Mark 5:21 – 43: Bringing the Kneeler Out


The sermon given on July 1, 2012 exploring Mark 5:21 – 43.


Jesus has just crossed the Sea of Galilee two times.  It was during the first crossing that he stilled the storm to the amazement of his frightened disciples.  In his brief stay in a Gentile region, Jesus cast out the legion of demons tormenting a sad, lonely man living alone in a cemetery, evoking fear in the local community.

Now in this morning’s passage he crosses back into the land of Israel.

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. 

Ordinary people – poor peasants without much status, just barely getting by – it was people such as these who were instinctively drawn to Jesus; such was the power of his presence.

Suddenly, however someone comes to Jesus who doesn’t fit the usual profile.

22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and 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.’ 24So he went with him.

Jairus is an established man within the community, the lay leader of his synagogue, someone that others respect and look up to.  He is devoted to his religion, which means he is devoted to the keeping of the rules and regulations established in the Torah.  Up until now, his life has been a testimony to the belief common in those days that if you live a righteous life, God will bless you and protect you from harm.

But something has happened that threatens Jairus at his very core, bringing him literally to his knees before Jesus.  His precious, beloved daughter — just twelve years old and on the verge of blooming into a woman — has become very sick.  Indeed she is dying.

Oh yes.  We can all relate.  With a little imagination, we can picture the things that could happen which would suddenly bring us to our knees as well.

Jesus, with his heart of compassion, immediately stops what he is doing, and goes with Jairus.

But there was another person in that same community who also had come to that place of on-your-knees desperation.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 

This woman is also desperate, but she comes to Jesus from a quite different place from Jairus.  First, the affliction that threatens her life is not one that has come on suddenly – no,

it has been with her twelve long years – the length of the sick girl’s life.  Her desperation has grown through so many experiences of having gotten her hopes up, only to have them smashed.

Her desperation involves something else as well.  Her affliction includes a severe isolation from her community.  Unlike Jairus, she has no money, nor status, nor children in a culture where a woman’s sole purpose is to bear children.  She is a woman stuck in a perpetual menstrual period, and as clearly stated in the book of Deuteronomy, her blood flow renders her ritually unclean.  Her community views her as quite literally “untouchable.”   She is all alone in this world.

27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’

Quite literally, her very life blood has been draining out of this poor woman for 12 long years.  But in spite of all she has been through – so much rejection and disappointment – when she hears about Jesus, new hope springs up within her, compelling her to take action.

This is an amazing thing, if you stop and think about it.  Other amazing things happen in this story and so this amazing thing can easily be overlooked.  When so much in her experience was telling her to simply give up, something mysteriously stirs within her, moving her to take extremely bold action.

The Law forbids her from being in public place where people gather, and she is especially not permitted to touch anyone, for if she does, the Law declares that the person she touches will be rendered unclean as well.  In other words, in the face of the enormous collective resistance of her own community that tells her not to act, the initiative she takes is simply amazing.

Perhaps you can identify with the woman in terms of her affliction and her great weariness about feeling so depleted.  There are times I sure can.  At such times, it can be hard for us to also identify with the woman in terms of the extraordinary faith she seems to possess.  Rather, what we feel at such times is, “What’s the use?”

Jesus said that if we have faith the size of a mustard seed, we will be able to move mountains.  The thing about a seed is that it can lie dormant in the parched soil, waiting for the right conditions before it breaks open and begins to do that which it was meant to do.

We should take it as a given that the mustard seed of faith is within us as well.   What that seed is capable of may not yet be apparent.  It wasn’t apparent to that woman either for at least 12 years.

In the midst of our weariness, what would it mean for us to believe that we already have what we most need – we already have the seed that will lead us to the wholeness we’ve been longing for?

29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 

As the woman makes her bold act of touching the Rabbi Jesus, immediately the blood stops flowing.  She is healed!

Jesus has been walking through a crowd, and many of the people present have been touching him, but he senses that with one of those touches God’s power to heal has been called out from him.  His disciples seem amused, almost mocking in their response to his question, “Who touched me?” since dozens of people have been touching him.

33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

The woman falls down before Jesus.  She is afraid.  Why?  Two things, I think, are going on. First, she recognizes that she is in the very presence of God, and like so many others in the Bible, this awareness evokes within her a holy terror.

But she may also feel afraid because she knows that she has transgressed the Laws of her community.  She had hoped to do this discreetly, but Jesus calls her out of her anonymity.

Will he condemn her?  Will the community stone her to death?

She confesses what she has done.  Having come this far, she will hold nothing back.

Jesus responds so gently, so tenderly.  He calls her “daughter”.  And notice this:  Jesus locates the source of the healing not in himself, but rather in the woman.  “My daughter, your faith has made you well.”  In doing so he affirms this woman, in the presence of her community, celebrating the power within her that has dared to stand up to the voices of that same community that would tell her to stay invisible.

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?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 

The news from Jairus’ home is very bad.   Death has come to his little girl.  There is no more reason for Jairus to hope.

The words Jesus speaks to the devastated father seem absurd, except for the fact of who it is that speaks them.  “Trust me,” Jesus says.  “Just trust me.

37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40 

The professional mourners have already been called to the house, as was the tradition in those days.  Evidently the girl’s mother at her bedside is fully convinced the child is dead.

But Jesus sees death differently from the way the world sees death.  “The child is not dead,”  he says, “she’s just sleeping.”

She has ceased to breathe, and her heart has stopped beating, and perhaps the process of decay has begun.  But she still exists as the object of God’s love.  She is no more dead to God than you or I were last night when we were asleep in our beds.

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. 

There are times in life when we’ve got to lock out those who are attached to death – those who cannot ever imagine the possibility of new life appearing.   Their rigidity is toxic to our attempts at believing that something altogether new could happen—that there can, in fact, be new life.

41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

If the child is dead, then in touching the child’s corpse, Jesus is rendering himself unclean, as it states in Deuteronomy.

But Jesus isn’t rendered unclean when he touches the girl, just as he wasn’t rendered unclean by the woman with the flow of blood.  No, the opposite is true.  The extraordinary life that resides in Jesus has restored them both to health — to life in its fullest sense.

In a little while we’ll all have the opportunity once more to touch, and be touched by Jesus.  We’ll be given a little bit of bread and a little bit of juice which will remind us of the body and blood of Jesus himself.   We take these gifts inside our bodies by eating and drinking them, and in doing so, Jesus will once more pour his very life into our bodies and spirits.

We may feel depleted, unworthy, unclean ourselves.  But we don’t need to worry.   The only requirement in receiving this gift is a willingness to humble ourselves before the giver of the gift.

The gift is offered to well-established people like Jairus who know within a secret desperation, and the gift is offered to people like the woman with the flow of blood who have no standing whatsoever in the world.

Jairus and the woman both knelt before Jesus, and from that viewpoint they recognized we’re all in this together – that every human being, no matter where they find themselves,  all share the same deep need that Jesus responds to so graciously.

Remembering how they both knelt, I’ve brought out the kneeler, so that, if your knees allow it, and you care to, you too can kneel as well.