2 Samuel 1:1, 17-24; Psalm 130; Mark 5:21-43
Good morning. I am delighted to see you all here – and once again to celebrate the Eucharist here in our beautiful churchyard. But I have to tell you, I really felt like I went to church yesterday. On the strong recommendation of Patty Melville, Don and I went yesterday to the Triplex Theater in Great Barrington to see the documentary, “Won’t you Be My Neighbor?” about Mr. Rogers. And that movie has about a year’s worth of sermons in it.
What a remarkable man was Fred Rogers. As a young man finishing college he altered the course he had set toward becoming a Presbyterian minister to go into television. He saw TV’s great potential to be a force for good in the lives of children. He did eventually become a minister, but his congregation was always the youngest of us, who gathered in front of those amazingly low-tech shows to be reminded that each of us mattered—that we were loved and capable of loving.
It is hard to explain exactly how special this film is. It is a great reminder of the gift of relationship; of the importance of really seeing one another; of how simple, in fact, it is to connect to others. Mr. Rogers was always simple, and always cut through to the heart; he had an amazing gift of relationship, and of finding ways to help us focus on what really matters in life.
For Mr. Rogers what really mattered was love. He said this: “Love is at the root of everything—all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become.”[i] He came of age as TV was coming of age, and he understood the profound impact it would have on each of us. So he found the best way to use that medium to build each of us up, and to heal the world.
I highly recommend this movie to you. But I warn you: Take some Kleenex with you! Don and I both agreed that we don’t remember any other movie bringing us to tears as much as much as this one did.
Today’s gospel lesson from Mark is all about healing. Mark nests one healing story—that of the bleeding woman—within the other, the story of Jairus’ daughter. This is a standard literary technique for Mark. One theologian notes that this indicates that the writer wants us to interpret these stories in light of each other; he also notes this is especially common when Mark writes stories in which a woman is the protagonist.[ii]
And, in fact, there are some interesting parallels between these two stories:
- both victims of illness are female and ritually unclean (one as a result of death and one as a result of bleeding)
- both represent the significance of the number 12 in Jewish tradition (the twelve years of bleeding and the twelve-year-old girl)
- both are regarded as daughters (the little girl being Jairus’ daughter and the woman addressed by Jesus as “Daughter.”)[iii]
Clearly, Mark wants us to read these stories as a unit. But they do also seem rather different. Jairus was a leader of the synagogue—a prominent and respected citizen. And he is asking for healing for his daughter, who, by virtue of being a child, is an innocent. There is no reason Jesus shouldn’t want to heal her.
The bleeding woman, on the other hand, is a complete outsider. Because of her bleeding, she would be considered unclean and therefore a threat to those who want to remain ritually clean (and especially to men). And yet she dares to come into Jesus’ presence, filled with hope. Because she is an outcast, she doesn’t even imagine that she could ask Jesus for healing; instead she simply touches his cloak, sure that will be enough to heal her. And she is healed.
It is what Jesus says and does after this healing that is key. In a society where the boundaries between the clean and unclean were especially important, Jesus would have had every right to be angry about her touch. But instead a surprising moment of intimacy brings wholeness, healing, and peace.[iv] And Jesus makes it clear that it is the profound faith that she displays in her action that leads to her healing.
Then Jesus is reminded of his original errand, when a report comes that Jairus’ daughter has succumbed to her illness, and is already dead. While the messengers believe that all is lost, Jesus again calls on faith, and he goes to the side of the girl. And in this case, despite the disbelief of everyone around him, he calls the little girl back to life.
In both stories faith is pointed to as a key to healing. But beyond that, it is interesting to note that an act of touch restores both women to new life—actual physical touch.
One theologian states that the common pastoral affirmation in these two stories is that, “beyond even physical healing, acceptance, intimacy and touch can make us whole and give us peace. We are, in fact, shaped and made human in relationship to other persons. Our relationships—in the church, in friendships, in families—are not just something extra added on to life for distraction and entertainment, as if we would be complete human beings in individual isolation. Relationship, ‘touch’ if you will, makes us human and whole.”[v]
That relationship is the key to our baptisms. Through baptism we claim that relationship to God, and we promise to honor that relationship. In the waters of baptism we are marked as a beloved child of God. In baptism we are reminded again of God’s grace—of God’s forgiveness given to us.
We are all in need of healing of one kind or another; and we all have those in our lives who we need to forgive in order to heal our emotional wounds. And, of course, healing is an ongoing process; it is part of what it means to be human to be broken, to be in need of Christ’s healing touch.
In our brokenness, God offers each of us forgiveness and healing. In the gospel story of healing we are reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us to a better, more complete life. And in the life and teachings of Fred Rogers we were given amazing examples of how we might really see one another and build meaningful connections. May each of us find strength and wisdom to focus our lives on loving relationship—to follow the way of Christ, which of course is the way of love. Amen.
[ii] Powery, Emerson. http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1323, accessed 06/18/2015.
[iii] Zink-Sawyer, Beverly. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. p. 191.
[iv] Lindvall, Michael L. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 3, David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. p. 192.
[v] Lindvall, op cit.