Last week I had to spend a couple of days in the centre of London. It was helpful and enjoyable but it reminded me very much why I really dislike crowds. And this, I think has rather coloured the way I look at our Gospel reading this morning Because crowds feature quite prominently; almost to the point where, in my mind`s eye they seem rather like a fog or an oppressive presence.
In various places Jesus is reported as taking pity on the crowds; he clearly draws a crowd and he`s all too aware of how fickle they can be in seeking the thrill of the signs he was doing and even just hanging around in the hope of a good meal.
But in this passage (and as I say, maybe it`s just me) I can`t help seeing the crowds as a somewhat malevolent feature. We`re told not just how they `gathered around` him; and `followed` him but they `pressed in` on him. In fact in these few verses every occasion where people are referred to in the plural they are seen to be at the very least unhelpful. So for instance the woman had found `many` physicians unable to help her. We`re told `some people` came as it were to undermine Jairus`s faith. We`re told of other people making a commotion; weeping and wailing and when Jesus speaks they `laugh at him`.
But it`s in the midst of these crowds; these groups of people that our focus is drawn to two particular characters, two individuals; Jairus and a woman. So I don`t think I`m altogether wide of the mark in painting a picture here which invites us to reflect on how these two people almost literally `stand out` from the crowd. Faith for each of them has something to do with breaking cover; taking leave of the crowds.
So, firstly let`s think about Jairus. His circumstances can easily touch the heart strings. “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”. (Mark 5.22-24)
Now obviously, what matters to Jairus at this point is that his daughter is close to death. I don`t want to minimize that but I think it`s of equal significance to note that Jairus was `one of the leaders of the synagogue`. Who this man is and the positon he held in the community won`t have been lost on the crowd; it won`t have been lost on those who first read Mark`s Gospel… and I hope we`ll reflect on it as well. You see, I don`t think it`s any coincidence that Jairus is described as a man who for instance `kneels at Jesus`s feet`. And importantly, when he asks Jesus, `Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live` the Greek word for live is elsewhere translated as `saved`. What we need to see is that the undercurrent in this encounter and this heartfelt plea from this man is a recognition of Jesus`s true identity as Saviour and Lord. Here is a good Jew; a leader of the Synagogue who `gets it`.
So, where does Jairus`s story lead us? Well let`s notice firstly as I said a moment ago that Jairus breaks cover; he stands out from the crowd. This happens because he is beside himself over the plight of his daughter. He is applying his faith to this great need and it`s to Jesus that he comes. But again we may want to hold onto the thought that this is an encounter not between an `atheist` and Jesus but Jesus and someone whose faith is in the process of being deepened; or shall we say it finds its fulfilment in Christ.
Now it`s a caricature to be critical of ourselves and others who for the most part try to muddle along under our own steam or so we think without reference to the Lord and then become especially religious when we encounter a problem. Our `cupboard love` can put us to shame. But if we can desist from beating ourselves up for long enough we come to see how the difficulties we face can be similar to that faced by Jairus. These can be moments when we discover where our real foundations are; which have the capacity for stretching and broadening our understanding of who Jesus is and what it means to be a person of faith. Some of life`s events have a way of forcing us to break cover; they preoccupy us so much that we simply can`t go along with the crowd. Like Jairus we fall at the feet of Jesus and we have to come clean an about who is really in the driving seat, so to speak.
Now this may be very real and difficult for some of us just now… for others it might be good to embark on an imaginative reflection. But either way we might at least describe what you and I are doing this morning as breaking cover. In this act of worship we have left the crowds behind and have come before Jesus.
Perhaps it might help to ask whether you`ve ever thought of it that way? and how you feel about others knowing that this matters to you?
I wonder whether you have come with a particular need or a particular person on your heart? What do you want to say to Jesus about that?
How do you feel about inviting him to come home with you? and what will he find there? I wonder if you can already hear the voices saying, `Don`t be troubling him…. Death has taken over now… nothing can change? The voices that laugh at Jesus… or maybe even at you for thinking such a thing? Or can you hear Jesus say to you, “Do not fear, only believe”? Where do you think you might need to hear him say that in the days ahead? “Do not fear, only believe”.
You see I`m suggesting that Jairus stands out from the crowd as someone who allows his painful experience to become a point of growth and deepening in faith. I`m under no illusions about how this may be easier said than done but then, where did we get the idea that being a disciple is what the Americans call a `cake-walk`?
Secondly, when it comes to the woman who comes to touch the fringe of Jesus clothes in the hope of being healed we`re presented with someone who has an equally heart-rending tale of suffering to tell.
The key thing I`d like us to hold onto this morning is the way in which we might say that she occupied a `place of shame`. What I mean is that her physical condition was bad enough but what she and everyone else believed about it was much worse. It left her essentially a social and religious outcast.
So she comes to Jesus `under the cover of the crowd`. And maybe we can understand this. She understandably wants to be made well again but perhaps she couldn`t begin to expect that the shame; the sense of exclusion could ever be taken away: She thinks to herself, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ (Mark 5.28)
But I`m wondering if, as is so often the case when people come to Jesus, whether she had set her sights far too low? We`re told, `Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”`(Mark 5.30). I that instance Jesus calls her out of her place of shame and again, does far more than she expects; he calls her `Daughter`. In one word he restores her dignity.
But notice, St. Mark tells us that she had come “in fear and trembling, fell down before him and told him the whole truth” (Mark 5.33). In other words, she has to break cover. She has to stand out in the crowd and claim the dignity he wishes to give her. This is every bit as much a healing as Jesus dealing with her physical symptoms. And just notice the order in which Jesus says it: ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’ (Mark 5.34) The point is that the dignity; the identity comes first.
Now I wonder what it might be like for you to read that passage again and imagine yourself in the place of that woman? I have in mind the way quite a lot of people I`ve known find it almost convenient to follow Jesus as one of the crowd. In moments of need they`ll reach out to touch the fringe of his cloak or (to pick up another story) `eat the crumbs from the table` but lurking in the background is some sense of unworthiness. Like that woman who for so long occupied a place of shame we think that it`s safer as one of the crowd; after all if they knew the real me that would never be acceptable.
But here as we enter this story we find, `Jesus turns about in the crowd` (Mark 5.30) and we have his full attention. What would we I wonder, bring to him? Is there something that leaves us in a place of shame? Can we, in our minds eye break cover, `come in fear and trembling and tell him the whole truth`. And then receive our dignity; `Daughter`. `Son`. Your faith has made you well go in peace and be healed` (Mark 5.34).