A Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Reading: Mark 5:21-43
God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
You may be seated.
In this world of death, what are we supposed to do with miracles?
Today’s Gospel reading doesn’t shy away from miracles. In fact, as my preaching professor pointed out, Jesus is actually in the middle of performing one miracle when he is rudely interrupted by another one! In about twenty verses, one woman has been healed of an excruciating chronic illness, a young child has been raised from the literal dead, and hundreds of people are left to wonder at the impossibility of it all.
We worship a God who heals, and yet, for so many of us, healing never comes. It is a burden of our faith that this is true. It is very likely that each one of us here has experienced the grief that comes with chronic illness or the death of loved ones.
And each one of us has had to grapple with questions that never get answered. Questions like: Where was God? Why did this faithful person have to suffer? Why was that person healed while my loved one died?
In so many ways, these questions are the bitter core of life. We cannot avoid them. We carry them with us.
What I’m really getting at is that miracles are tricky to talk about, because there is seemingly no rationale for why some people are healed and some people are not. But I believe we need to talk about them in the most honest terms.
Why? Because we worship a God who heals.
So where do we go from here? It seems to me that today’s Gospel passage tells us three important things about God’s healing in the world…
The first thing we can recognize is that when Jesus performs a miracle, it’s not JUST about people becoming well in a physical sense.
As our deacon pointed out to me earlier this week, the bleeding woman’s suffering was not only about her physical pain.
In her society, the fact that she was bleeding meant that she was unclean. And her specific condition probably meant she couldn’t bear children, which would have made her particularly vulnerable in a patriarchal society. As a result, she probably wasn’t allowed to live with her family. She may have even been forced to live on the outskirts of town.
When she reaches out in a sudden act of defiance and touches Jesus’ garment, she is not only defying her culture’s moral rules, she is asking to be restored to her community.
In the wake of Covid-19, I think we can identify with her loneliness and fear here, and maybe especially with her deep yearning to be restored to community. When Jesus heals the woman, he is healing her relationship with everyone she knows and everyone she loves. He is announcing that his mission is not just for privileged people like Jairus, who was a leader of the synagogue, but also for the marginalized. Jesus longs to bring us into a community of love.
The next thing we can recognize is that Jesus’ grace for the poor and marginalized never excludes the privileged. Jairus was most likely a synagogue leader. But for all of his power in society, he still suffered from the effects of death and grief. The passage says that he begged Jesus to come heal his daughter. In a way, his story isn’t so different from the bleeding woman’s. Like her, asking Jesus to help him defies the expectations placed on him by society. This man had religious authority. But he had to humble himself in front of an itinerant preacher to find the healing he needed.
So in Jairus’ story, we see the way a powerful man is forced to grapple with his limitations. But we also see the way Jesus cares for him. Death and illness do not discriminate, and neither does Jesus.
The final thing we can recognize is that the Bible gives us permission to look for miracles. We are confronted with stories that force us to consider that Jesus is powerful enough to literally change the world’s narrative of death. Jesus defies the limitations we would try to place on him by showing that miracles are possible.
In this passage, we see the way Jairus places limitations on Jesus. He begs Jesus to come heal his daughter before she dies. This is because he thinks that Jesus cannot make a dead person alive again. And yet, Jesus does make a dead little girl alive again.
For us, here in the 21st century, it is almost impossible not to put limits on Jesus’ power. There are many competing theories and ideas about the world that make miracles seem like an impossibility. And there is no way to systematize or make sense of why some people are made well and others are not.
So we do what Jairus’ friends do and try to leave Jesus alone. But how would our lives change if we recognized miracles?
While working at the hospital last summer, I experienced real healing miracles. In one case, a man who was unconscious from a severe case of septic shock defied the doctors’ expectations. Instead of dying, he woke up! And by the time my internship was ending, he was able to speak again. Occurrences like this were widespread if you worked at the hospital long enough.
But on this occasion, I had felt compelled by the Holy Spirit – against my will, in fact – to pray for a healing miracle. Hearing myself utter those words out loud – “healing miracle” – made me physically cringe. His family was visiting his bedside that day and they were not Christians. I wasn’t even sure I believed in miracles. I waited to reckon with the fallout of such an act of holy defiance.
Instead, for the first time in my life, I was forced to admit that what I had witnessed was God’s intervention in the world’s narrative of death. And I couldn’t systematize it, make sense of it, or claim it as my own power.
What’s more: it wasn’t MY miracle. In fact, if I could place myself in today’s Gospel passage, I would have been in the crowd. The miracle I witnessed was for someone else. And yet, I couldn’t help but be changed by it.
Miracles in our world can feel few and far between. And it seems that for every one that occurs, a whole crowd of bystanders are left with unanswered prayers. Yet believing in them, through faith or experience, sets the tone for how we live our lives. Lives which are their own kind of miracle. Jesus calls us to respond to healing by leading hopeful lives.
Our loved ones may never be cured. Some have already passed. This life does not dole out life and death in any way that makes sense. There are so many things that are not good.
But we know this, “God does not delight in the death of the living.” Though death so often feels like the victor, we know that death will not ultimately have its way. We worship a God who aims to restore us to the love of community, who wants to show us that the impossible is possible, and that life is growing like a weed in the midst of death.
To see the hope of life in the midst of our mortal lives is defiant, and it is certainly not always easy. But we worship a God who can feel our tugs on his garment in the midst of the crowd. We worship a savior who weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice.
As Christians, let us wonder together at the strangeness of God’s working and stop feeling afraid to look for miracles, even against all odds. We cannot avoid grief. But hope can still grow like stubborn weeds in sidewalk cracks.