What are you going to do with that power?

Mark 5:21-43    

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 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 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 hemorrhages 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 hemorrhage 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 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 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.

For obvious reasons, this is one of my favorite stories in scripture, but don’t worry I won’t be giving Another Period Sermon today.  There are some other cool details in this story that I think are worth talking about.  The first is, that for a guy who likes to use the word “immediately” there is a lot of delayed drama in this story.  But before I get to that…  I have a few questions about what happened between this week’s passage and last two weeks’ passages.  Two weeks ago, we heard about Jesus calming the stormy sea.  And I wondered who is this man that even the wind and rain obey him?  But before we could really answer that question immediately a man possessed by demons enters the picture.  Jesus casts out the legion of demons as if he’s their commanding officer. And then Jesus and the disciples get back on the boat.  That’s how last week’s passage ended.  And who would want to get on the boat after that?  The healed man does but Jesus tells him to go live his life and tell his story.  But this has got to be an awkward boat ride, right?  Either the disciples sit in dismayed silence, or they are peppering Jesus with questions.  And I have a lot more questions, but I want to get back to that delayed drama thing I mentioned first…

We are presented with two beautiful stories about women who had managed to find healing through Jesus. One about a little girl who is sick and eventually dies while waiting for her loved ones to bring Jesus to her.  She is healed despite the laughter and scorn that greets Jesus when he finally arrives.  The other is about a woman who through sheer will, and persistence, reached out for something bigger than herself when all else seemed lost. Faith and healing are things that look different for everyone. 

But the writer of the gospel according to Mark didn’t put those stories side by side but instead, put a healing story inside another healing story.  Both stories fit a pattern of common elements found in healing stories.  “…a demand or request for help, an obstacle or challenge to securing help that requires struggle and perseverance to overcome.  New life from the miraculous encounter with Jesus is the result.”[1]  The woman needs help, but doctors cannot help her.  The crowd is an obstacle for her to get through to get to Jesus and for Jesus to find out who was healed.  And the healing of the woman is the obstacle to the healing of the little girl, because this healing has interrupted Jesus’ journey to the other.

Jesus stops.  Who touched me?  And with a crowd this size you would think the question would be who hasn’t touched me?  No, someone was healed just now.  Who touched me?  

In the preaching schedule and sermon note document we use for planning, Kyle wrote, “The disciples can’t believe Jesus’ question. In the midst of an endless crowd, with bodies pressing in from all sides, in which everyone – Jesus included – is being touched by a countless number of unnamed, obscure faces, Jesus asks, who touched me.  In the amorphous, depersonalized crowd Jesus recognized the one person with desperate need. Just like the woman suffering from the twelve- year-long bleed, Jesus sees you and me.”

And for a moment I can see the crowd through Jesus’ eyes.  It’s not screen after screen of names on black boxes, or a favorite picture from a few years ago, but individual beloved children of God worthy of time and attention. (yep, we are still doing zoom church)

This moment spent with the woman creates a time delay in the narrative, providing space for the girl to die, messengers to report to the father and mourners to gather at the house.  By interweaving the two stories, Mark has also provided an opportunity for the father to witness the healing of the woman and to find strength in her faith.  Who knew two people following Jesus could have such a profound effect on the faith of others?  Jesus knew. 

So back to my questions while we are all in the same boatload of people who saw Jesus command the physical world and the spiritual world.  I used to think the question we were supposed to ask and answer with these passages is who is this man Jesus that wind and spirit obey his command?  And the answer to that question is Jesus is the Messiah.  But the more I think about that awkward boat ride after the healing of the man possessed by a legion of demons, the more I think the question they might have asked is, “what do you plan to do with this power?  And who will benefit?”

And we know the story, that when they get off the boat Jesus heals the woman on the way to raising the little girl from the dead.  (I’ve relied heavily on Warren Carter’s Mark in the Wisdom Commentary series for this interpretation, and he has relied heavily on multiple feminist theologians so I’m not entirely sure who to credit for this next part, maybe Jesus.) 

Jesus is so full of power that it radiates from him so much that the woman could reach out and take it.  Jesus makes his power available to those who need it.  The woman in this story is the first woman to speak in Mark’s gospel and she speaks about her faith in the healing power of Jesus.  And Jesus, knowing that power had left him, takes a moment not to demand that she pay for it or that she serve as a disciple; he takes a moment to center her in the story.  She is a woman that many other women can identify with.  She seems to be alone in the world, no partner, and no children (especially if we take seriously that her bleeding is more than her usual menstrual cycle and probably has made her unmarriable).  Doctors can’t or won’t help her with her chronic illness.  She has lost a lot of money on something that she can’t control.  She is marginalized and has no one to advocate for her needs, so she must take charge of her own life.  

And her story is placed within the story of the twelve-year-old girl who is ill to the point of death but luckily has someone willing to bring healing to her.  But if her father is unsuccessful, she will also not be able to marry, have children, and lead a typical life and none of this is her fault.  Jesus likewise does not expect anything in return for healing this girl.  

We know enough about both the girl and the woman that any woman reading this passage can identify with something about one or both of them.  This is the first moment in a male dominated gospel that female characters exemplifying positive interactions with Jesus requiring male readers to read in a cross-gendered way.  Until this chapter, Mark has presented Jesus as the alpha male among men, and on top of that he has power over the physical world and the spiritual world.  The disciples and men reading this passage can either identify with wanting to have that power or choose to identify with those who benefit from that power.  

If you identify with Jesus and the disciples, what do you plan to do with this power?  I think Jesus’ answer is, make it available to those who need it and give it away.  

If you identify with the female characters in this story and you have received this power as a free gift and therefore have new life, what do you do with it?  

And we don’t have the next chapters in the life of the girl or the woman so we can only imagine what they did with their gift.  What would you do with a new life?

Would you be able to give it away to those who needed you most?

[1] Carter, Warren.  Volume editor Sarah J. Tanzer WISDOM COMMENTARY: Mark. Edited by Barbara E. Reid. Vol. 42. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2019. 

Mary Louise Russell is another pastor at Third Church and this is her art work.

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