Scripture: Mark 5:21–43
What I am about to read has a technical, scholarly name of “intercalation.” It is a narrative form in which in the middle of a story, there is another story inserted, giving both stories depth and complexity. Sometimes it is called a “frame tale,” as in a story that works as a frame around a second story. But in the context of this Gospel, which uses this technique often, is my favorite phrase for this technique: a “Markan sandwich.” On both sides of the sandwich is the bread of one story, with the meat of another story in the middle. As you listen today, ask yourself what these two stories might have in common, what themes connect them, and why Mark might have put them together into one sandwich.
21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him, and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue, named Jairus, came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 and pleaded with 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 a flow of blood 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 cloak, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her flow of blood 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 cloak?” 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 around 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 synagogue 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 synagogue leader, “Do not be afraid; 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 synagogue leader’s house, 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 Taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl stood 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.
The sun was beginning to set to the west, but it was still bright enough to burn its image into Hannah’s vision. Even as she turned around to the east, to watch the colors play on the sea, she could still see the afterimage. Fitting, she thought, for after the day that she had just had, she still saw images burned into her mind’s eye. Memories that she would not soon forget. As she watched the sky darken over the Sea of Galilee, she could hardly believe that it had just been that morning when Jesus and his followers had arrived, sailing across those waters on their boat. It had been such a full day.
The commotion began as they saw the boat come closer to the shore. Boats came and went all the time there in their harbor town, but once folks recognized that Jesus was on this boat, it set the whole town on fire. Jesus had already been in their neighborhood, and his reputation proceeded him. Hannah had heard about this Jesus, had heard about the crowds that packed his house, about his teachings that defied belief, about his healing power, including the Legion of demons who had been cast out of a man across the sea. News travelled fast in that neck of the woods, and when the word came that he and his disciples were sailing back over, there was already a crowd waiting on the other side.
Hannah had also heard about the religious authorities who were more than a little ticked off by his popularity. It was enough that she had heard that Jesus had actually started telling people NOT to report on his miracles and his authority. But that seemed to make him even more popular, and create even more of a buzz when the boat was spotted on the horizon. Hannah worried about what would happen when they did land. Would they be mobbed by the crowds? Would the religious leaders be poised to strike? He had to be chapping the hides of the religious leaders, that this outsider was demanding an audience, and performing these amazing miracles.
Before she saw him, she heard the whispers around her. “Jairus. Jairus. It’s Jairus.” The lay leader of the synagogue. He didn’t have the religious authority of the rabbi, but was still a man with an impressive following. Everyone in the town listened when he spoke, and they would obey a command from him to reject this unsanctioned teacher. She watched as he nervously stood, watching the boat dock. She knew that Jairus had been distracted by the illness of his daughter, but perhaps this witch hunt was just the thing to take his mind off his family trauma. He stood with his entourage as Jesus stepped off onto the shore and walked into the crowd.
That’s when Hannah saw the first of the three images that burned into her mind. For as Jesus walked toward this powerful and authoritative man, Jairus fell to the ground at his feet. Even as far away as she stood, she could hear everything that Jairus said, because you could hear a pin drop. Never before had any of them seen this man debase himself like this. He begged for mercy for his daughter, and asked that Jesus might follow him to heal her of her illness. She would never forget that image, of that distinguished and powerful man, with his face in the dirt at Jesus’ feet. A man stepping off of his throne of power and inviting Jesus to take a seat.
Was it desperation? Was it the emotion of grief? Maybe. But it was also something else. She had heard the wanna-be Greek scholars in the town square talking about pisteuo. Faith. Believe. Trust. That’s what that image looked like to Hannah. Jairus put his total trust in Jesus’ hands. His life. His daughter’s life. “How many of us would do the same?” she thought.
Jesus didn’t hesitate. He could have laughed in his face, or told him to go run to his superiors who thought they knew it all. But he didn’t. He went with the man immediately, following him toward his daughter. Hannah couldn’t help herself. She followed along, with the rest of the crowd. She had to see what would happen next.
That is when she saw the woman, at the edge of the crowd. Hannah recognized her immediately, but had forgotten her name. That was kind of her identity: the forgotten woman. According to the grapevine, she had been afflicted with some kind of menstrual bleeding that simply wouldn’t stop. Hannah and all women knew that for a time each month, they would be considered unclean. They could not engage in the community in the same way. They could not worship. They could not be touched by another, including their husbands. It was not easy, but it was temporary. Except for this woman, it was not. For years and years, she lived in a constant state of pain. Of ritual impurity. Of untouchable isolation. It was enough for her husband to rightfully claim a divorce from her, leaving her alone. She had spent all of the money that she had on doctors, but they could not do anything. She had no support, no family, no money, and no place in the community.
