Thursday, June 20, 2019

Jairus' daughter and the haemorrhagic woman

Have you ever noticed that there is a certain breathlessness about the Gospel of Mark?

It is the shortest of all the Gospels, at only 16 chapters long.  Many of the stories that Mark relates are stripped down to their bare takes Luke and Matthew to give us more of the detail of many events.

And the language of Mark is breathless, too.  Take a look at tonight’s second reading, as an example.  First of all, we find Jesus under great pressure from the crowd.  As he gets off the boat, ‘much people gathered unto him’.  Then when he sets off to Jairus’ house, Mark says ‘much people followed him, and thronged him’. 

Look then at the story of the haemorrhagic woman.  As soon as she touches Jesus, Mark says ’straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up’.  Then, a line later, Jesus looks around him ’immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him’.

I could go on...but its well worth meditating on Mark’s gospel in your own time, to see whether what I say is true.  You will find, I believe, that Mark’s narrative is peppered with the words ‘immediately’, ‘straightway’, or the phrase ‘and then’,

‘and then’,

‘and then’. 

Just by his choice of language, Mark paints a vivid picture of the Messiah who is urgently carrying out his task of salvation.  There’s no time for hanging around with this Messiah!

Luke, Matthew, and John are rather more relaxed.  In their narratives, Jesus takes time to sit and eat, or to pray in the wilderness, or to hang out with his friends - Mary, Martha & Lazarus.  John especially gives us pages of lengthy prayers, in which Jesus pours out his heart for his church, to his Father in heaven.

But not Mark.  Mark is in a hurry.  And, I think he wants us to be in a hurry too.

For a start, as I’ve already said, Mark’s gospel is only 16 chapters long.  It’s easy to read in a single sitting - unlike Matthew, with its 28 chapters! Mark tells us nothing about the birth of Jesus - he seems not to consider such tales as important.  And yet, Mark’s action-packed gospel contains the most events of all the Gospel.  Mark is ruthlessly chronological, straightforward and concise.  Just like people tell me sermons should be!

Mark is essentially the first century equivalent of a journalist.  His very opening line tells us that this breathless account is of the Gospel - the good news - of Jesus Christ.  Gospels, of many kinds, were common in that time.  The birth of a Roman emperor’s son was announced as a gospel, for example.  Gospels were the first century equivalent of a headline in a newspaper, or a tweet on Twitter! 

Mark’s good news is that Messiah has come, that he has announced a radical change in God’s dealings with humanity, and that we should put our trust in him.

That is what this evening’s stories are all  Jairus, the local synagogue leader, puts his trust in Jesus to save his daughter.  And the woman who can’t stop bleeding trusts that even a touch of Jesus’ cloak can heal her.  And by reading these stories, we too are being encouraged to put our trust in Jesus.  Now.  Urgently.

Do these stories teach us that praying to God, as Jairus and the unnamed woman did, will guarantee our own healing?  Well, perhaps.  But to focus on personal healing alone is to miss the context of the whole of Mark’s breathless story.

In his opening chapter, the first words that Mark selects to put in the mouth of Jesus are these:  ‘The time has come.  The kingdom of heaven is near...’.  Mark wants us to realise that Jesus inaugurated a new kingdom, a new politics,  in which charity takes over from oppression, love conquers hate, forgiveness trumps revenge.  Or, in beautiful words of the Magnificat (so gorgeously rendered by Charles Villiers Stanford in tonight’s setting):

                He has put down the mighty from their seats,

                And has exalted the humble and meek.

                He has filled the hungry with good things,

                And the rich he has sent empty away.

The stories of Jairus’ daughter and the haemorrhagic woman are not there to encourage our prayers for personal healing - for we hardly need any encouragement when we are hurting, do we?  They are there to show us what complete trust in Jesus’ Kingdom looks like.

And what a magnificent vision that is!  If only we would trust Jesus when he tells us that it is in giving that we receive, or that we should turn the other cheek, or that we should forgive our brother 70 times 7, that we should welcome the stranger in our midst, raise up the homeless, heal the sick, visit the prisoner, or that we should be good Samaritans. 

How different our geo-politics would be, if the mighty stopped asking what was good for their country and instead started to ask what is good for all humanity!  How much nearer the Kingdom will be when leaders worry less about continuous economic growth, and more about sustaining the one planet we’ve been given to live upon.

And perhaps now, as we face the heaving politics of our fast-warming world;

perhaps now as the weapons of war are being prepared over the skies of Iran;

perhaps now as our politicians conceptually tear themselves apart in the houses of parliament;

perhaps now, we need to hear the urgency of Mark’s message all the more?


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