I love the sense of humor at points in this story. Jesus says, “Who touched me?” The disciples are thinking, “Okay, sometimes Jesus comes up with questions we don’t understand, but we’ve got this one. Jesus, did you happen to notice that you are surrounded by people who are brushing up against you?” Or at the very end, after Jesus has resurrected the little girl, the mourners are outside waiting to find out what happens, and Jesus says the parents, “Let’s just keep this our little secret, shall we?” Like nobody’s going to notice.
You’ve probably heard lots of sermons on this text. These two interwoven stories are rich in detail, and there are many things we could discuss. Today I want to focus on three main questions:
And, as always, mixed into all of this is figuring out what it has to do with us 2,000 years later.
How do invisible people get seen?
The woman and the girl are invisible in their society. In the woman’s case, she steps forward to catch up with Jesus. She has to work her way through the crowd. Keep in mind that anyone who has been bleeding for 12 years would have anemia, and any small effort could leave them panting and exhausted. But she pushes through all the people. And you notice that she tries to remain invisible. She doesn’t throw herself at Jesus’ feet but touches his clothes, kind of hoping he won’t notice. But he does.
The other invisible person is, of course, the daughter of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. So Jairus steps forward on her behalf. And he does want Jesus to notice him—in fact, he flings himself at Jesus’ feet and won’t stop asking him to come. Which Jesus does.
Jesus refuses to ignore those whom others would prefer not to see: the unclean, the marginalized, the sick, the female, the powerless, the poor. Who are they in our society today? The homeless, the undocumented immigrant, the … anyone we can “other.” Do we see these people?
If we recast this story in modern terms, the woman’s issue might not be a physical ailment but her undocumented status that keeps her in the shadows, makes her invisible, pushes her to the margins of society. And maybe Jairus is saying, “Don’t let my daughter be taken from me!” because the government is separating immigrant parents and children.
In recent weeks we have particularly been learning to see the undocumented immigrants, especially those whose families are being ripped apart by our administration. How do they become visible to us? Because someone goes and listens to their stories. Someone takes a picture of a little girl crying and gets it out in the media. Many someones take to the streets yesterday all over the country and say to our government, “This is not who we are as a nation. We have to do better.” On the radio this morning I heard one woman say, “I don’t know how to celebrate the 4th of July. I’m not proud of my country right now.” While another woman said, “I am proud of my country because of all the people who came out to protest. Our country was founded in protest.” Some churches, like Gethsemane Lutheran downtown, are taking in families who request sanctuary. Because churches are unique in our society—they have the power to do that. They have the power—we have the power—to make the invisible people be seen and heard and given justice, healing, and hope.
How do people who want healing, whether for themselves or someone else, achieve their goal in this story?
Jairus and the woman are very specific in what they want and how they’re going to get it. The woman comes from the back, trying to remain anonymous, but she pushes forward; she parts the crowd, and that takes some intention and effort. For her, healing will come from touching Jesus’ clothes. Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, flings himself at Jesus’ feet and begs him for help. For him, healing for his daughter will come if Jesus comes to the house and lays hands on her. These are very specific goals involving Jesus and his power to heal.
Do we know what we want in such specific ways? Or do we say more generally that we have to “get our act together”? Let’s get specific: This is what I want healed, and here are the steps that will help that to happen.
If we’re talking about healing our nation’s divisiveness about immigration, what’s the plan? What are specific actions and goals? If we’re talking about other issues—climate change, say, or LGBTQ rights—what are specific things within our power to do, or things we could step forward and ask Jesus to help with?
Maybe we’re looking at something within ourselves that needs healing. We all have wounded places, places that feel stuck, places that have been bleeding for 12 years, or even, like the little girl, places that feel dead.
