I suppose it’s only natural to do what we can to get through life by using our own resources. There are times, though, when we run out of options and have nowhere to turn. The Gospel for the day on 2nd Febraury was the well known story of the woman with chronic bleeding and Jairus’ daughter. Both the woman and Jairus had run out of human resources to solve their problems. Fortunately they knew that Jesus was someone who could make a difference even in the most difficult circumstances. They turned to him for help and were not disappointed. The same holds good for us today.
The readings for the day were Psalm 86:1-6 and Mark 5:21-end. My reflection follows:
What do you do when you run out of options, when you have nowhere to turn and things seem impossible? Sadly for some people the only way out is to take their own lives. Others sink into a very deep depression. Yet others disappear, leaving their current life and going somewhere completely different where they are unknown. When big disasters happen it’s reckoned that several people take their chance to disappear, counting on being numbered among those who were killed and never found.
We have just heard two incidents from the Gospel of Mark that must be familiar to many people. A woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years and a man whose only daughter was close to death both approach Jesus for help when they had run out of other options.
The woman had irregular menstrual periods which would have been heavy and unpredictable. This condition is most likely to have been caused by an imbalance in her hormonal rhythms which resulted in eggs not being matured as they should have been. Over time this condition tends to worsen and not only heavy periods, but less heavy bleeding in between them, become the norm. The result of this is that the woman would have been infertile. The thing that gave meaning and status to the life of a woman at that time, motherhood, was denied her. The woman would also have been anaemic from the loss of blood and so be constantly tired and run down.
There were consequences from the woman’s state for both future and present. The first was that without children, in the future she would have no one to maintain her. In her old age she would be lonely and desperately poor. Secondly, she was always unclean according to the Jewish law. A woman was unclean for the seven days of her period and everything she sat or laid on was unclean too. A man who came into contact with her blood also became unclean for a week and anything he sat or laid on was unclean. A menstruating woman was not allowed into the temple at all so was treated worse than the Gentiles. For a woman who bled irregularly things became infinitely worse. She was unclean for seven days after every episode of bleeding and had to make offerings to a priest to be declared clean again.
This woman who approached Jesus would probably have been ritually unclean for all 12 years. No one would have wanted to be near her as they would have been contaminated and would have needed to purify themselves to be clean again. She would never have been allowed to participate in worship. Any accident of hygiene would have caused huge disruption to the rest of her household. Her husband would have kept clear of her to avoid becoming unclean himself, so even had she been fertile she had no chance of conceiving.
It’s easy to see why the woman wanted to find Jesus but didn’t want to have to explain herself. Just going into the crowd was dangerous enough as, if anyone recognised her who knew of her condition, it would have caused a scene. With Jesus so often surrounded by crowds, her plan was one of desperation. What a relief to achieve what she had come to do but what terror to be discovered! Touching Jesus had made him unclean, a scandalous thing to do. Instead of berating her, Jesus addressed her as a member of his family, Daughter, and sent her on her way in peace, healed and with a future.
Jairus was quite a contrast to the woman. Far from being rejected by society, he had an important place in it. As a ruler of the synagogue he would have been a lay person with the responsibility to organise services there and teach. Most of these rulers were Pharisees. Jairus’ need was equally as desperate as the woman’s, if not more so. He knew his daughter was dying. He may have had more money than the woman, but it seems that whatever was wrong with the girl, money and influence could not bring about a cure. We are not told if Jairus had sons but simply that this was his only daughter, a girl of about 12 years old, on the brink of womanhood. In a society where sons seemed much more important than daughters, the action of Jairus in going and falling at Jesus’ feet spoke volumes about his love for his daughter. His dignity and position did not matter as much as her life.
It seems that Jairus must have left his request very much until the last minute. You can imagine his anxiety mounting as Jesus dealt with the woman who had come to him. Jesus hadn’t even finished his conversation with the woman when Jairus received the message that his daughter had died. Those delivering the message expected him to return home and not trouble Jesus again but Jesus had other ideas. Hope and despair must have been battling for supremacy in Jairus as he went back home with Jesus and his three disciples.
In the face of derision from the mourners, Jesus proceeded to go in to see the dead girl, getting rid of the noisy group first. In the peace he called her back from the dead and restored her to her parents. All the potential represented by that young life was once more there as she stood before them, cured and ready to pick up her life again. It’s easy to understand the parents’ amazement.
I’m amazed in my turn at times by how appropriate the Bible passage for the day can be. I had reason today to be reminded of the difficulties the Anglican Communion faces and the cost of those difficulties to individuals, parishes, dioceses and provinces.
Many are like the woman with the chronic bleeding. Things in their Christian life have got out of rhythm. They have been hurt and bleed often. This saps their strength and removes much of their potential fruitfulness. It doesn’t matter where on the spectrum people lie with regard to issues which cause division in the Church, all have felt rejection by others. They’ve listened to the great doctors of the Church, and probably to a few spin doctors too, but the problem persists or even grows worse. Others are like Jairus, watching something they love, their Church, dying and being powerless to prevent it.
The woman with the bleeding and Jairus both ran out of options in life but both knew where to turn. They went to Jesus. The woman only had to reach out in faith to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be healed. Jairus only had to put aside his fear and believe to see his beloved daughter raised to life.
When things seem to be beyond help, when human wisdom fails, I am reminded that we need to reach out to the one who promises to help. Like Jairus and the woman, we need to fall at Jesus’ feet, setting aside our dignity and self sufficiency and pray in trust. I’m reminded of the famous verse from 2 Chronicles:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor