There are any number of reasons why this particular passage is challenging for me to preach on today. First and foremost, it concerns the death of a child. Part of this passage was read at our son, Obed’s, funeral service by my request. Every time that I believe myself to be moving beyond grief, a memory or a moment or something seemingly innocuous, like a scripture passage, comes up which reminds me that grief is a journey and I am just a passenger, along for the ride. We do not determine what “stops” our grief makes, only how long we choose to linger. What I have learned is that it is important to acknowledge the “stops”—and somehow, by doing so, you can grow beyond them, or grow with them.
So if you are reminded of the way things used to be, or if you open your closet one day and the smell of your long-gone partner comes to you out of the blue…If the way your grown daughter looks at you one summer day across the dinner table reminds you so amazingly of your mother whose been dead for years…If that memory brings tears to your eyes even now after so much time has passed, well, then you have just made an unplanned stop on the journey of grief. It won’t hurt you to stop for a minute and gaze at the scenery…to allow yourself the feeling of loss…These grief interruptions can be quite healing and holy. And after you give yourself permission to acknowledge your past, you can step back on the bus of the present and continue along your way with whatever you were doing.
Death, we know, is the great interrupter; the death of a child even more startling. In our scripture for today, Jairus, a powerful leader of the synagogue anxiously runs to Jesus because his little girl is dying. Despite his position in the synagogue, he falls down begging at this strange rabbi’s feet. We must remember that Jesus was seen by many synagogue leaders as unconventional, radical, and even dangerous. But Jairus is a desperate parent. And desperate parents with sick or hurting children will do all kinds of things, even risk the talk of their peers and of the crowd. Jesus agrees to go see the little girl.
How do you respond when you are interrupted? Are you annoyed or flustered, captivated or capsized? Because there are several interruptions in our story today. You heard part of the gospel—did you notice there were several missing verses? Pointedly, in this gospel passage, even the dying, the powerful, and the anxious get interrupted, and this particular interruption is quite curious.
Here’s the part that you didn’t hear: While Jesus is making his way towards the little girl’s home, a woman, a social outcast, forces her way through the crowd, just to touch Jesus’ robe. It’s a desperate move from a desperate woman. This woman has been to every doctor in the book; we are specifically told that she’s “endured much under many physicians.” She’s spent all of her resources on co-pays and possible cures, but instead of getting better, she’s gotten progressively worse. And she’s done this for some twelve years. If this were today, she may have had cancelled medical insurance to contend with, the burden of medical debt, an argumentative government and judicial system, as well as friends and family waning in their support, as so often happens.
It’s easy to imagine that she was perhaps perceived as a lost cause, a hopeless case, and somehow deserving of her predicament, a common belief back then, and dare I say, now. She’s had some kind of blood flow for those twelve long years. Besides the physical discomfort of such an ailment, the effect of such a disease is that she would have suffered in isolation. She wasn’t allowed to worship, given that she was ritually unclean. Those of you who suffer silently, or not so silently, from various chronic diseases or undiagnosed conditions may have felt a kind of isolation yourselves. Sometimes it just gets too hard to explain to happy, seemingly secure and healthy people why your life hasn’t worked out as wonderful as theirs has, or why you haven’t been able to rise above whatever terrible ailment or misfortune has landed on your doorstep.
So, to highlight this, Jesus has two people vying for his healing at the same time. A powerful, male leader of the community—with prestige, contacts, and now, a dying daughter, and a hemorrhaging woman who is a poor, social outcast, with few resources, and fewer options. One story interrupts another. Or, we might say that one story forms the frame of another.
Jairus, the powerful, is interrupted by the powerless, desperate woman. And what’s more, Jesus stops to heal the woman first; he stops to find her in the crowd, and stops to talk with her, risking the approbation of the crowd, the possible anger of Jairus, and the frustration of the disciples. What’s more, Jesus renders himself ritually impure by his contact with this woman, this interruption from the invisible margins. In the eyes of the messengers who arrive from Jairus’ home where the young girl has now died, Jesus has delayed and risked the girl’s very life. They tell Jairus, the father, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” It’s not a question that has an answer…It’s a possible criticism that Jesus should have and could have gotten there sooner had he not stopped to bless and restore a no-name woman whom no one seemed to notice or miss anyway.
And that’s where we need to give pause. There is something in the healing of this no-name desperate woman that relates to the healing of Jairus’ little girl. Don’t believe it? Did you notice that Jairus’ daughter is the exact same age—12 years– as the length of time that the woman has been suffering from her condition? Both the child and the bleeding woman are called “daughter”—the no-name woman being given an affectionate, familial address, instead of being called “unclean.” Jairus, the leader, is as powerful as the bleeding woman is poor. And “immediately,” when the bleeding woman touches Jesus, she is made well. “Immediately,” when Jesus takes the dying girl by the hand, she rises. These two stories are very much intertwined in their details and their telling.
But here is an important truth: Jesus stops for the social outcast before healing the leader’s daughter. One writer has said, “In the kingship of Jesus, the need of the marginalized and vulnerable is addressed before the need of the celebrated and powerful…The message is clear: in the realm ordered by Jesus’ kingly authority, those on the fringes of society have a rightful place in direct relationship with the Lord.” Friends, we, as a society, judge and place all kinds of boundaries and restrictions on healing, on communal acknowledgement, and people’s worth and right of place in our social concerns, rights, and medical care, but Jesus does not. The needs of this long-suffering woman are every bit as important as the child of the powerful leader.
We began with interruptions, and we will end with you. Where are you in this story? Are you standing in the crowd, wondering why you, like Jesus, should care about the invisible and the marginalized, wanting to enforce the restrictions and boundaries that keep the poor or differently abled, or medically challenged destitute or hopeless? Or maybe you are a leader, like Jairus, ready to humble yourself and your needs because you are facing some kind of significant loss that has driven you to seek out the unconventional, the radical, and an altogether different way of looking at life. Or maybe you’ve been suffering, like the bleeding woman, with something that has taken your energy, your well-being, and your resources. And you’ve been living on the fringes for too long, or been battered by society so much, that you are willing to push your way through the crowd to touch Jesus’ very robe, and even risk people’s anger. You don’t much care anymore what the crowd or the leadership says or does. You know healing when you see it.
Or maybe you you’ve been praying for healing for a really long time and you wonder what is taking Jesus so darn long. Maybe you, like our LGBTQ+ family, friends, and neighbors are still wondering when true equality will come and when you can rise like that little girl who just appeared to be sleeping? Maybe you’re angry at the raw deal that you’ve gotten or maybe you’ve lost faith that Jesus has anything to do with your rights, your health care options or miracles period. Maybe you’re tired of praying and hoping and believing because you’ve been disappointed too many times to count.
If that’s you, I can only stand here and say that sometimes the greatest gift that Jesus gives is the assurance of God’s peace and presence when it isn’t particularly easy to believe, when dramatic miracles appear to be few and rare, and when life just doesn’t work out according to plan. Maybe the miracle is just getting out of bed each and every morning and standing in your truth right in front of the very people who would condemn you for your very being, your choices, or the beauty in your life. Maybe the miracle is trying to place one foot in front of the other or believing that the invisible will be made visible and this pain is transitory. Or maybe the miracle is that you have not let go of God or your spouse or your church, your truth, or your recovery. Maybe the miracle is YOU pushing through crowds, illness, interruptions, death, despair, and all manner of social obstacles to claim help and healing and rights for someone who has been waiting and praying and agitating for a very, very long time. Maybe the miracle, friends, is YOU.
 Mark D.W. Edington, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009) 190.