February 2, 2000
Are you ready for some football? On this Super Bowl Sunday, I know you came to church just hoping for great football stories. So let me oblige you by sharing one. Back in 1975, the Dallas Cowboys were playing the Minnesota Vikings in a playoff game with the chance to go to the Super Bowl on the line. The Cowboys were losing 14-10 in the waning seconds. Dallas had one chance. Coach Tom Landry said, “Our only hope was to just throw it and hope for a miracle.” Quarterback Roger Staubach heaved the ball as far as he could, toward the end zone. Receiver Drew Pearson evaded the Vikings defender, caught the ball, and ran into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
Pearson was so excited that he threw the ball into the stands. Except there weren’t many end zone seats at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, where the Vikings played. The football went all the way to the parking lot and it was never seen again.
A reporter asked Staubach what he was thinking when he threw the ball. Having grown up a Catholic kid in Cincinnati, Staubach said, “I just threw it and closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary.” That play has lived on in football lore and a long desperation pass to the end zone has become known as a Hail Mary.
Well, as they say, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” In moments of desperation, we have probably all thrown up a Hail Mary.
I knew a man who died at a nursing facility in Juarez, Mexico. He was receiving experimental cancer treatment that was not available in the United States. He had exhausted all of the other possible treatments and saw this as his only hope.
We can all face desperate situations. But there can be a positive side to desperation. Sometimes we have to come to those desperate moments in order to see with clarity. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom in order to come to our senses. Desperation can be a great motivator. Our scripture for today has about it this air of desperation.
You may remember that in last week’s scripture, Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee, where he had an encounter with the man who was possessed by an unclean spirit – the Gerasene demoniac. In today’s reading, Jesus crosses back across the water, back into Jewish territory, and he encounters Jairus, a synagogue ruler. Jairus was an important person, and in a time when life revolved around the synagogue, he stood on the top rung of society.
And so to see Jairus falling at Jesus’ feet and not simply asking him, but begging him, repeatedly, to come and heal his daughter, says something about his desperation. It is almost embarrassing to see this high official in such a demeaning position, begging Jesus, and in public. Yet Jairus does this for love of his daughter. She is critically ill, it looks as though she may die, and Jairus is more concerned for his daughter than he is for maintaining appropriate dignity in a social situation.
Jesus agrees to go with Jairus, and the large crowd follows. This was exactly the reason that crowds were constantly around Jesus—you never knew what might happen.
But on the way to Jairus’ house, there is an interruption. An unnamed woman in the crowd reaches out to Jesus, believing if only she can touch his clothes, she will be healed.
We do not know the woman’s name, but we do know something about her. The text says that she “…had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.”
In Hebrew religion, blood made one unclean. This woman had bled chronically – she had been ceremonially unclean for 12 years, unable to worship at the temple. For 12 years, she had to stay away from others, lest she make them unclean. She had suffered physically for 12 years. But she had also suffered spiritually.
And she had suffered socially. To be unclean did not mean that a person was sinful. But it did mean that others stayed away from you, avoided you, and some certainly would look down on you. It affected all of your relationships. This would have taken an enormous toll.
And not only that, she had suffered financially. She had spent all she had and was not any better; in fact, she was worse. So now she was broke, a social and religious outcast, and she was still suffering.
Which adds up to desperation. After all else has failed, over many years, she is desperate enough to try anything - even breaking the taboos of society. The woman had heard about Jesus. Word of his healings had spread. Jesus was rumored to care about the poor, the outcast, those on the margins, and this kind of news no doubt spread very quickly among women in her situation.
As a woman, she was not to speak to and certainly not to touch a man in public. And as someone who was ritually unclean, she was not to touch anyone, period. She was not supposed to be in a crowd. And yet her desperation gave her courage. She wanted it to be quiet, to be unnoticed, and felt that if only she could touch his clothes, she could be healed. So in the crowd, she touched his cloak, and immediately she felt within herself that she was well; her hemorrhage stopped.
Jesus is immediately aware that something has happened. And has asks, Who touched my clothes? What kind of question is that? In a crowd of people, with everyone wanting to be near Jesus, how many people do you suppose had touched his clothes?
Imagine going to a ballgame at Hilton. Imagine it is Kansas playing against ISU, and you are in the crowd trying to get to the concession stand and the rest rooms at halftime. It’s wall to wall people, shoulder to shoulder. It’s hard to avoid bumping into others. And then somebody yells out, “WHO TOUCHED MY CLOTHES?”
It makes no sense. No telling how many people touched your clothes.
