Narrative Lectionary – Gospel of Mark “Life and Interruptions”
Preacher: Phil Swain
Bible Readings: Mark 5:21-43
Our pastor Phil is back from holidays to continue the journey through the gospel of Mark that we have been exploring this year. We are up to Mark chapter 6 and a story of life and interruptions – the healing of a woman who had the faith to reach out to Jesus and the miracle of Jesus raising a little girl from the dead. These stories highlight the compassion and love that Jesus has for all people and speak of God’s power to make a difference in our lives. Both women in this reading get the perfect outcome … but this reading also raises the tricky question about why all people don’t get the same perfect outcome. In this service we will explore how our faith allows us to live in this tension of the reality of life that we experience and holding onto the hope that God can indeed bring healing and wholeness.
It’s great to be back preaching again. A lot has happened in our Narrative Lectionary journey since the last time I preached on Christmas Day. We are now week 5 into our journey through the gospel of Mark and Kevin has done a great job at introducing the broad themes of Mark and the characteristics of what makes the Gospel of Mark different from the other gospels. If you have been on holidays like me and need a catch up – let me give you a three minute summary.
Mark was written by John Mark or people written in tribute to John Mark. John Mark was a young person during the time of Jesus (possibly the young man who fled naked in Mark 14:51-52) and was a companion of Paul and Barnabas.
The gospel was the first of the four gospels written and reads a bit like a just breaking newspaper report. It gives you the story without much reflection or explanation. Kevin also explained that it feels like it is always rushing along. A common word in the gospel is “immediately” … Immediately they went here and immediately Jesus did this and immediately they left. Both these things make Mark feel short, sharp, snappy.
In short – the gospel of Mark just tells you the story of Jesus without too much theology. Which is both good and bad. Good because it is an easy book to read for someone just wanting to know more about Jesus. But not good as it raises a whole lot of questions that it doesn’t really answer – and todays reading is a good example of that … but I will explain that in a moment.
The other key point I was taught at Bible college about the gospel of Mark is in two parts split fairly evenly 8 chapters each – drawn beautifully in this graphic that I found this week.
The first 8 chapters is a barrage of 3 years worth of stories about Jesus and what Jesus was doing and saying in Galilee. And the people around Jesus were amazed and wondered, “who is this man?”. For 8 chapters it is story after story all building up to a crescendo in Mark 8:27-29 when Jesus asks the disciples the question, “Who do people say that I am?” And the disciples say, “where have you been for the past 8 chapters???? That is all they have been asking. Who is this man?”
And then Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?” And this question is the key that unlocks the gospel of Mark. These stories in the first 8 chapters of Mark are supposed to help us answer the question, “Who do we say that Jesus is”. Peter answered that Jesus in Mark 8:28, “You are the Messiah” … you are the one – the one who has come to save. You are the Messiah!
And the writer of Mark goes, “tick – now let me tell the rest of the story about Jesus the Messiah” … and we move into the transfiguration and the Easter narratives.
Do you get how Mark works … it’s a fast paced gospel, the story of Jesus without too much explanation that for the first 8 chapters is all about the question, “who is Jesus”. And so far in our lectionary journey we have had the baptism of Jesus, the healing of the paralytic and others, teaching which included the parable of the sower, and last week you crossed the lake of Galilee to encounter the demon-possessed man – whom Jesus healed.
Today’s reading starts with Jesus crossing the lake again – back to Galilee where a huge crowd is waiting for him – including the synagogue leader Jarius (who’s daughter is dying) and unnamed woman who had been suffering a health issue for 12 years.
Now I am assuming that you have heard this story before?
It is a classic Jesus story which is taught in Sunday School or School scripture. And I am assuming that you have probably heard a sermon or two on this passage before as well? So what new, fresh insights can we get from it today? I did a bit of reading, listening, research this week as I explored this passage and I found that most the approaches to this passage fell into one of three broad ideas – all which I think a good and valid – but they have a different message. So let me give you three really short sermonettes and we will trust God to speak through the one which is God’s message for you today.
The first could be titled “The Power of Jesus to heal” – and this is the one which is taught in Sunday School and most of the sermons I looked at. It would go something like this:
Jesus had a mission – outlined clearly in Mark 1:15, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” And that what Jesus was doing. But Jesus also had a compassionate heart – and showed in this story that he was willing to be interrupted from that mission to help people in need. When Jarius came to Jesus and asked for help for his daughter, Jesus immediately responded. When the suffering woman reached out to Jesus on the way, Jesus stopped and she was healed. Even when they got the news that Jarius’ daughter had died – Jesus said to not be afraid, just believe.
