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Healing Interruptions

Sermon - 7/02/06
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Mark 5:21-43

My colleague from the Red Rock Church in Boise has read the gospel for today:

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’ 24So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ 31And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” 32He looked all round to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

35 While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.


Karl Barth, the famed theologian of the 20th century, said you should always read the gospel in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  So I brought with me this morning yesterday's newspaper to share with you this reflection.  We read on the front page yesterday:

"Congress provided no exceptions to a new law, which takes effect today, July 1st, requiring all Medicaid recipients to prove they are citizens or legal aliens, using documents such as birth certificates and passports.  The law, which aims to screen illegal immigrants from anti-poverty programs, applies even to people with Alzheimer's disease (are we safe here?), seniors who can't rise unassisted from their nursing home beds, and foster-care children.  All must produce official papers or risk losing federal medical help and in some cases, housing.  Health providers envision paperwork gridlock, hard cases with no answers, scared and undocumented parents denying their U.S.-born children important medicine such as immunizations, and finally a strain on the health system as officials attempt to collect newly required documents.  About 70,000 Oregonians won't be able to readily offer proof of citizenship, Oregon officials estimate.  Some are homeless, transient, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, frail, and alone.  Others survived disasters such as fires or hurricanes, but their paperwork didn't.  About 11 million undocumented immigrants live in the United States, according to a Pew Hispanic Center.  About 5 million of them are children, 3 million of those children are U.S. citizens by virtue of birth, although in their homes, one or both parents are in the country illegally.  The Congressional Budget Office estimated that cutting them from the rolls could save government $220 million dollars over 5 years".

So, what do we make of this?  What does the gospel say to us when 11 million people, yes, perhaps undocumented in this country, are denied access to healthcare in order to save $220 million over 5 years?  If my math is correct, that's $44 million dollars per year.  Can someone tell me how much is that per undocumented person?  $4.00 per undocumented person.  11 million people who won't be treated for communicable diseases.  Who won't receive birth control.  Who's children likely will not be immunized, to save that $4 dollars, or 25 cents per U.S. taxpayer. 

Does that make sense?

I know something of what it's like to be in a foreign country when you are in need of healthcare.  In 1979, Judy and I were in Holland, biking through Holland, wonderful country for bicyclists, and it was a Sunday afternoon, gorgeous day, and I managed to ride my bicycle into a ditch.  How I managed to do that is another story, but I flew into this ditch, and went tumbling over a barbed-wire fence.  A very rusty barbed-wire fence.  I ripped up my back.  I hadn't been in for a tetanus shot for I don't know how long, so we decided we needed to get to a hospital.  We rode our bikes into town, followed the signs to the hospital, went in -- and would you believe it -- there was not a single person there who spoke English?  I mean, what is this world coming to when you can't go to the hospital and find someone who speaks English?!

I go in and show them my back, lots of sign language, they figured it out, they're smart people, and they took me into a little room, a nurse comes in, looks at me, cleans it up a little bit, brings in a doctor who looks at it, talk to each other, etc.  A little while later someone brings in a needle -- I don't know, it could have been sugar-water, but I said "give it to me".  So they injected me with something, and afterwards I pulled out the universal sign for payment, and they waved me off.  "No problem", go, get out of here.  And I was on my way.  Never spoke a word of English, never paid a cent.

In 2003 I was in Turkey on a pilgrimage, and ate something there that didn't sit well with me, and spent the next day in my hotel room just violently ill.  Unbeknownst to me, another member of our tour group also was very ill, evidently ate the same thing I did, and for some unknown reason, the tour leaders decided to take her to the hospital!  Not sure why the left me out, but at any rate, they took her to the hospital.  And the taxi driver takes them, stays with them the entire time -- about 4 hours they spent there in the emergency room to get I.V. fluids, some medication, all the attention there.  When it was all done, they sent her to the billing department, they served her tea and made her comfortable.  She gets the bill, and she was absolutely shocked -- she said the bill amounted to no more than it would cost for a nice dinner out for two people in this country.  And then the taxi driver took her back home to the hotel room and wouldn't accept a cent from her.

I ask you:  if a Turk visiting this country had the same thing happen, would that person get the same treatment?

Imagine Jesus asking the hemorrhaging woman "Do you have a green card?"  Or Jairus:  "Can I see your passport?".

So let's look a little closer at these two passages to see what it might reveal to us that might be relevant in today's world.  The first thing that I have to note, and I hope folks who took our Lenten Study on The Last Week by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan, will recognize this.  For those who were in church one of those Sundays before Lent (I'm sure you remember all my sermons, right?), so you will remember the Markan pattern, the typical pattern of Mark's gospel.  Remember that pattern?  A-B-A.  Mark uses it six or seven times, in which one story is "framed" by another story.  The story of Jairus' daughter frames the story of the hemorrhaging woman.  Or to put it conversely, the story of the hemorrhaging woman interrupts the story of Jairus' daughter.

And this is very typical in the gospel of Mark -- it's a literary device the author used by which he wants us, the reader, to interpret one story in light of the second story.  Borg and Crossan say it's the author's way of saying to us 'Think hard about this.  And then think some more'.  In other words, the interruption in the story is very intentional.

Henri Nouwen, the famed contemplative author, said that "My whole life, I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted until I discovered that my interruptions are my work".  

So you see, the key to understanding this story of these twin healings is to realize the essence of Jesus' mission is revealed through the interruption.  So let's compare and contrast the two stories.

