Two readings today about two separate healings. The stories are sort of mixed up together because Jesus is heading off to deal with one of these healings and is diverted by another one. The first problem is one that he intends to deal with and the other is one that kind of creeps up on him unawares.
We’ll look at them individually today. So first of all Jairus’s daughter. Well, what do we know about this young girl?
She was twelve, so she was just about to enter womanhood. Sounds crazy to us I know, but at the age of twelve young girls and boys in Jewish society were considered to have ‘come of age’. So she was on the verge of growing up.
We know that she was loved by her father very much, even although she was a girl, for it’s interesting that both these stories are about the healings of females. Women had little or no status in the society of Jesus’s day and so were of less value than sons to a family, except, of course, when it came to marrying them. But Jairus clearly loved his little daughter very much, enough to lay aside something very important and this I think is the real point of this story.
Yes, of course all these stories tell us about Jesus’s concern for all of us and particularly for those who are going through any kind of suffering, but they also tell us something very important about human nature, about the things that we do to ourselves that trip us up and stop us from living the life God intended for us, things that prevent us from living life in all its fullness.
In this story these things are in fact twofold; the author Jane Austen picked up on them as they presented themselves in her world. She too saw how they prevented a variety of people from living life in all its joy and fullness. Pride and prejudice of course.
Jairus was a synagogue official. Not only that, he was the administrative head of the synagogue, a sort of chief executive. He was an important man and here he was chasing after an itinerant preacher that was disapproved of in the strongest of terms. As we’ve heard over the last few weeks, Jesus was constantly being followed around by crowds and crowds of people waiting to see another miracle or hear some more of his marvellous stories. He was besieged everywhere he went and the synagogue officials were terrified on two counts. They were afraid that the occupying Romans would punish them for not being able to keep order and they were angry that Jesus was critical of them and all that they stood for. So bearing that in mind it must have taken a huge step for Jairus to go looking for Jesus and ask him for help. But he was desperate, as we all would be in a situation like this. If someone we love, particularly if it is a child, we will pull out all the stops, leave no stone unturned to try to find a cure. I wonder though, how long Jairus waited and worried, how many others did he consult before he eventually put his pride and his prejudice aside to go and ask for the help of this man, so feared and hated by the Jewish authorities; not only feared and hated but decried as a heretic. How long did he fret and worry and pray before God spoke to him and his pride of status fell from him and sent him out looking for Jesus?
How long do we wait before settling down to pray? How long do we leave a situation before we hand it over to God? God always seems to be our place of last resort. I think we all do it. We try to manage on our own. Our pride tells us we don’t need any help, to the extent that sometimes we even turn our backs on those who care for us most, those who want to help. We turn in on ourselves. Our pride tells us that we don’t need anyone else, that we can deal with this on our own.
We live in a community. God gave us each other as caring and sharing resources and we cannot exercise our gifts of love and compassion if others will not allow us to help —
Human help and divine help. Why do we think we need to shoulder everything alone? God has told us to bring our concerns to him in prayer and he will help us through the difficult times, help us to bear what we must bear and carry what we must carry. He will bring us through the dark times and into the light that we might again live life in all its fullness as part of his community of love.
So Jairus laid aside his pride and his prejudice and he went to look for Jesus. He laid aside his dignity and, in his despair, he threw himself at Jesus’s feet begging for help.
We are called to do the same.
Jesus listens to what Jairus has to tell him and sets off for the official’s home. The crowds are all around him and eager to see yet another miracle. What will the teacher do? What amazing story can they take home tonight? It might be something really spectacular to tell the kids! It must have been a bit like being a pop or media star is nowadays. The disciples, like modern-day bouncers, try to keep the throng away from their leader and allow him to get where he wants to go.
But, at some point in the crush a woman reaches out and touches a little piece of Jesus’s clothing.
Two things today that I want you to take note of here. Firstly, the woman. She, like Jairus, was desperate. She had what is called in our Bibles an ‘issue of blood’. She had had a problem for many years and had tried everything. She’d tried doctors and probably all sorts of folk cures and nothing had worked. That made her life difficult on two counts.
Firstly, of course, it meant that she was constantly unwell but, almost more importantly, she was confined to the house most of the time because she would have been excluded from society. The Jewish law of the time said that women who were bleeding were not allowed to enter the synagogue and they should not be in the company of those who had any status in society. She was ritually unclean, a sort of social leper. She was therefore afraid to consult Jesus openly and so seeing the crowd and hoping she will not be noticed she squashes in and touches the only part of him that she can, the edge of his cloak.
All good Jews, and Jesus was one himself, wore a tasselled shawl and it may even have been one of these tassels that the woman touched. It was a terrible thing that she had done! Yes she had braved the disapproval of the crowd, but she had touched the teacher without his permission. Most Jews would have been horrified and dashed off to wash. She had made him unclean without his knowledge.
It was already a miracle that he knew that someone had touched him. He felt her need and even without Jesus’s knowing about it himself, God was able to effect a cure through his Son. But Jesus was aware that something had happened. Caring for others, trying to effect a cure or healing a relationship is hard work and Jesus felt strength and power going from him as she touched him. He should have been furious! The disciples urged him onwards. He was on his way to a very important person’s house to see to a child who was dying. He hadn’t got time to search through the crowd to see who had touched him; everyone was touching him! But Jesus always has time for the needy and so he searched through the crowd till he saw the woman and she told him her story. He was totally unconcerned by the social aspect of what had happened. He simply blessed her and told her what she already knew, that she was healed.
Prejudice is a terrible thing. It means literally that we have pre judged a person or a situation. We’re always doing it. We allow the opinions of others to sway us and sometimes it’s only when we meet the situation or the person ourselves that we learn that what we have heard is simply not so.
And so today two things that keep us apart from Jesus, pride and prejudice: our own, and that of our society. Jane Austen saw that in the social world that she details in her wonderful books and these two things are alive and well and living alongside all of us today. Jesus wants to heal us from these ills, both as individuals and as a society. Why don’t we let him?