By The Rev. Sherry Deets
5 Pentecost – July 1, 2012
Mark has a fondness for enclosing one story inside of another—in this case the story of the woman with a hemorrhage inside the story of Jairus’ daughter. In the paired stories, Jesus works two highly significant miracles. The stories belong together and Mark creates dramatic tension by telling the two stories together. Each finds enhanced interest and power through its juxtaposition with the other.
The stories show Jesus dealing with people of vastly different standing. Jairus is well-to-do and influential, while the woman with the hemorrhage is financially impoverished and socially outcast. Jesus does not favor one over the other. He neither rebukes Jairus for his money and social standing, nor ignores the woman because of her poverty and marginality.
The interruption of Jesus’ journey to Jairus’ house heightens the drama. Just imagine Jairus’ impatience as Jesus talks with the woman. He must wonder what is happening to his little girl while they delay. The answer, as they will learn, is that the little girl was dying. Jesus is now faced with a requirement, not for healing, but for undoing death.
In both stories, competent authorities have proven that no remedy is possible. The woman spent all her money on physicians over the years, and their best remedies failed. The crowd at Jairus’ house has started mourning ceremonies, because the little girl is dead. They laugh when Jesus says the little girl is only sleeping.
Both stories involve issues of ritual uncleanness. The woman is unclean because of her hemorrhage (Leviticus 15:25-30). The child is unclean because she is dead (Numbers 19:11-20). Anyone who touches either of them is rendered unclean by that touch.
There are three characters that Jesus touches – Jairus, the woman with the hemorrhage and Jairus’ daughter. Each in their own way, vulnerable, each in their own way, desperate. Which one do you identify with? The leader who finds that all the usual advantages and experience that go with his office suddenly avail him nothing? The one who has endured much and isn’t sure she can bear any more? Or the one who is helpless, utterly dependent on others? Which one do you identify with?
All three are in a deep sleep. Charles Hoffacker talks about a deep sleep. What is the deep sleep? Let me offer two portraits of it. One of them comes from Kiss Sleeping Beauty Good-Bye, a book by Madonna Kolbenschlag. Kolbenschlag opens her first chapter with this observation:
“You see them in high school study halls, twisting their tresses and staring out the window. You see them in offices, filing stacks of reports and glancing at the clock anxiously. You see them in laundromats, in supermarkets, in beauty parlors, on buses. You see them on the couch, TV blaring, paging through Seventeen magazine. Wherever you see them, they are young, anxious, languid, bored, unsatisfied with themselves. (And when they are no longer young their boredom has changed to self-hatred and their anxiety to depression.) They all have one thing in common: they are convinced they are waiting for something. They imagine themselves in a state of readiness, of expectancy, of waiting for life and for their real existence to begin. In fact, it has already begun — it is passing them by, while their energies atrophy. They are sleeping beauties who may never wake up.” [Madonna Kolbenschlag, Kiss Sleeping Beauty Good-Bye (Bantam Books, 1979), p. 5.]
The other portrait comes from Awakening from the Deep Sleep by Michigan psychologist Robert Pasick. This book has an impressive subtitle: A Powerful Guide for Courageous Men. Pasick begins with a list of twenty-five signs by which a man can tell he’s in the deep sleep. I’ll mention just five. Speaking to men, Pasick says you know you’re in the deep sleep when:
1. You describe your life as hectic, busy, or rushed.
2. You depend on your mate to tell you how you feel.
3. Work is more enjoyable and rewarding than your home is.
4. You distance yourself from feeling any intense emotions.
5. You have trouble saying “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure.”
[Robert Pasick, Awakening from the Deep Sleep (HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), p. 1.]
The deep sleep! It takes different forms for men and women, for the young, the old, and the middle-aged. But whoever we are, the deep sleep means that something about us remains unconscious, unaware. We are in a stupor. We know the meaning of certain words, but they never apply to us. Such words as inquisitive, sensitive, trusting, dependent, adventurous, emotional, receptive, open, creative, playful, searching, mischievous, imaginative, growing, accepting, curious. [From Jean Gill, Images of the My Self (Paulist Press, 1982), p. 35, quoted in Diarmuid McGann, The Journeying Self(Paulist Press, 1985), p. 92.] We know what these words mean, but somehow they never apply to us. That’s what the deep sleep takes from us.
A man named Jairus, one of the most important people in town, makes a scene in front of Jesus. He begs Jesus to come to his house and help his daughter, who is close to death. Jesus arrives at the house. It is too late. The girl is dead.
This gospel story does not deal simply with a certain child who lived at a particular time and place, whose father’s name was Jairus. No. This story is also about any of us who fall prey to the deep sleep, whose inner child is counted as dead. The story insists on the possibility of restoration to life; that this child can awaken from the deep sleep. What it takes is the touch of Christ, the word of Christ. This touch heals. This word empowers.
There is a woman who has suffered for twelve years. Do you catch the wonder of this story? A poor, diseased, outcast woman, clutching her tattered garments tightly around her, slithering through the throng, frantically reaching out her hand for help and, suddenly, all the love and power of God in Christ concentrated for a brief moment in her. Mark Guy Pierce says, “In that instant she went from ‘nobody to somebody to everybody.'” The woman has arisen from her own deep sleep. She now knows new life – she is restored to community, to relationship with others. She is alive.
Is there any place where we hear the words of new life? Where we feel the touch of new life? Consider your existence — its achievements and setbacks, joy and sadness, the complexity and the utter plainness of it all — is there any place where new life touches you, where words of new life are spoken to you? Is there any situation where you hear — however faintly — the command to get up, and feel within yourself the power to do so? Is there any situation where you feel the stirring within you to take the initiative, to reach out? If you do, then know for sure that it is Christ who addresses you, who awakens you from your deep sleep as surely as he called Jairus’ daughter back to life and as surely as he heals or restores the woman to new life.
There were other voices that day. The wails of professional mourners, their cries devoid of hope. The mocking laughter of the bystanders when Jesus, newly arrived in the house, claims that the girl is not dead, but only asleep. Their words are sharp with sarcasm. What would have happened if the girl had listened to such voices as these and not the call of Christ? What would have happened if the suffering woman had not sought out Jesus and had listened to those who called her unclean?
We too are surrounded by other voices — mockers and mourners who nearly drown out the words of Christ, who nearly keep us from awakening from our own deep sleep. Such voices tempt us. Sometimes they sound familiar. So, may we listen only to that voice which invites us to live, that calls us to get up and get going with what we are here to do.
That one true voice does not always sound familiar. It takes different forms, and what it says may surprise us. Often that voice doesn’t say what we think it should be saying. But surprise is the way of God’s kingdom. Surprise is what’s necessary to awaken us from the deep sleep, to raise us from the dead.
Girl or boy, woman or man, let yourself be astonished and amazed! Let the voice of Christ surprise you! Wake from the deep sleep,– it is Christ who calls you; it is Christ who offers you life!
When things were at their darkest, Jesus told Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” And so I say to you now, “Do not fear. Only believe.” Amen.
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