Jairus is a big shot: he’s a deacon at the church on the hill. Everyone knows his name. He’s a Rotarian; he’s a member of the golf club; his photo’s always in the local paper. But he has a twelvie, a daughter, who’s really, really sick, so sick she’s about to die. So Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him: “Heal my daughter! Touch her, rescue her, let her live!” Jesus agrees, so they start walking to the house, the crowd pressing in; and in the crowd is a woman.
Now this woman is a nothing, a nobody; she belongs to no one. For twelve years, she’s been bleeding day and night. She’s disgusting: no one touches her. She gets no hugs, no cuddles, no pats. So lonely, it’s a living death. And she’s spent everything she has: first on doctors, then naturopaths, herbalists, homeopaths, Chinese medical specialists, even spiritual healers and every sort of quack. But still she bleeds; still she repels everyone she meets. She’s been kicked out of home, can’t show her face in church. Bankrupt, homeless, and maybe kind of crazy; and she’s got almost nowhere to wash. Bloody hell, you might be thinking, and you’d be right: her life is a bloody hell.
When we see her in the street, we avert our eyes. As we walk past, we hold our breath and clutch our coat so we won’t brush against her, won’t breathe in her smell. At the park, we see her slumped on a bench, and we’ll never sit on that seat. She’s nameless, invisible, the person we look through, the person we erase from our gaze, the person we swerve to avoid.
Yet here she is, sneaking into the crowd. She has nothing to lose, no life to speak of, no one to live for: so she dares. She dares to be there, dares to hope, that in this man Jesus, this worker of miracles, she will find healing. She reaches out to touch, just to touch his clothes … and as her fingers brush the rough cloth, straightaway she knows: Healing is already hers. In her body she can feel it: All is well.
Big shot Jairus sees nothing. His daughter is dying; there’s no time to lose; he’s hustling Jesus to his house. But Jesus stops, stops and turns. “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples don’t know; it’s a crowd. But the woman knows. Head down, face hidden, arms crossed, she comes forward. And we realise that this woman, this … this … outrage! … has been among us all along. She has brought even more shame on herself. She has brought shame on our town and shame on us. We are exposed, sullied, defiled.
Jesus—well, Jesus looks straight at her. Everything is there plain to see: the filth and grime, the fear and defiance in her face, the loneliness, the anger, and the pain. We see it, too: she’s a nasty piece of work. Revolting, shameful. She should’ve stayed away. Jesus looks and looks, and we’re about to apologise that’s she’s even among us, we’re wondering how to hustle her aside, when all of a sudden he speaks.
“My daughter,” he says, “your faith has rescued you. Go in peace. Be healed …” “My daughter?!” Who is she, to be called daughter of this prophet? “Your faith?!” Who is she, to be praised for her faith? “Go in peace?!” She came among us, bleeding; she should be run out of town for her trouble. “Be healed?!” Who is she to be healed, while important people are being made to wait?
Someone comes running. Big shot Jairus? His daughter is dead. No use bothering the teacher anymore. But Jesus hears.
“Don’t be afraid,” he says to Jairus. “Just have faith!”
Whoah! Big shot Jairus is a deacon at the church on the hill. He’s so sure of himself, he’s always preaching at someone. Always telling us what to think, what to say, how to live. He knows no fear. He’s full of faith. At least … that’s what we all thought.
When we arrive at Jairus’s house, everything’s in uproar. Women are weeping and wailing; their voices rise and fall. Jesus asks them, “What’s all the fuss?” He tells them that the girl isn’t dead, only sleeping. They laugh at him bitterly; they all know death. But he goes inside, and finds the girl, and—outrage of outrage—he touches her. Even worse than a bleeding woman, he’s touching a body, corpse, cadaver. It’s cool, slightly waxy; and it’s totally, totally still.
Gently, he holds the girl’s hand. “Talitha koum!” he says, “Little girl, get up!” Straightaway, she gets out of bed. She starts walking around, like everything’s fine. We’re all flabbergasted, but Jesus just says, “Don’t tell anyone—and get the kid something to eat!”
Who is this man, who touches bleeding women and dead girls and brings them back to life?
Who is this man, who tells religious heavies they need to believe, and praises a nobody’s faith?
Who is this man, who calls a total reject his own daughter, and makes a big shot wait?
Who is this man, who calls us to follow him? And who are we?
And who are we called to see, really see, in this town?
And who are we called to touch? Ω
A re-telling of Mark 5:21-43, written for Sanctuary, 1 July 2018 (BP08; Year B Proper 8) © Alison Sampson, 2018. May be used freely in worship and other non-commercial environments, appropriately attributed. Image credit: http://www.havelifetothefull.com.