On 28th June, the fourth Sunday after Trinity, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43.
As some, maybe all, of you know, I am a counsellor as well as being a teacher, a lay pastor, a wife, mother, grandma etc. I’m very grateful for the insights which my various tutors gave me while I undertook my three years’ training as a counsellor. Some of the things they said really took hold in me and have never been forgotten.
One of the insights from my tutors was that many people finally come to counselling because they are suffering from a lack of perception of choice in their life. They are in a very difficult situation and there seems to be no way to change anything. They have no choice in what happens to them. They feel powerless and stuck. The role of the counsellor, apart from listening of course, is often to help the client to find something that they can do differently, however small that change might be. As I’ve often pointed out, if you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got. The opposite of that is to change even a small thing and the outcome will be different.
Another, related, insight is that it is the counsellor’s task to ‘hold hope’ for a client until they can hope for themselves. If someone is stuck, doesn’t know where to turn or how to change things, they feel hopeless. The circumstances can be so overwhelming that they are incapable of thinking of a better future. The counsellor is not as involved in the situation and so can take a view that includes the hope of change one day. It’s a very precious charge for anyone to have. I know from experience how important this ‘holding hope’ is, and how wonderful it is when a client is able to hope for themselves. At that point, healing is beginning.
In today’s Gospel reading we are introduced to two very different people who were certainly boxed in by what was happening in their lives and felt desperate. Guided by the Holy Spirit, I have no doubt, they came to Jesus in their desperation. They each found a way to exercise choice and as a result found hope and new life.
Jairus, as a leader of the synagogue, would have been a well-respected lay person, possibly rich, who had the task of synagogue administration. He was a family man with one daughter. The woman is unnamed. She may at one time have been fairly well off as the Gospel mentions her spending money on doctors. By the time of this incident her money had gone. She would have been shunned by the community because her condition rendered her ritually unclean according to Jewish law. As Leviticus specifies, while the woman had her haemorrhage she should have been quarantined from the rest of society. Anyone who touched her or her bed or anything she had sat on was rendered unclean also until the evening. This had the effect of isolating the woman from society. If she had been married when this problem began, the likelihood is that her husband would have divorced her as he would otherwise have become unclean if he ever touched her. The need to keep away from people also excluded the woman from meeting with the worshipping community either in synagogue or temple. Effectively she was cut off from God.
The action of both of these people was not without risk. Even people who are in desperate situations sometimes need some persuading in order to do something different from the norm. There is something comfortable about doing what you are used to doing.
For Jairus, he took the risk of losing his dignity. There is nothing terribly dignified about kneeling in a crowded city street in the full view of a crowd and begging for what you need. Not only that, Jairus was also begging for help from someone that many of the religious leaders had rejected. Perhaps Jairus risked his job as a synagogue leader by breaking ranks with the powerful Pharisees. However, his daughter was on the point of death. Anything doctors of the time could offer had proved to be of no avail. Time was running out. This was the only option left.
For the woman, there was no dignity to lose. Many of the ‘treatments’ of the time were not at all dignified for the sufferer. After eating grasshopper eggs or carrying the fingernail of a man who had been hanged or carrying a grain of wheat from the dung of a white female donkey there was not a lot worse on offer. It’s unlikely she was risking any job or position in society. However, the woman did risk bringing the wrath of the crowd down on her or even losing her life. She was not supposed to touch other people or they would become unclean but the act of pushing her way through a throng of people who were jostling around Jesus would inevitably cause her to touch many. Any who recognised her could have turned on her in their anger at being rendered unclean. In extreme circumstances she might even have been stoned to death. For her, as for Jairus, time was running out and this seemed like the only option.
Both Jairus and the woman found the courage to hope, to have faith, to believe the inevitable didn’t have to happen. They certainly turned to the right man in the circumstances!
For the woman, healing was instantaneous and complete. She knew she was healed. Twelve long years of suffering had ended. It was the woman’s turn to fall on her knees on the city streets then, with a potentially hostile crowd watching her. No wonder she came in fear and trembling. Jesus himself might have been very angry with her for ‘stealing’ her healing. Far from it. Jesus addressed her with affection as ‘Daughter’ and commended her faith. He sent her on her way in peace, his peace, the peace that passes understanding. She had no need to feel rejected by family, friends, community or God any more.
Jairus’ experience was very different. There was no instant solution for his daughter. He waited while all this went on with the woman and then was told his daughter had died. Twelve years, all too short a time, ended for his daughter. What anguish he must have felt! He had taken a risk to no avail because someone else took up Jesus’ time. Jesus, however, hadn’t forgotten him and certainly was fully aware of what had happened. He challenged Jairus to continue to have faith when his friends had advised him that there was no longer any purpose in bothering Jesus. Jesus was ‘holding hope’ for Jairus. Jairus had the opportunity to do something different from what his friends expected. Instead of heading home to mourn the loss of his child, he could hang on to the faith that had taken him to Jesus in the first place. As we have read, Jairus was able to do this and was able to witness his daughter waking up. His family was restored to wholeness.
Despite the contrasts in these stories, there is a common thread: faith or hope or belief in the face of a desperate situation. The solution to the situations of both Jairus and the woman was Jesus.
You too may be facing a desperate situation. You may see no way out. You may have no hope. If, in the face of overwhelming odds, you can summon just enough faith to turn to Jesus, things can change. You don’t have to be a certain kind of person for Jesus to pay attention to you. You don’t have to earn his attention. You may have to take risks or go against the advice of well-meaning friends of course but that is a price worth paying.
The Gospel we believe and have available to share with others is essentially a message of hope. Nothing in the world is too big for Jesus to deal with. He holds hope for each of us and offers a choice in the face of circumstances, just as he did for Jairus: ‘Do not fear, only believe.’