There is an American writer called A.J. Jacobs who a few years ago published a book called, ‘A Year of Living Biblically’ In this book he recounted his attempt to live for twelve months, keeping all of the Old Testament laws and regulations. He describes a time when he was having an argument with his wife and she went round the house sitting on every chair in turn. She was having her period at the time and therefore was, according to the Old Testament law, unclean, and everything she sat on was unclean and it was forbidden for the man to sit on it. In the end, he had to go out and buy one of those shooting stick portable seats so that he could carry it round with him and only he would sit on it.
This trivial example, and our reaction to it, gives us an insight into the situation that this women who touched Jesus cloak was in. She had been menstruating for 12 years. This, of course, would have physical effects on her health, but it also had much wider implications for her life. Because of this she was considered, and probably considered herself, to be unclean. We don’t know if she had children before this, or had ever been married, but even if she had a family, the life of that family and any marriage would have been severely strained by her condition. She would not have been allowed to go to synagogue or temple for worship. She would have had to avoid touching people so that they didn’t become unclean. The reason that she touched Jesus secretly is unlikely to have been because she was shy but because she was ashamed, and because she knew that no good Jew would touch her if they knew her condition, it would make them unclean.
So this woman had not just been haemorrhaging for 12 years. She had been bleeding in the most intimate way, bleeding from her body, her soul and from her spirit. And yet, she found faith to reach out past all that and touch the one she believed could heal her, and in that moment’s touch she found what she needed for all that bleeding. She found the love and acceptance and power that could her heal her in the deepest places. She found and was found by Jesus.
About 12 years ago, at about the same time that this woman’s child bearing future was cut off, another family was experiencing the contrasting emotions of great joy at the birth of a daughter. Over the years a loving mother and father watched her grow. They were at the centre of the community, Dad was the leader of the synagogue, the gathering of the faithful. They were well off, comfortable, secure in their family love, they were welcome where ever they went. And then it all came crashing down around them. Just as that daughter was about to enter womanhood, just as she was about to begin her own journey towards being able to have children, she fell ill, seriously ill. All that promise, all those hopes for grandchildren and a growing family, all threatened before they could even start coming to fruition. The prospect of grief, dashed hopes, broken dreams all loom. Where to turn?
Then Dad hears that a rabbi has come to town, a man who is known for his healing people. Perhaps he can help, perhaps he can restore hope, perhaps he can bring healing. So Jairus heads down to the market to find the teacher. He’s an important man, well thought of in the town, but he doesn’t care about any of that, nothing is more important than his dying daughter, he falls down in the dust and the dirt of the road and begs Jesus. Please come and heal my daughter.
And glory be to God, he agrees to come, it’s all going to be all right.
Or is it? Jesus has stopped, looking around, asking who’s touched him. There’s a massive crowd, they’ve all been touching him, what’s he going on about? Now he’s talking to some woman. Come on, my daughter’s dying. No, my daughter isn’t dying. They say she’s dead. It’s all over. And Jesus is telling me not to be afraid. How can I not be afraid? My daughter’s dead. But he’s insisting that he comes to the house. It’s like I’m walking in a dream. I don’t know what else to do, I follow him. I follow him home. I follow him up to her room. I follow him as he takes her hand and tells her to get up. And she answers his call. She’s alive. And as she rises, so do all those hopes and dreams for the future. She has a future again. Jesus has found her.
Two stories, two women, one old and one young. One cursed by her womanhood, one cut off before she could experience hers. One excluded from family and community, one right in the centre of community and family. Opposites in so many ways, yet with something in common. They were both met by Jesus where they were and healed by him in the way that they needed.
This healing is available to us.
Maybe we feel out on the edge, not really part of things. Maybe we’ve been excluded from family life, from social life, or even from our place of worship or community of faith. What about those long term health problems that limit our capacity to live life in all its fullness, as Jesus promised us.
Perhaps we look at our own families and are distressed by the pain of unfulfilled promise, of hopes and dreams for the future that look like they are dying or have already died. Perhaps we look at our church family and wonder where our heritage is. We ask ourselves who is going to carry on the family here? We seem to be missing some generations.
In these situations I believe that the stories we have heard this morning speak of hope. Jesus can bring new life and hope where we see grief and mourning. He can bring healing and wholeness where we see illness and brokenness.
In asking God for these things, and in coming to Jesus for them, it seems to me that we need to have humility, patience, and faith.
The woman did not draw attention to herself, but reached out in humility. Jairus threw himself down at Jesus feet, and then his humility found further expression in patience as the leader of synagogue had to wait for Jesus to minister to the woman. We may not understand why things are taking so long, but we can’t see all that God can see, sometimes we have to wait. Waiting takes faith. The woman’s faith was demonstrated by her reaching out to touch Jesus. Jairus’ faith was shown by his continuing willingness to bring Jesus to the house, and to do as he said even when all the evidence said was that it was too late.
Sometimes the waiting seems to go on forever, and sometimes we do not see the healing we ask for this side of heaven. The reality is that the Kingdom of God is coming, but it is not here yet. Nevertheless the promise of Jesus is that the healing works he did on earth are a sign of the healing that all who come to him will experience in the end. His death and resurrection are the demonstration that he has the power and authority to deliver on that promise. Throughout history we have seen that power working in peoples’ lives, and even today people are healed miraculously through the power of the Holy Spirit as further signs of that universal healing that is till to come.
This healing is not only available to us, it is also available to others, and it is our responsibility and joy to tell them about it and to minister to them.
Who do we know that is on the edge of things? Perhaps those with mental health issues, perhaps people who have had flee home and country because of war or famine? Sometimes it’s not as dramatic as that. Sometimes it’s small signals that people pick up that make them feel like they don’t belong. Not knowing when to stand up or sit down in a service. Feeling like their children aren’t welcome. Who is on the edge that is reaching out to Jesus? Will we be the ones to take their hands and draw them in?
Who do we know that is just coming into adulthood and finding that process difficult? Young men getting drawn in to online pornography. Young women feeling pressurised into sexual relationships they don’t really want. School leavers finding it difficult to get work becoming depressed or apathetic. Who is dying in the middle? Will we be the ones to take their hands and raise them up?
At some times we will do that and see miraculous healing as we pray with them in the power of the Holy Spirit. At other times that we will take their hands and live alongside them, loving them with the welcoming love that transcends shame and fear and which brings hope to despair and desolation. At all times we are called to hold their hands and wait with them, praying and working in humility, patience and faith.