I note 7 striking similarities -- you may want to pull out your pew Bibles and follow along with me to see if you see anything else.  But if you look at it, you'll see that both the daughter of Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman are at the end of their rope.  Jairus says to Jesus that his daughter is at the point of death.  The hemorrhaging woman, we are told, she has suffered much under many physicians (can anyone relate to that?!), and is only getting worse.  She has spent all that she has.  She is now broke, bankrupt.  No options are left for either.

Secondly, both Jairus and the woman show great confidence in the healing power of Jesus and seek him out.

Third, both approach Jesus at considerable risk.  Now if you scan through the previous 5 chapters [of Mark], you will see that Jesus is questioned 5 times, quite unfavorably, by the religious leaders.  And already, we are told in chapter 3, they have started their plans to destroy him.  And Jairus is one of those religious leaders!  So for him to seek help from Jesus is a risky career move, right?  You don't move up in the clerical hierarchy by making friends with the enemies of your colleagues.  And likewise, this woman is very afraid to approach Jesus directly.  Why?  That was a big taboo for woman, in that era, to approach a male.  Furthermore, she's been bleeding which makes her 'unclean'.  A woman going through her menstrual cycle was considered unclean, could not go into the synagogue or the temple until she had been ritually purified.  This woman has been bleeding for 12 years.  She has not set foot into a synagogue for 12 years.  And so she is afraid, likewise, to touch Jesus.

Fourth, both stories emphasize the importance of touch.  Jairus says 'if you would lay your hands on my daughter', and this woman says 'if I could just but touch' -- not Jesus, because she can't do that -- 'if I could touch his clothes, the hem of his garment', it would be sufficient.

Fifth, both Jairus and the woman fall at the feet of Jesus.

Sixth, the woman has been bleeding for 12 years.  How old is the daughter?  Mark goes out of his way to tell us that, a footnote that he adds at the end of the story to make sure we don't miss this fact.  She's 12.  It's almost as if, on the day she was born, this woman started bleeding.

And seventh, what does Jesus call the woman?  He doesn't say to her "Hey you".  He calls her daughter.  It is the only time in the entire New Testament that 'daughter' is used as a direct address, as a name.

In other words, we have here the daughter of Jairus, and the 'daughter' of Jesus.  Forget the DaVinci code, the secret is revealed right here -- here's the daughter of Jesus J.  She is probably older than Jesus, one would suspect, going through menopause or something like that.

Now, these are not coincidences.  They are intentional clues the author gives us to make sure we get the point.  One story is a comment on the other.  An interpretation of the other.  So what is that comment, what is that point?

It is most obvious in the one big difference that differentiates these two, besides their age.  What is that difference?  Not just the condition, but what did that condition make them?  The young girl is a P.K. -- a Preacher's Kid.  She's the daughter of a leader, she has grown up in the church, like my own kids.  She's a part of it, part of the furniture, she's been there all her life.  The hemorrhaging daughter can't set foot in the synagogue.  They are world's apart, in other words.  And Mark wants us to see that difference, and to get the significance of that.

Jesus treats them both equally.  He shows no special regard for the daughter of Jairus, and no disregard for this hemorrhaging, unclean woman.  The same healing power of God is available to both.  In fact, it is only after the unclean, impoverished woman, the interruption is healed, that Jesus can move on to the home of Jairus.

Now I doubt that anyone remembers the sermon I gave on the beatitudes in Luke's gospel -- it was about 10 years ago, but I know anyone who was here will remember the interruption of that sermon.  At the time, our New Celebration (first) service was worshiping in the Chapel, so this was the only service in the sanctuary.  There used to be a stage over here to the right.  The order of the service had the Pastoral Prayer immediately before the sermon.  So I was standing here and praying when all of a sudden I hear this 'clunk, clunk, thud . . . . clunk, clunk, thud'.  Over here on my left -- God helped me, I looked up in the middle of my prayer!  I kept praying, but I looked up to see what on earth. . . . . .and here I see this elderly man, very weather-beaten, obviously off the street, carrying a knapsack and a big walking stick.  Do some of you remember that?  Coming across the stage.  And we had a couple pews up there for some reason, don't remember why (we never intended anyone to actually sit in them), but he sits right in the first pew in front of God and everybody!

Well, I finished my prayer, launched into my sermon, and was really getting into the spirit, getting into the rhythm, the spirit is moving, and I come right to the climax of the sermon where I say "blessed are the poor", and Mr. Thud-clunker suddenly decides he wants Jesus and jumps up and says "I want Jesus!".  And I, filled with the holy spirit, say to him:  "Right now?!"

What are you going to do?  So I interrupted the sermon, accept him into the fellowship, hear his confession of faith and welcome him as a part of the body of Christ, and we greeted Michael, and we welcomed Michael, and one of our elders came down to sit on, I mean with J, him for the rest of the service.  And I picked up where I left off.

For years after that, Francis Hyland accused me of staging the whole thing, hiring this guy off the street and offering him $5 bucks to come in.  As if I would ever do anything like that. . . . . . 

My point is this:  you see, it doesn't matter if you're a preacher's kid, or a street kid.  If you're a resident of the CEO's office of some large corporation, or if you're a resident of a mental hospital.  If you're a struggling farmer or a struggling farm worker.  If you're a documented worker or citizen of this country or you're undocumented.

If we are to be followers of the Christ, to heal the clean and unclean alike, the rich and the poor, the privileged and the destitute, then we are called to stop the bleeding of this society.  To heal the injuries that wound, and the wounds that divide.  This is the gospel of the Lord and this [holding up the newspaper] is not.

Thanks be to God.


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