The Hem of His Garment
How many of you are twelve years old or younger? I have three daughters, all twelve twelve and under. For those of you here this morning who are under twelve, twelve years probably seems like forever, doesn’t it? I’m sure it does, because it’s your whole lifetime!
For others of us here this morning who are more “senior” (myself included), twelve years might seem like a tiny blip on a screen.
But for anyone suffering day in and day out with pain, or loneliness, or isolation, twelve years can seem like an eternity.
The unnamed woman in Mark’s Gospel account had been suffering with what the Bible calls an “issue of blood” or hemorrhaging for twelve long, excruciating years. She tried everything, she spent all of her money on expensive medical treatments, but to no avail. In fact she grew worse.
But it wasn’t just physical suffering that she had endured for twelve years.
Her issue meant that she was considered ritually or religiously unclean (which caused her to become a social outcast), in a society where cleanliness had less to do with sanitation or bacteria, and more to do with your place in society, your right to attend church, and your relationship with God.
No matter where she went, some people probably stared at her, while others ignored her, looked the other way, and silently or not-so-silently judged her.
For twelve years she wasn’t invited to birthday parties, weddings, celebrations, or even family reunions.
Not only did this woman’s physical debility cause her great shame and loneliness, but it excluded her from being allowed to worship God in the temple.
Twelve long, painful years, lonely years.
At the same time, there’s a father whose twelve-year-old daughter is at the point of death. This man is a religious leader — a leader in the church. He’s done everything right according to society’s standards, and yet his daughter is ill. Like any good father, this man, Jairus, is willing to go to any length to find help for his daughter.
Both Jairus and the unnamed woman hear that Jesus has just set foot upon the sand of their seashore.
Jesus, who just calmed a storm and delivered a man from a legion of demons. Jesus, who healed many people’s diseases, Jesus, who has shown love to the outcasts, the marginalized, the excluded. Jesus the rabbi, the teacher, who taught people to do good, to love God, their neighbors, and even to love their enemies, is passing through their town.
Jairus (the religious leader), comes and falls at Jesus’s feet and begs Jesus to come to his house to heal his daughter. Jesus complies and follows Jairus to his house.
And while they’re on the road to Jairus’s house, the unnamed woman, too ashamed to even show her face, too afraid of being yet again scorned or rejected, doesn’t dare to interrupt Jesus. Instead she thinks to herself, “if I can just touch the hem of Jesus’s garment, I know I’ll be healed!”
And so, in the midst of the rushing, noisy crowd, this brave woman musters up the courage to reach out and grab the corner of Jesus’s robe as he rushes by. And immediately she is healed. Twelve years of pain and suffering, of spending all the money that she had, and just one touch of the corner of Jesus’s robe is enough to heal her.
But Jesus doesn’t want her to stay anonymous. He doesn’t want her to continue to hide in fear and shame and isolation. Although she has been healed physically, he wants her to be restored to the community. He wants to make it known that God has accepted her and that she is loved and known by God.
And so he asks her to tell her story for all to hear.
In the meantime, Jairus’s daughter has passed away. But since nothing is impossible for God, Jesus proceeds to do something that everyone thought was absurdly implausible. He raises this twelve-year-old girl back to life.
Some of you may relate to the unnamed woman in this passage. Perhaps you too have struggled with pain or an ailment for a long time. Or perhaps you’ve felt isolated from others, from the Church, or even from God.
Others of you may relate to this father. Perhaps you have a family member or friend that you have been praying for for a long time. And perhaps it seems like the situation is impossible.
I want to let you know this morning that nothing is impossible with God. Don’t give up, keep praying, keep seeking. But perhaps even more importantly, I want to let you know that God hears, God sees you. God’s grace is immeasurable, his love is vast enough to reach you wherever you are, and to touch your family members or friends wherever they are.
All you need to do is cry out to Jesus.
I want to say on a pastoral note, however, that some of you may have experienced the loss of a friend or family member, and you wonder why Jesus didn’t heal them. Or perhaps you’ve sought God for healing from physical, emotional, or spiritual suffering, and you wonder why God has not given you relief.
We don’t know why God doesn’t always heal. We don’t know why sometimes children die, or why some people struggle with pain or ailments their whole life. But I do want you to know that God knows what it’s like to have a child suffer and die. God sees, God hears, and even in the midst of pain and suffering God is with us.
You see, the woman in our story today, she still experienced suffering even after Jesus healed her. Her life did not suddenly become immune to pain. Although she was cured of this issue, she still experienced difficult things in life. And Jairus’s daughter, although she experienced a miraculous resurrection, she eventually died again, and even if she went on to live a long and fruitful life, one day her friends and family had to mourn and grieve the loss of her life all over again.
But the healing of the unnamed woman, and the resurrection of the little girl, point forward to the time when Jesus will raise all of us to new life, when there will be no more sickness and death, when Jesus will wipe every tear from our eye (Rev. 21:4). And they remind us that in Christ we can be made new. As it says in 2 Cor. 5:17, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”
For the past twelve years or so I have wrestled with a call to pastoral ministry. And to be honest, I felt bound up in a lot of fear. I had been seeking God for direction and guidance, but it felt like the door was closed. At the same time, I’ve had a long and fruitful ministry among college-age students. But I had a desire to do ministry in the city of Baltimore, and to minister to families and people of every age and stage of life.
When I received the phone call from the district superintendent inviting me to this appointment, I knew this was what God was calling me to do. But I said “no” at first, out of fear. Fear of failure, fear that I might mess up or say the wrong thing, fear that I might not be accepted. Like the woman, I wanted to hide in the crowd, I wanted to say yes to Jesus, but I was worried about what other people might think, say, or do.
The next day, when I finally said “yes,” I felt a rush of relief, a sense of freedom. It wasn’t just about the opportunity to become the pastor of this wonderful church. It was about saying “yes” to Jesus, and saying “no” to fear.
This morning I want to invite you to respond to Jesus in whatever way you feel Jesus may be calling to you. It may be an invitation to trust Him. It might be the invitation to cry out to Jesus, to reach out and touch the hem of his garment. It might be an invitation to lift up a prayer on behalf of someone else in your life. It might be a call to come back to the church, or to forgive, or to let go.
Let’s respond together to the Word that we heard this morning:
Lord, listen to your children praying
Lord, send your Spirit in this place
Lord, Listen to your children praying
Send us love, send us power, send us grace!