A few years ago I was up in the attic of our old house putting in plywood on the ceiling joists. The idea was to make a surface where I could stack all the stuff that we don’t use, but for some reason feel compelled to keep. So, I went up there with a few sheets of plywood and a bunch of nails and a hammer. Normally, when I am in the midst of a project like this, I kinda get in a mindless rhythm as I work.
So, I was holding the nails with my left hand and hammering with my right. Then, when I was nearly done, I hit my left thumb with the hammer. I shook it off and went to grab the nail again, but when I did, I saw that my hand and the nail were covered with blood. So, I finished up in the attic and then went downstairs to wash off my hand and bandage it. I was hoping that I could get everything covered up before my wife noticed.
But, she caught me as I was washing the blood off and told me that I needed to go to the doctor. I argued with her for a little bit, but I had separated about a quarter of the flesh of my thumb from the rest of my thumb; it was hanging off to the side. So, I figured she was right, and we went to the emergency room at the hospital a few minutes away. They cleaned the wound really well and put in stitches to hold my thumb together until it healed. They removed the bacteria and put me back together. I later took the stitches out myself, but that’s a story for another time.
At any rate, when I was hurt and injured, I went to the hospital to see the doctors. I didn’t go to the dentist. I didn’t go to the eye doctor. I didn’t go wander around downtown asking random people if they could help me. I went to the hospital, because I knew they could heal me. The hospital is the place that is marked for healing.
In the Gospel reading from Mark 5:21-43, we see people in a similar situation. First, there is Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue in the area of Galilee where Jesus is visiting. He has some authority and is in a high position in the community. But, his only daughter is dying. No doubt he’s already tried the doctors and whatever other methods he could find, yet she’s at the point of death, and has no hope. So, Jairus comes to Jesus and falls at his feet and implores Jesus to come lay his hands on his daughter, “so that she may be made well and live.”
So, Jairus knows where to go. He knows from whom to seek healing. He goes to Jesus. He doesn’t go to one of the fortune tellers; he doesn’t go to one of the astrologers; he doesn’t go to one of the Greek temples; he doesn’t trust in his own works of the Law; he goes to Jesus. He, as ruler of the synagogue, falls down before Jesus in the hope of receiving mercy. And Jesus goes with him to see his daughter.
But on the way, a woman is also coming to Jesus. She has another ailment, which the text simply calls a discharge of blood; she’s had this for twelve years, the same age as Jairus’ daughter. This ailment would have prevented this woman from having children and made her ceremonially unclean in the community. So, you see a contrast here between Jairus, who is a well-respected member of the community – a ruler in the synagogue – who has a daughter – and this woman, who has a condition which makes her an outcast and unable to have children.
Now, this woman has tried “many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” She was probably embarrassed about her condition, because she tries to hide in the crowd and touch Jesus without him seeing her. She isn’t really even supposed to be there, because she could make everyone else unclean. So, she doesn’t want to ask Jesus for help; she simply trusts that if she touches him, she will be made well.
So, she secretly touches his garment and is, in fact, made well. Jesus, though, knew someone had touched him and began to ask and look around to see who it was. The woman then “came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.” Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Like Jairus, this woman knew where to go to be healed. She knew who could defeat decay, just as Jairus knew who could defeat death.
After healing her, Jesus and his disciples arrive with Jairus at his house. But, people come out from the house to tell Jairus that his daughter is dead; there’s no need to bother Jesus; there’s no hope left for this daughter. But, Jesus overhears and says, “Do not fear, only believe.” Then, he takes Peter, James, and John into the house. There are people crying and wailing, and Jesus tells them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.”
The people laugh at Jesus when he says this. His words sound preposterous to them. Of course the child is dead; they see it with their own eyes. Who is this that thinks she’s sleeping? But, Jesus sends everyone outside except for the girl’s parents and Peter, James, and John. And he takes the girl by the hand and says to her, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And upon his word, the girl immediately got up and walked, and everyone was amazed. Jesus has raised her from death.
There’s a lot going on in these verses. Jairus and the woman afflicted with the discharge of blood both are without hope. Even though they come from different walks of life and different social circles, they are united in that they share the common fate of humanity – decay and death. But, they know one person to whom they can go. They know that their hopes rest in Jesus, and they are united in that faith.