But the woman knew exactly what Jesus meant, and her courage was such that she came forward and, as the text says, “In fear and trembling fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.” There was fear and trembling because she had broken the laws concerning ritual purity. There was fear and trembling because she was embarrassed. But she had believed Jesus could heal her, and he did, and now Jesus’ words to her were healing words. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
Healing is not simply a matter of body; it involves body, mind, and spirit. The physical ailment had been healed, but she had suffered spiritually and socially, and Jesus words are words of healing.
The woman is not named in the scriptures. But Jesus names her: he calls her Daughter. Just as Jairus was filled with love and concern for his daughter, Jesus calls this woman Daughter.
And Jesus calls each of us Daughter. Jesus calls each of us Son. Others may see an outcast, an outsider, a nobody, but Jesus sees a dear child. Others may see an average, ordinary, nothing special about them kind of person, but Jesus sees a dear child. Others may see a boss or an employee or a student or a little kid or an interruption, but Jesus sees a person, and a dear child.
Just as Jairus was concerned for his daughter, Jesus cared about this daughter of his.
And what about Jairus? He had come to Jesus in desperation, his little daughter near death, and now Jesus was stopping to chat with somebody who had touched his clothes! As the woman told her story, he was increasingly agitated—he needed to get to his daughter. He needed to bring Jesus to his daughter.
But just then, some people came from Jairus’ house, telling him that his daughter had died, that he need not bother Jesus any more. I’ve always thought that these people needed some sensitivity training. They don’t say, “I’m so sorry, Jairus,” and give him a caring embrace. They say, “Your daughter is dead, and by the way, quit bothering Jesus.”
But Jesus overhears this and says to Jairus, “Do not fear, but only believe.” They went to Jairus’ home. People were weeping and wailing. When Jesus arrived, he asked what all the commotion was about. The child was not dead, but only sleeping, he said. At this, the crowd laughed derisively. Again, they may have had their doubts, but this seems a little on the insensitive side. But Jesus went to the child and took her by the hand. He said, “Little girl, get up,” and she did.
Together, these two stories are what are sometimes called a narrative sandwich. Mark is especially fond of this. You have the story of Jairus’ daughter with the story of the woman with chronic bleeding inserted in the middle. The story of Jairus’ daughter is the rye and the story of the woman with the hemorrhage is the pastrami, as it were. The stories are intended to shed light on each other and to be interpreted together.
The differences are striking. Jairus and the woman in the crowd were in very different places in life.
- He is a parent. Her illness likely prevented her from having children.
- He was on top of the social ladder; she was on the bottom.
- He was a person of privilege; his name and title are given. She is unnamed.
- He is a religious leader. Because of her condition, she had been cast out by her religion.
- He is wealthy. She has spent everything she had on medical care that did not help.
- He approaches Jesus with a formal request. She pushes her way forward and doesn’t ask permission.
- Jairus’ house is filled with people who are concerned for his daughter. This woman seems to be all alone.
And then they both were in need of healing. Different as their situations were, illness and pain and tragedy is no respecter of persons. Cancer does not care how much money you have. You can have a Ph.D. or an eighth grade education and be plagued by addiction. You can have family and friends galore, or you can be a new person in town and not know anybody and be visited by tragedy.
Jairus and the woman in the crowd both sought healing. She needed it for herself; he needed it for his daughter. Both were desperate for healing, and their desperation led them to make themselves vulnerable. An upstanding leader of the community groveled at the feet of Jesus. An outcast broke social taboos to reach out for healing. And Jesus honored them both.
The one thought of as lowly was just as important to Jesus as the one thought of as important. In fact, Jesus interrupted his mission with Jairus to care for the woman in the crowd - to the point that the little girl died. But God’s power in Christ is greater even than death, and Jairus’ daughter was brought to life.
In each instance, healing came because someone reached a point of desperation, a point where they knew that they could not simply rely on their own power and resources.
And that is where we may find ourselves today. Sometimes it takes hitting bottom to admit that we need God’s strength and healing. Sometimes it takes the pits of addiction, or a terrible illness, or a shattering divorce, or the loss of a loved one, to help us see clearly. Sometimes it takes a deep disappointment or a barely-averted disaster, to wake us up.
But it doesn’t have to take that. It can be something like the still, small voice of God whispering to us, calling us, inviting us to abundant life. What these two stories together tell us is that no matter who we are, no matter where we are in life, Christ is there, reaching out to touch us with love and healing.
Jairus and the woman in the crowd were both desperate. That is to say, they knew they could not find healing alone. They knew of their need. And we find ourselves in the very same place, in need of Christ’s love and power. Amen.