Broken Rules and Miracles
A sermon - in first person narrative - on Mark 5:21-43.
[for an audio recording of this sermon, click here. Photo by Jaleel Akbash on Unsplash]
I imagine the people of the town were surprised that day, to see me throw myself in desperation at the feet of the itinerant prophet. That’s not how Jairus, leader in the synagogue, is expected to act. I was a man of authority and status in the town, not a beggar to grovel in the dust.
But there is a time in every person’s life when you come face to face with your own limitations, when you face a problem that you cannot solve with your own power or resources or understanding. And, if you are lucky, that realization will come at a moment that matters enough for you to let go of everything you thought was so important about your own importance and ask for the help you need.
I was lucky.
No, it wasn’t luck. It was provision. God provided for me. You know, when Abraham was faced with losing his beloved son, Isaac, he proclaimed that God is Jehovah Jireh – the Lord will provide. On the other side of my own experience with almost losing a child, I am stunned by Abraham’s trust in proclaiming God our Provider. I don’t think I could have done it. But I know that my own life demonstrates that truth. And I know that God provided more than the healing of my daughter. God provided the healing of my faith as well.
I know this because I know how I would have responded to Jesus if I had not been desperate when he came to town. I had heard of him, of course. Rumors had been moving through the countryside for a while, of a new prophet who was carrying on with the message of John the Baptizer, proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand.
At first, I scoffed and dismissed the possibility that such a man could be important. He was not the first and he would not be the last rabble-rouser to stir up a temporary following among those chaffing under the oppression of Rome. It never came to anything. Anyone with any real ability to inspire people with the possibility of a new kingdom would get put down by the authorities, just as the Baptizer was.
Our people’s hope was not in a charismatic upstart and a new message! It was in the traditions and institutions of our faith. It was in the Temple and the synagogue. That was where you demonstrated your faithfulness to God. That was where God promised to meet the people.
But the rumors of Jesus grew. Rumors of healing people who had been sick or crippled for years. Rumors of casting out a legion of demons. Rumors of the kind of power that demanded attention.
And there were other rumors too. Rumors of how he flouted our religious laws. Eating with sinners. Breaking the Sabbath.
I had even heard rumors that the synagogue leaders in a nearby town were talking about uniting with the cursed Herodians who collaborate with the Roman occupiers, just in order to get rid of Jesus.
Maybe, in different circumstances, I would have shared their outrage and concern when he came to my town with his ragged band of disciples… but when he came to my town, I had a much more urgent, much more personal concern. My daughter was dying.
At first, I did not want to believe it. She was twelve years old! She was years past the age where it was common to lose a child. Why, she was almost to the age where we would begin to think about arranging a betrothal. But she was also still a child, still my little girl. She was still small and vulnerable. And as I watched her get sicker, day after day… as I watched her warm, brown skin grow pale, and the dark circles deepen beneath her eyes… as the fever stole first her energy, then her smile, then her consciousness… my fears, and then my certainty grew. She was dying. We prayed of course. I recited the psalms of petition by her bedside. I begged God for a miracle. But none came.
Not until the news that the prophet Jesus had crossed back over the sea and was actually here, in our town. I didn’t care that he had just come from the Gentile region of the Gadarenes. I didn’t care that my colleagues were furious about his claims to be Lord of the Sabbath. I didn’t care about my own dignity, or my responsibility to guard the authority of the synagogue. All I cared about was the one last chance my daughter had for a miracle.
And so, I ran to the shoreline, where a crowd had gathered around him as soon as he had arrived.
I pushed my way through the people, and I threw myself at his feet. I, Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, knelt in the dust and lifted pleading hands to the upstart preacher who claimed to have direct access to God. I begged him, with a renewal of the faith that had been ebbing away with my daughter’s life:
“Please, my daughter is dying. But if YOU lay your hands on her, you can save her.”
He didn’t know who I was, and my behavior gave him no reason to believe I was important, but he didn’t ask me any questions. He just came with me. And, for the first time, I had a realization about what it meant for him to eat with sinners and tax-collectors. His ministry was not about deliberately flouting the rules of our faith. He simply wasn’t a gatekeeper. He responded to the needs of those who came to him. It didn’t matter who they were. And I that included me, and my dying daughter.
I could never have imagined being so grateful to be lumped together with all people of need.
That is, I was grateful for that inclusion until it included someone else as well. At first, I didn’t understand why Jesus had stopped hurrying toward my house. I was so overflowing with the urgency of restored hope…the possibility of any competing need couldn’t penetrate at first. I moved to grab his arm and pull him forward again.
But then I saw her. I recognized her, although she had changed dramatically since the last time we had spoken. It had been a long time since I had delivered to her the consensus of the synagogue leaders – that she must remain apart from the community until her bleeding had been healed, in order to prevent her malady from polluting our worship.
It had been a long time. Yes, it must have been… twelve years! For that was just after my little girl was born, while my wife was still in her time of separation before she could be purified. I remember feeling a twinge of … something. I couldn’t call it doubt… the Levitical laws were clear about the demands of purity. But I remember seeing the pain and fear in her eyes and feeling regret that it must be so. Even two weeks felt so long for my wife. The law required only one week for each of our sons. And this woman had no time frame for when she could be clean again.
Not that I articulated all of these thoughts at the time. At the time I felt only the shock of recognition… and then a cascade of thoughts and fears.
“Why are we stopping, my daughter is dying, every moment matters!”
“And who does she think she is! She has no right! She shouldn’t even be here. Pushing her way through the crowd. Touching the prophet!”
“What if God will not hear his prayers now? There is no time for him to be purified before he enters the house. My little girl is dying… there is no time!”
“This woman has waited years for her miracle. Could she not wait an hour longer?”
“This woman has waited years… yes. Twelve years. My daughter’s whole lifetime of waiting.”
For a moment my heart softened toward her. I heard Jesus speak to her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
He called her his daughter. Could it be that her pain means as much to him as my daughter’s pain means to me? And then, could it mean that my daughter’s pain means as much to him also?
But then the messenger arrived with the news. We were too late. My daughter was dead.
It’s all a blur after that. I don’t think I even realized that the prophet had come back with us to the house, until he was there, in the room, where my wife was weeping over our little daughter’s body. When he took her lifeless hand, and I did not object. What did it matter, now, if he had been defiled by the woman in the crowd?
But then his voice, full of the same tenderness with which he had called that woman “daughter,” spoke to my daughter, two words: “Talitha, cum.”
And that was all it took for a miracle. She was alive. She was well. She was whole! She got up and ran to me, and she was herself again. That warm, brown skin, that beaming smile. That… life… not ended after twelve years.
I had gotten the miracle that I prayed for, but that wasn’t the only miracle in my life that day. I also experienced the miracle of a new faith. You see, I had lived my whole life thinking that faith was about following the rules. But my miracle, and my townswoman’s miracle, came from all the rules being broken. And from Jesus reaching out a hand to each person’s need with all the love that a father feels for his dying daughter and calling us all back into life.
Thanks be to God.