And calling upon the power of God – Jesus went in where the child was, took her hand and said “little girl, get up”, and she did. The good news is that Jesus is still compassionate to those who are hurting and still has to the power to heal. If we just believe, like Jesus tells us to, and reach out to Jesus when we need help (like the woman), we too will experience Jesus’ healing in our lives. Amen
It is a good message. I have preached a sermon like that here – I even had the Jewish shawl here and talked about the tassels and the healing in God’s wings (Lent 2018). Remember that? But it is not the only way to approach this passage.
The second approach could be titled, “God has to the power to wholistically heal”. This sermon who affirm what the first sermon said, that Jesus is compassionate and has the power to heal – but digs a bit deeper into the story in the light of the culture of the time. It would go something like this.
In the Jewish culture, a person who was bleeding – including the normal menstrual cycle – was ritually unclean and was required to not interact socially for 7 days. This woman who had been suffering from bleeding would have been a social outcast for 12 years. I can’t imagine what that would have been like. So, it was a risk for her to draw close to the crowd when Jesus was coming by – that is probably why she is just reaching out… not trying to be noticed. But if this was the case, why did Jesus – after realising the power had gone from him and that she had been healed – stop and make sure that everyone knew what she had done. Why put her in the spotlight when he was trying to not be noticed? Because Jesus not only wanted to heal her physically, but also offer her a wholistic healing – a healing of her place in society.
By showing the crowd that he had been healed, Jesus was telling the community that she is no longer unclean … that she is to be re-embraced back into the family. Jesus highlights this by calling her daughter. “Daughter, your faith has made you well”. When Jesus said that she is free from her suffering … he was no only talking about the bleeding, but she is now free from the isolation, from the loneliness, from the rejections … she is a daughter – part of the community and part of God’s family.
And the good news is that Jesus offers that wholistic healing to us too – and highlights that this wholistic healing is possibly more important than physical healing. To the paralytic the other week – Jesus was more keen to explain that his sins were forgiven … the get up and walk came later. To this woman, it was about affirming her faith and acknowledging her as a daughter of God … much more than the physical healing. Jesus offers us healing too … a healing that might be more about bring peace to our anxiety or soothing our emotional scars or encouraging our souls as much as it is healing our body.
That’s a good message too. And yes, I have preached that message here as well (March 2022). I think that there is something powerful in this message that God might speak to you about. But I want to offer you a third approach … one that I have not preached here, and one that God spoke to me through in the preparation. It could be entitled, “Does God really have the power to heal?”
This idea was spurred by a podcast I was listening to when one of the contributors said, “This passage reminds me a little of a fairytale – where Jesus waves his magic wand and everything turns out the way that we want it to.
We don’t want people to suffer. We don’t want little children to die. And so this story warms our hearts because it is the way that we want life to be. The problem”, she said, “is that life is not like this.”
She went on to say, “This is a great story to teach in Sunday school because it talks about the power of Jesus … but to the parents whose child has died – this story is very conflicting.”
I have to admit – I am finding this passage conflicting. Last year when my sister was suffering and dying with cancer, I would have loved for Jesus to bring healing and make everything right again. I did reach out to Jesus pray for her healing. But unlike the story, my sister was not healed, nor was she brought back to life after she died.
In the podcast that I was listening to, the other host asked the question, “So what do we do with this passage then? Do we just mark it down as a nice story about God’s power which has no relevance to us today?” The contributor responded, “I have to sit within the tension of on one hand believing that God is a healing God, and that Jesus can heal us today – and on the other hand understanding that this is not how life always works.”
She is right. But it is still conflicting. Sometimes we pray and people are healed and sometimes we pray and they are not. Sometimes we see God’s power clearly at work and other times we are struggling to see any evidence at all. And so we find ourselves sitting in this tension and somehow we find ourselves still clinging to our faith. We find ourselves not being afraid, but instead still believing … whatever way things might go.
Good message? I hope so. But you can see how this passage can speak to different people in different ways. What message did God speak to you today?
Did you resonate with the good news from these stories that Jesus is compassionate and notices you, will stop things and focus on you and has the power to heal.
Or maybe you were stirred by the message of wholistic healing – where Jesus wishes to bring peace to your mind and healing to your soul as much (or even more) than physical healing?
Or maybe you found yourself sitting in the tension between our belief in Jesus’ power to heal and the struggle that we are not always experiencing that … and yet finding the faith to not be afraid and believe wherever we find ourselves.
Whatever God’s message is for you – I encourage you to then feed that back into the bigger picture of Mark’s Gospel … how does this passage help you to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am”.
Whatever God is stirring in us this morning, I pray that we can respond, “You are the Messiah, you are the one who has come to help me”. May we know that in our hearts – Jesus knows us and is here to help us.