Pentecost 5 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday June 27th

Lamentations 3.22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8.7-15; Mark 5.21-43

‘I do not mean,’ St Paul writes to the church in Corinth, ‘that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need.’

Our long Gospel reading recounts two intertwined healing stories: of the daughter of the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, and of an unnamed woman, who has been haemorrhaging blood for twelve years. I say they are intertwined, but apart from the way that the story of the woman interrupts the healing of Jairus’ daughter, there seems to be little connection between them. Why, when Mark came to write his gospel 30 odd years after the events he describes, putting together the collection of stories and events that have been told about Jesus; why are these two miracles still entwined together? There is nothing in common between them, apart from an act of healing and restoration at the heart of each. But such healing is seen elsewhere too, so why are they kept together, why is the woman’s moment of interruption retained in the way the story is told?

Perhaps because that is the point – it is the interruption that is remembered. At the heart of our gospel reading is that moment, after the woman, from within the pressing crowd, has reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak; and, despite the need to be somewhere else, he turns and surveys the crowd, and asks, ‘Who touched my cloak?’ I want us to spend a moment imagining what that moment, that interruption, is all about, and what that might mean for us, for us who are gathered in Christ’s company. Perhaps the best way into that interruption is to imagine it from the perspective of the woman herself:

I was desperate. Desperate.

Which is no surprise – twelve long years of blood flowing when it shouldn’t flow; of anxious searching and seeking for a cure, an explanation, an end to it. To lose blood is to feel your life draining away – and that’s how I was: an increasingly empty shell with life drained out.

And that wasn’t the half of it. The blood flowed and so did the chatter, the gossip, the cutting remarks and the cutting off. To bleed makes you unclean you see – not just dirty but polluting, dangerous. Not just my blood, but me – the whole of me, pitied, shunned, because I shouldn’t touch anyone. I got both the open hostility and the pitying look. I could see them thinking, ‘Poor woman’, but wondering why, too, and speculating. It felt almost too much to bear.

Too much because, of course, they were only thinking and speaking my own worst fears, my own dread and self-loathing. Why wouldn’t it stop – what had I done wrong? Why, for twelve years, did I contaminate everything I touched?

I searched for a cure of course. Sought out every doctor and quack I could; was prodded and argued over, offered various unpalatable remedies and dismissed as a hopeless case. But it all came back to the same thing: that I was lost, beyond help; that it was all somehow my fault. And so, I was desperate. And that desperation seemed to define me, til all I could think and hear was the voice of my lamentation and cry.

That’s what took me to see him. He’d got quite a reputation – this wandering healer, who seemed to provoke and inspire in equal measure. They said that people had left everything to follow him. Folk were flocking to him – and I’d tried everything else. I wouldn’t be seen in a large crowd, I thought. And so I went, to see what the fuss was about. And because I was desperate.

And they were flocking alright. I wasn’t the only one desperate. The crowds surged around till you could barely breathe. And people crying out their pain and anguish, their hopes and fears – all seemed to be caught up in this one man. I didn’t have to pretend to be part of the crowd, I was part of that longing to be different, to hear a word of healing, a word of hope.

And then the crowds parted and walking through the midst of them was the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, I think he’s called. He walked tall, as befitted such a man, and the crowds parted. We wondered what he was doing there, but something about him seemed different – broken, or at least on the point of breaking. As he reached Jesus, the dam burst, and he flung himself at Jesus’ feet. I couldn’t hear him, I was too far away for that, but the crowd took up his words and passed them back. The murmurs reached me of a dying daughter, of a desperate man. And Jairus, the President of the Synagogue, never seemed more like me than in that moment.

And then Jesus brought him to his feet and they turned and walked, purpose in every step. And he was coming near to where I stood, and hope against hope suddenly swelled within me. Nothing seemed beyond this man – nothing defeated him. And he was coming near. If I could but touch his cloak, touch his cloak ….

And reaching out, and pushing aside, I did touch, the very fringe. And the bleeding stopped. Not just came to a temporary halt – that happened often enough – but stopped. I felt it in my body – a realignment, a knitting together of what had been apart.

I was rooted to the ground in shock – my arm still outstretched. I was barely aware of Jesus stopping and turning, stopping and looking, searching me out. And it didn’t take him long to find me, rooted as I was, while my body sang its new song. And then suddenly not only his eyes, but the whole crowds’, were on me. Me, who had avoided the inquisitive, angry, pitying stares for so long, now found myself at the centre of attention. And the murmuring began, ‘who does she think she is’, ‘come on, he’s in a hurry, Jairus’ daughter is dying’, ‘oh, it’s that woman again’, ‘she touched him.’ And for a moment I wished I’d never come – for nothing had changed. I was still the object of others’ anger and fear. And I felt myself curling up before their stare.

And then I found his eyes, his stare still on me – but not a stare – a look of … love, no other word will do. And in that love I found myself uncurling and speaking out, able to still the chatter, and tell him what he had done: that twelve years of bleeding were over.

And his eyes never left my face, but his words spoke to me and to them all: ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’

And then I was healed – and something profound happened in the crowd too. My faith? That was the difference – he saw me and not the bleeding, not the desperation and self-loathing. Before that moment, that’s all I was: desperation. But he changed all that. He restored me – to love and hope and relationship. ‘My daughter’ he called me, as no-one had done for so long. And the crowd, who for so long had shunned me, saw me with new eyes – celebrated what had been done in their midst.

I heard that he went on to restore Jairus’ daughter to life – silenced the mockers by bringing her back from the dead. I know something of what that feels like. And all I did was reach out and touch him, reach out and touch him …

‘It is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need.’ Amen.

2 thoughts on “Pentecost 5 – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday June 27th”

  1. I think I hear in this sermon an implication that the healing was principally (if not totally) about love and hope and relationship :- “THAT was the difference – he saw me and not the bleeding”. What the Bible actually says is the the difference was that THE BLEEDING STOPPED IMMEDIATELY and that she could feel that it had stopped. She was, as the sermon says, “restored to love and hope and relationship”….but this was BECAUSE she was restored to health. Lets be clear about this!

  2. Also……The unnecessary highlighting of 30 year gap in Mark’s recording and the ‘hearsay’ nature of the raising of Jairus’ daughter put in the mouth of our healed woman suggest to me that the sermon is inviting us to take a sceptical view of the ‘stories and events’ rather than seeing them as properly witnessed and reported historical events! Is justifying a sceptical approach the same as building up confidence in the actual healing and raising as infallible Messianic signs of ‘the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting’?

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