Hannah noticed that several others had begun to notice her. They started to get anxious, as she was. Because this woman should not be here. She was not allowed to be this close to crowds like this. She was ritually unclean, and was supposed to steer clear of other people, but she was RIGHT THERE, in the middle of the crowd. And not only was she too close to others, but she was actually getting closer…to Jesus. The famous teacher and sage and hero of Galilee. And the powerful synagogue leader Jairus, who would have recognized her on the spot. Instead, she got closer and closer to them both.
That was the second image that would stay with Hannah for the rest of her life. The image of this woman, risking it all. If Jairus, or Jesus, or any other man had noticed and figured out who she was, she would be thrown out, possibly even stoned on the spot. But as Hannah gasped in unbelief, this woman did the unthinkable…she reached out and touched the edge of his clothes.
Jesus immediately turned. Hannah placed her hand over her face. Would he be angry? Would he demand that she be punished for this transgression? Would he embarrass her? Instead of any of that, he simply asked who had touched him. The disciples smirked at each other. Most of Galilee had bumped into him in the last hour. But Jesus knew that something had happened. The woman fell at his feet. In that moment, Jesus had her life in his hands. He chose to offer restoration. Beyond the physical restoration that had already taken place, he called her daughter—she who had no family was restored to family. He proclaimed her healed—she who had been socially isolated had been restored to community. And he told her “your trust—pisteuo—has made you well—she who had no place in the faith was restored to spiritual health and belonging.
Hannah’s head was already spinning, but there was more yet to come. While Jesus proclaimed full and complete restoration of this woman, a group of men ran in from the edge of the crowd. She recognized them as part of the household of Jairus, and they came with news: “She’s gone. Don’t bother the teacher anymore. It is too late.”
Hannah gasped. Such a beautiful little girl. So young and innocent and perfect. What if this woman had not distracted Jesus? What if he had hurried a little faster? What if the wind had brought them to shore quicker? She started to grieve and rage on behalf of this good man, and his good family, when Jesus began to speak…
“Do not be afraid. Only believe.” Pisteuo. Trust. Faith. There was that word again.
And there was the third image that Hannah would remember for the rest of her life. She looked at the face of Jairus. Here was a man who had just been told that his daughter was dead. Here was a man who had been given power and authority to make things happen in his life, who now found himself helpless and hopeless. She saw at a distance tears rolling down his face. But she saw something else, too. She saw trust. Faith. Belief. Pisteuo.
By the time that Hannah sat on the shore that evening, she had the hindsight to look back upon the rest of the day. She knew that the little girl had been healed! She laughed at the picture of Jesus telling them that she was only asleep! She imagined the two of them sharing a snack, after she had been restored to life! But looking back, at the moment that Jairus had just been told that his daughter was gone, she realized that Jairus knew none of that yet. In that moment, before any of that joy and restoration had happened, Jairus stood there believing that his daughter would never take another breath. That there was nothing that he could ever do to bring her back. All he had was the word of a man that he had never met, that he should trust him.
And. He. Did.
With tears in his eyes, and resolve on his face, he followed that man back to his house. It seemed to Hannah that his trust wasn’t dependent on whether she would be raised to life again. Of course, that is what he wanted, but in that moment, he chose to follow Jesus no matter what. That’s how deep his trust ran. No matter what. It wasn’t as if his daughter’s restoration was a reward for his good deeds, or that he impressed Jesus enough for him to perform a magic trick on his behalf. For Jairus, the power of trust ran deeply enough that he would follow Jesus, whether he returned to celebrate her life or bury her. His trust was that deep.
As the evening waves broke on the shore, that is what remained for Hannah. Trust. She could teach those wanna-be Greek scholars a lesson or two about trust. Trust was a man who could have commanded everyone in town, falling at his feet on behalf of his daughter. Trust was a woman, risking it all. Trust was that man, following Jesus, no matter what. Hannah knew that she had seen real trust that day. Even when it cost them everything, they trusted him. They believed. They acted on radical and profound faith that he would be with them no matter what. Trust wasn’t a quid pro quo, or a contractual act…I will trust you IF you can give me what I want. That wouldn’t really be trust, would it? But what she had seen was something deeper. More consistent. They knew that Jesus was worthy of that trust. That he would always be there. Even if the girl had died, or the illness had not gone away. And that was real trust.
Hannah looked up to see the eastern star rising on its nightly journey. It struck her that this star was a lot like Jesus. It was always there. It was in a different place, different times of the night or seasons of the year. You couldn’t control it or force it to stop moving. But you could count on it being there. Brighter than the rest. Giving hope on a darkening night or early morning. Always there. Always trustworthy.