given some Harry Potter type magic, denied to other muggles, so that we regularly see miraculous healing. So, what is going on, what do the miracle stories in the gospels tell us, how do we pray? (I warn you that it is easier to ask these questions than to answer them.)
Jairus was the leader of a synagogue, a layman, not a priest; a bit like a church warden. His 12-year-old daughter had become seriously ill, and was dying. Jairus was desperate, falling down at Jesus’ feet and pleading with him to come and heal her. It may have been a last resort, but he hoped that if Jesus came and touched her, she would be healed, and live.
And she was. Though a messenger was sent to say Jesus was no longer needed, that she had died, Jesus continued on to the house, and restored her to life. Jesus did not make a spectacle of the healing, sending everyone out, except for the parents and his disciples. When he brought back the girl to life, he told the parents not to tell anyone. In a nice, caring touch, he tells the parents to give her something to eat.
The woman suffering from haemorrhages has been ill for 12 years, a long time. Bleeding was a serious issue, both as a physical problem, but also because of the Jewish regulations on being unclean. With regular bleeding, she would have been unable to live a normal life, excluded from contact with people, with her bed and clothing and everything she touched becoming unclean. (Leviticus 15:25-30). She would have not only been ill, but very isolated. You see her nervousness in her reaction when Jesus turns to ask who touched him. She was trembling with fright.
The woman told him the whole truth. How else do we know about her twelve years of suffering, about spending her money on treatments. (I cannot resist commenting on Mark’s turn of phrase concerning physicians: She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors. Luke, himself a doctor, records it a little differently in his gospel: no-one could heal her. The equivalent passage is Luke 8:40-56.) The woman had poured out her story, and Jesus took the time to listen. His response was gentle, Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.
Jesus not consciously involved in this healing (like Peter healing when his shadow fell upon people in Acts). The woman almost healed herself, except that it was Jesus power that did it; he felt it go from himself.
Can you imagine what Jairus was thinking during this episode? His daughter urgently needed help. His house was quite a long way away anyway. This woman was clearly in need, but so was his daughter. Why is Jesus taking so long? Then the messengers arrived to say it was too late… It was alright in the end, but he must have been in agony.
What are these miracles? They clearly pointed to who Jesus was, and were a major part of his ministry. It seems that the healing miracles were as much of a crowd puller than Jesus’ words, perhaps more so. They were a sign that God’s was present, that his power was working through Jesus, that he was special, that he should be listened to. Yet Jesus often tried to keep them quiet, as with Jairus daughter. He would tell those he had healed not to tell anyone else. This was not just a spectacle or a show. They point to God, but when the stop pointing to God and become the story in themselves, they are out of place.
Which leads to the other reason for them. Compassion. Illness can be devastating. It is a feature of our fallen world. There is need all around us, and there was need all around Jesus. His response was to help. So with Jairus daughter, he was not trying to make a point, just to bring comfort to the family, to restore the girl to her life.
In our homegroup this week we discussed last week’s sermon. There are issues. Why would God just heal a person we are praying for, and ignore all those suffering far more? Why would God answer apparently trivial prayers for guidance or exam results or finding lost things, when there are wars, famines, Covid. You can end up arguing yourself into a position where you do not pray for anything, or you just pray for peace or for God’s will to be done. Or, putting it a different way, you can conclude that praying for God to change things is a misunderstanding of God, that God cares for everyone and does not need our prayers to point out a need, that the whole world is miraculous, and healing through medicine or improved sanitation or better diets is just as important. At the end of our homegroup, we end with compline, and have a time of prayer in that. There was some hesitation about praying for specific things this week, after our discussion; but we did pray for a few people anyway. One of the comments I found most telling was that, you may decide in your head that you should not be praying for God’s intervention, but you find you cannot help yourself praying.
Jesus healed some people, not others. God is omnipotent, so Jesus could have healed everyone in a crowd, everyone in a town, everyone in Israel, everyone in the world. But he healed those he came in contact with, often those he actually touched.
Have you seen the film Bruce Almighty? Bruce (Jim Carrey) complains to God, and God (Morgan Freeman) comes to meet him. God gives his power of answering prayer to Bruce, on the condition that he cannot tell any about it, and he cannot change free will. Initially it seems great, he sorts out his own situation, and starts randomly making miraculous events occur. But he gets overwhelmed by everyone’s prayers, and decides to give everyone what they pray for. The result is chaos, and Bruce gives back God his powers.
It is a film, and it is a bit of fun, but surprisingly insightful. Prayer is not magic. It is not a formula of words that makes things happen. It is not a state of mind that constitutes ‘faith’ that guarantees God will do what we want. It is complex, to do with our relationship with God, discerning what God wants, what is right. There is no marking system. You cannot determine that if a need is above a certain seriousness level, God will intervene. It does seem he sometimes answers trivial prayers, sometimes important ones.
What I take from the miracles in today’s reading is the sense of Jesus’ love, his compassion for people. Irrespective of their position: Jairus was a leader, but the woman with the bleeding was an outcast. Yet he was interested in them, dealt with them gently. He was moved by their suffering and he acted.
As Christ’s followers, we are called to be the same. To have compassion. That will mean helping when we can and, yes, praying. Sometimes we will know what to pray for, sometimes it will be more general. And sometimes, God will answer our prayers as we expect.
St. John & St. Stephen.
Mark 5vv21-43: A Girl Restored to Life and a Woman Healed
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24 So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29 Immediately her haemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31 And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?”’ 32 He looked all round to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.