We have begun marching through the gospel of Mark—actually, maybe we should say we have begun skipping through the gospel. We will touch down on a variety of stories which illustrate the ministry and message of Jesus on Sundays. I hope you can find time to read through the gospel more thoroughly on your own between now and Easter….
Due to our Snow Sunday, where we explored the account of the death of John the Baptizer in chapter 6, we are today actually skipping backward into chapter 5 to one of Mark’s sandwich stories. Mark uses sandwich stories at several points in his gospel narrative. It is a sandwich because it is a story within a story, like the meat and cheese sitting within the two pieces of bread. One story begins, another story interrupts, and then the first story concludes. Check out the story of the cursing of the fig tree and the cleansing of the temple in chapter 11 for another sandwich. And yet another sandwich in chapter 14, with the woman anointing Jesus’ feet in an act of devotion and love in between the plotting of how to kill Jesus by the chief priests and Judas.
Sandwich stories give added emphasis to the point behind both of the parts of the sandwich. . Each story could be retold separately, of course. But inserting the story of the unnamed woman into the story of the unnamed girl accentuates what is going in both stories. Just like when you eat a sandwich, you appreciate both the inside and the outside flavors. Meat and cheese are higher on my list of edibles when they are wrapped in bread of some sort. So too, bread filled with something substantial keeps the hunger pangs away much longer than bread alone. Put together, the parts of a sandwich are much better than when they are separate.
So what is the point here? I see Jesus stopping whatever he is doing, twice, to see to the need of a woman. A woman he meets in a crowd. A girl he has never heard of. Two nameless females whose needs generally got sent to the bottom of anyone’s priority list in that day and time. I see that Jesus cares enough to take time out for those who come to him for help. He apparently sees the interruptions as opportunities for ministry. Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen says it this way: “You know…my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.” Jesus gives each one his direct attention, focusing on the specific need identified. He doesn’t say, “Go home and pray about it.” He says, “your faith has made you well, go in peace—in wholeness, in well being”. He says, “I will go with you to your house.” And he says, “Rise, little girl. Return to this world where you will once again need food to eat and arms to hug you.” Definitely an eyebrow raiser.
But there is more. Think about the center of this sandwich story for a moment…It had been 12 long years. 12 years of feeling tired and anemic. 12 years of wearing and then washing rags to catch the drops of blood. 12 years of seeking medical assistance, emptying her savings account. But maybe the worst of all: 12 years of being considered ritually unclean by her neighbors and family, of being the person everyone avoided touching, the person unwelcome on the temple grounds because she was constantly impure. She is at the end of her rope. She desperately believes in the healing power of Jesus, so desperately that she is sure all she has to do is touch his shirt tail or the cuff of his pants to be healed.
The outside of this sandwich story is the account of the leader of the synagogue desperately seeking healing for his daughter, whatever her name is. It continues with her untimely death, and then Jesus raising her from the dead. Get this: the girl is 12. 12 years young. She has lived only the brief time of 12 years before illness claimed her life and left her family in deep grief and loss. Sometimes 12 years seems interminable and sometimes 12 years seems like the blink of an eye. The parts of this sandwich are connected by the number 12, a number with meaning for a people who identified themselves as the nation which grew from the 12 sons of Jacob, the 12 tribes of Israel.
The parts of this sandwich are also connected by faith. Is it faith which makes healing possible or is it Jesus’ power to heal that creates faith? In this story, the woman would not have been healed without her faith in Jesus’ power to heal, to save, to rescue her from her 12 year prison sentence. Without that faith she never would have bothered to seek him out and to touch his sleeve. Her faith becomes the channel through which Jesus works. She received so much more than physical healing. When Jesus stops and demands to know who touched him in that crowd (a ridiculous question in the eyes of the disciples– Mark doesn’t say it, but they had to be laughing at him), it is in their conversation that she is truly made well, released from brokenness to wholeness, freed to rejoin her community once again.
So too, the 12 year old would have remained dead without the faith of her father. Jairus is a synagogue leader, well respected in the community, definitely a person with social standing. He, too, believes. He believes in Jesus’ power to heal or he would never have sought him out in the first place. He even dares to believe that Jesus would make a house call to heal his daughter. It is his faith which lays the groundwork–not for a healing miracle, but for raising from the dead! The messengers assume that it is too late for Jesus to help. Jesus does not. The mourners laugh at Jesus’ idea that she is just sleeping. They know she stopped breathing while he had stopped to talk with the unnamed woman.
Here is another thread connecting the parts of this sandwich– Jesus comes up with some pretty crazy ideas. In Mark’s gospel, he has already spoken to a storm and calmed a sea. He bounces back and forth across Lake Galilee, ministering among his fellow Jews and also reaching out to gentiles on the other side. Later on he will praise the poor woman who gave all of her resources, just 2 small coins . And then what about his preposterous claim that he will die and come back in three days? Crazy indeed. Laughable. Laughable because it is impossible. Really. You can’t know who touched you in a crowd. You can’t bring life to a dead person. These are all impossible if you only look at things based on what you can physically see and experience and measure. But they are clearly not impossible when you are dealing with one who operates in the spiritual arena as well as the physical. That is the faith department. We are often guilty of making assumptions based only on what we see. We forget to include the faith factor. And we are effectively laughing Jesus off– there is no way that could work, there is no way I could do that, this is a crazy idea, Lord!
Neither Jairus nor the unnamed woman cared if it seemed crazy. They believed… they believed in God whose power was clearly flowing in and through this healing preacher. This double decker healing sandwich is pointing the way to the real healing which God is bringing to the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry is gathering steam, with his teaching and healing getting such notoriety that people are really starting to follow him. And now he has actually raised a girl from the dead, he who will one day be raised from the dead himself. He uses the same words anyone would use to call a child to get up out of bed in the morning for school. It is as simple as that. With Jesus in the room, real death is just like being asleep. We are already getting an inkling that death carries no power over Jesus. His life giving word takes precedence. Both the women in this sandwich story are early recipients of what this inbreaking new kingdom of God is going to be like– we see now that it is a kingdom where even the women, even the sick, even the young, are welcomed and cared about. It is a new kind of kingdom with a new kind of ruler. This kingdom is already starting in a little lakeside town in Galilee. This spiritual kingdom can be hard to find, but it is definitely worth the hunt. Amen.