We see in Jesus the power of God made manifest, because he is God in the flesh. He is Lord over creation and has the power to restore it. Jesus is our hope when there seems to be no hope, because he is God, and God not only promises restoration, but is able and faithful to bring it.
Now – to shift gears slightly for a moment – in the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah wrote the book of Jeremiah where he foretold Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians. He spoke the Word of the Lord that declared that the Babylonians would carry Judah off into exile in Babylon. The northern kingdom of Israel had earlier been destroyed by the Assyrians and then the southern kingdom of Judah, during Jeremiah’s time, was about to be destroyed by the Babylonians. The entire book of Jeremiah foretells of this coming destruction. And then it comes, and Judah’s hope appears to be cut off.
There is no one to turn to. Egypt can not save the people of Judah; they also have been defeated by the Babylonians. Assyria is gone. There is no other power on earth to turn to. Except for one – the Lord. You see, Jeremiah also writes the book of Lamentations. The book begins with mourning for the fate of Judah and for the fate of Jeremiah; the prophet weeps for himself and for his people.
But, after reviewing his pain and sorrow, Jeremiah says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end…” Jeremiah knows to whom to go; he knows to trust in the Lord, because the Lord will restore. Jeremiah knows that “It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
When all other hopes fail, the Lord is faithful and our hopes in Him are well-placed. It may take a while to our eyes, but the Lord fulfills His promises. He promised the people of Judah that He would restore them to their land, and He did so. Likewise, He promises us that He will restore us and the rest of His creation. And He will do this when Christ returns to bring about the resurrection of our bodies. So, wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord, because it is coming.
And we see what this restoration will be like in the Gospel reading. Jesus heals the sick and raises the dead. He takes the woman’s uncleanness upon himself and makes it clean, and takes the girl’s death upon himself and makes life. He is undoing the effects of the Fall. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin brought decay and sickness and death and all sorts of evil into the world. But, Jesus has come to undo these effects and defeat these enemies of ours. We see him constantly in the Gospels healing the sick and raising the dead, because he is Lord over creation and the new, restored creation that will come with his return will have no sickness or decay or death or evil in it, because Jesus defeated these enemies of his and ours on his cross and empty tomb.
We also see Jesus gathering together all people, people like Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, and people like the sick woman, ostracized from society. In the Church, Christ gathers together all people around himself because you all will be with him and all the saints in eternity. So, what we see Jesus doing in the Gospels is a foretaste of the full restoration that awaits us. He is uniting fallen, sinful people around himself. The world, once dispersed at Babel, is being reunited in Christ.
We have the first fruits of this even now. In the Church he gathers us together around himself and gives us his Word and Sacraments to sustain us in this life as we wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. These means of his grace sustain us in our hope until he returns. They give us himself and his Word as we dwell in his presence. But, when Jesus returns for us, he will bring restoration in full. What we see in the Gospels we will receive as well. We will be made whole, we will be made well, we will be raised from the dead. Sickness and death will be no more, because Jesus will cast these out.
Jesus says of all the dead, “They are only sleeping.” Many people laugh at this notion that the dead can live again. When the Gospel of Christ is preached, some people laugh, because it seems preposterous. It seems fantastical that one day we will live in a world with no sickness, no decay, no death. Surely the dead will not rise again.
But, “[t]he steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end…” All these things that seem impossible He will assuredly bring to pass. He will heal the sick and raise the dead, and we know this because he’s done it before. He took all our sin, pain, sorrow, and death upon himself in his cross, as another mother lost her beloved son as a ‘sword pierce through her own soul also’ (cf. Luke 2:35). But, on that cross Jesus killed these enemies of ours and then rose to life again. And now he has baptized us into his death and resurrection so that we too will share in this new life, a life we have in part now as baptized children of God, and a life we will have in full upon Christ’s return.
Many people in this world place their hopes not in the Lord but in many other things in this world. They trust in money, in ideologies, in people, in things. But, all these other things leave us wanting. They cannot fulfill us or heal us. But, there is one who can, and he has called you as his own and will also say to you “arise.” Amen.
(Image: Christ healing a bleeding woman Photo from Catacombes of Rome. By anonymous – http://campus.belmont.edu/honors/CatPix/womanblood.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14728851 ).