Jesus is walking through this sanctuary, surrounded by people, able to heal whatever it is that keeps us hobbled. If you could touch Jesus’ robe and be healed,
Would you do it? Might be scary to be healed, especially if the wounded place has become part of one’s identity. Notice that when Jesus asks who touched him, the woman comes forward with great fear and trembling. This is new territory. She has to be seen, and she has to confess that she, an unclean woman, has just touched Jesus, making him unclean as well. He might say to her, “Don’t you know in Leviticus it says you are untouchable? And you have now made me unclean and untouchable for the whole rest of the day? What were you thinking? Who do you think you are?” But instead he says, “Daughter”—daughter, like, “welcome back to the family; you are one of us.” “Daughter, your faith has made you well. You have your life back.” Getting healed can be scary, but she takes that step. Getting her life back means it is not going to be the old familiar life but something new that she has to create. That can be daunting. So if you could be healed, would you choose it? Would you step through the crowd and touch Jesus’ robe?
If you could touch Jesus’ robe and be healed, what would you want to be healed from? Be specific. Not just, “I want to feel better,” but “I want to learn how to forgive my abuser,” or “I want to wrestle this addiction so I can get my life back.”
What would it take to be healed of that thing now? Notice that saying “I want to feel better” doesn’t give clues to creating a game plan. But the more specific goals do. “I want to learn how to forgive my abuser” suggests the need for some counseling, maybe some way of confronting the abuser. Dealing with an addiction can be specific, too: a 12-step program, for example. That’s pretty scary. Taking that drink or getting that high may be the biggest thing we have to look forward to all day. We need Jesus to walk with us through such a transformation.
If you could touch Jesus’ robe and be healed, who or what stands in your way? Notice that both of the interwoven scenes here have extra people in them. In the first, Jesus is completely surrounded by people. The woman has to push her way through them. In the second, Jesus has to move people out of the way in order to go into the girl’s room. And the people he leaves outside the room are the ones who scoff at him. They are not helpful. They are in the way.
Sometimes when we try to make positive changes in our lives, there are people around us who push back. If we lose 20 pounds or work through some important issue in therapy, they might feel kind of threatened because they have not done that work in their own lives. They might mock, or in some way try to make us be our old hobbled selves.
Or the obstacles standing in our way might be internal: our own busyness, our fear of what might happen if we were truly healed. So even as we try to engage in our own healing in specific ways, we may find ways to sabotage ourselves. We might become the crowd standing between us and Jesus’ life-giving, healing power.
What do we say about faith healing?
Healing by faith: we’ve probably all heard stories of miraculous healings, people who were supposed to be dying who then somehow recovered, beyond all hope. Perhaps you have experienced this sort of thing in your own life. We can’t explain it. Doctors don’t know what to make of it. But it does occur from time to time. The placebo effect has been documented in studies. It’s a real thing: if people believe the pill will make them better, a significant number of them start to feel better. They have faith they will be healed, and they are healed. Or people lay hands on them and pray, and they recover, beyond all expectations. It happens.
So if faith healing happens, why doesn’t it work for all the faithful? Why can’t we write a prescription: “Pray three times a day, get your friends and pastor to pray for you, too, and lay hands on you, and you will be made well.”
Is this even the right question to ask? Because what happens when faithful people do all those things and do not experience healing? How might it be tempting to blame the faithful who seek healing and don’t experience it? “Well, clearly you didn’t pray hard enough, or you don’t really believe.” Not helpful. No, I think expecting all faithful people who ask for healing to be healed would mean that we controlled God. Push this God button and you will get this outcome. God doesn’t work that way.
But we can be open to that divine relationship, that healing power, that life-giving force. Jesus heals with power—the Greek word is dynamis, like our word dynamic. This is not power over, like a ruler, but life-force power. We are invited to be open to that life-giving force that we experience in Jesus, in God, in Holy Spirit. We don’t control that power. But we can reach out and touch that life force and ask it to heal us. If we dare. If we get specific.
Jesus says, “Who touched me?” I did. We did. We want that healing in our lives and in our broken world. And we’re not going to keep this our little secret. When we have been transformed, we will not be able to shut up about it. We want to overcome our fear. Through faith, we want to tap this power for healing and hope. And then, stand back world, because things are going to change. This is the Good News that we get to share with the world. Amen.