A Story within a Story



A Reading from Mark 5:21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet, and 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.”

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

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?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And 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. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.

A Story within a Story

I recall a comment my husband made shortly after we met.  I’m not sure what prompted it, but I do remember the comment.  He said, “I’ve always been attracted to uppity women.”

As I said, I have no idea what prompted the remark, but it came back to me as I read our lesson for today.   Mark gives us two stories, a story within a story.  The first story is about a twelve-year-old daughter, terribly ill and her desperately brave father, a leader of the Synagogue – so desperate that he was willing to be seen in public pleading with Jesus to come to his home, to heal his daughter, even telling him how to do that, “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”

Personally, I think that was a bit uppity of Jairus to be calling the shots on Jesus, but he was a leader after all, used to giving orders.   And if his daughter learned anything from him, it was probably a lesson in uppity-ness.  But I should not blame anything on her dear father.  After all, she was twelve.  Most twelve-year-old’s I know are already adept at the Episodic Eyeball Rolling skill set, triggered by something intelligent, relevant, and wise that their parents just said – the first signs of uppity, with more to come. 

Tragically, death intervened.  Before Jesus could get to her, the daughter of Jairus died and you could almost hear the exhaled moan of grief, the gasp of lost hope in the crowd, which Jesus sensed immediately.  He spoke, “Do not fear, but only believe.”  We know the end of the story.  Witnessed by the girl’s parents and Peter, James and John, Jesus took the hand of Jairus’s daughter and said, “Little girl, wake up.”  She woke up and that wasn’t all.  She not only woke up, but she also stood up and started walking around the room, confident and determined to live.  Already uppity.

Interrupting this story, was another story, also about a daughter as Jesus called her, chronically ill with a bleeding disorder that came on about the time Jairus’s daughter was born.  The condition rendered her as unclean, leaving the woman shunned by her community for over a decade.  Like Jairus, she too was desperate after years of seeking help, spending all that she had on doctors with no improvement, only the worsening of symptoms.  She had lost everything but hope. In one desperate uppity move, she reached through the crowd to touch the cloak of Jesus, confident and determined that if she could but touch him, she would be healed.  In that moment as she wound her way through the people closest to him, her fingers reached out until she felt the rough fabric of his cloak and touched him.  At that moment, she felt a power coursing through her body and immediately she knew.  She backed away into the throng, silent, unseen, when Jesus called out, “Who touched me?”

And though she trembled in fear, she spoke, – uppity as could be, and told him the whole truth of her illness, making clear her conviction and hope in his power to heal.   Jesus’s words, forever imprinted in her memory, and also in ours, closed this second story within a story, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” And healed of her isolation, now connected as a daughter to her savior.

Sometimes I find myself imagining the people in these stories.  The two women, both terribly ill, at two different times in life, – Jairus’s daughter just starting adolescence and adulthood; the woman Jesus called daughter, an adult looking forward to a life with friends and family, healed, no longer shunned.  And the desperate father Jairus, demanding, pleading with Jesus to come to his home, to heal his daughter. What would have happened that day had they not held on to hope; had they not reached out to Jesus, confident and determined in their faith.

But they did.  One might think they had read Paul’s letter to the Romans where he talked about hope.  Of course, that would have been impossible.  Paul would have still been Saul, and not one to follow Jesus. It would be much later on the road to Damascus before that would happen. And that is another story.

Like the people in our story today, Paul too suffered much adversity, including a chronic medical condition that was never healed.  And yet Paul wrote, “Affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5). 

Paul knew the power of hope. You see, hope is not contingent on healing, not contingent on getting what you want, not contingent on getting your way, or getting rich, or famous, or fill in the blank.  It is not contingent on anything, or anyone, or any situation.  It is not a function of anything on this earth.  It is within us because the love of God has been poured into our hearts.  God’s love is the main ingredient of Hope.  And it has been freely, generously, poured by him into us!  All we have to do is get a little uppity like Jairus or the woman Jesus called daughter, who pleaded and stood up to him, demanding, yearning.  All we have to do is reach out to others in our need; while reaching within to touch the warmth and the glow of God’s love that sustains us. 

As it would if the daughter of Jairus had not been raised, had remained dead in her bed.  Her father would be left to grieve, then continue life in a new light, having reached into the reservoir of god’s love and hope, giving him new purpose in life and endurance to go on.

Or the chronically ill woman continuing to live with her “thorn in the flesh,” and yet finding purpose within a community of people seeking health, solace and inner peace.  Reaching out to others in love, nourished with love and hope, she would have found a reason to go on.  Who knows?

No one, I guess.  But what we see in these stories of hope and courage is that whatever happens in our life, good or bad,  we have hope. It never disappoints.  It is our gift from God, delivered by the Holy Spirit, and secured within our heart.  And it will sustain us in the best and worst of times.  On that, we can count. Amen