21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and 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.”
24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it.33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this and told them to give her something to eat.
Faith and “Hail Mary” Passes Mark 5:21-43
There a certain play in football that is linked directly to an expression of Catholic piety called the “Hail Mary” pass. The expression goes back at least to the 1930s, to what, as one might expect, a play coined by Roman Catholic university football team, Notre Dame. Originally it referred to any sort of desperation play, but the “Hail Mary” gradually came to denote a long, low-probability pass attempted at the end of a half when a team is too far from the opponents’ end zone, with too little time to execute a more conventional play, implying that it would take divine intervention for the play to succeed. When there was nothing left to lose, the quarterback throws the ball as far as he absolutely can, says a quick “Hail Mary” prayer…and hopes for the best.
Can you think of any other times when we resort to something like the “Hail Mary pass” as a last resort when all else has failed? When all else fails- “read the instructions”, or “look at the map” (this refers to a pre-Google Maps time). When writing a multiple-choice exam and you don’t have the slightest clue as to the answer, when all else fails-choose “C”. When you’re sick with an incurable disease, and you’ve run out of medical (and even alterative health care) options…what then?
In today’s gospel text we have a couple of people who find themselves in desperate situations, with few good options left to them. The passage begins with a Mark telling us that Jesus crossed back across the Sea/Lake of Galilee (we talked about the first crossing last week and the calming of the storm). For whatever reason, the lectionary skips over the account of the healing of the man possessed by the Legion of demons, and those demons then going into the pigs, who then plunge into the sea). I recommend you read this account in Mark 5, for it seems this man’s demon possession was the sole reason Jesus crossed the sea.
After this man was set free, Jesus and his disciples return to the other side and encounter a leader of the local synagogue. Although not stated explicitly here, already by this time the Jewish leaders (and the Jewish religion by and large) had turned against Jesus, and he was not always welcome in their synagogues. The fact that this man, Jairus, turned to Jesus for help for his ailing daughter suggests that his other options are limited. He obviously had heard that Jesus had worked miracles of healing, and being that his daughter was at “death’s door”, he swallowed his pride and sought Jesus out.
Before he could make his way to his house however, another person who is “down on her luck”, with nothing to lose enters the picture. Her story is that of a desperate woman, with an incurable, chronic hemorrhage. This condition would have left her not only physically impaired, but monetarily (for Mark states quite emphatically that she had spent all she had on the doctors) relationally, and spiritually as well. A woman with a continual issue of blood would have been perpetually spiritually unclean, and as such would have been cut off from her family, her community…and even God (see Lev 15:25-27).
With nothing to lose, she makes her way through the crowd with the hope of even touching Jesus’ garment and being healed in the process. She does, and she was healed immediately, and she knew it. What she didn’t consider however was that even with the crowd pressing on Jesus from every side, Jesus would be aware of her clandestine touch, as “power had gone out of him”. We take this verse as we find it, not knowing anything more that what we read. I can think of no other account where such a thing is implied. Jesus is aware that healing power has left his body, and he wants to know the particulars about “who” and “why”.
His disciples don’t take him overly seriously, as people were constantly pressing upon him and them wherever he went. This unnamed woman however did take him seriously and confessed to him what she had done. The ramifications for her could have been significant. Her personal shame in revealing her condition publicly could have been compounded with a shaming (and perhaps even legal proceedings) for touching a person (a Jewish male rabbi no less) while in this unclean condition. In those few seconds she would be preparing herself for possible repercussions, but she was desperate, and anything that could happen to her now would be better that what she had dealt with for these past 12 years. To her amazement (and delight), Jesus shows her only kindness, and says that her faith has “saved” her. Of all the people in the NT who received mercy at the hand (or garment) of Jesus (save for perhaps the thief on the cross who Jesus welcomed into Paradise), I expect few knew and appreciated the significance of “salvation” more than this unnamed woman from the other side of the lake.
Now back to Jairus. During this interlude with this woman, news comes back to him that the time for healing has passed, as his daughter has died. Try to place yourself in the shoes of this man. To begin with, you swallow your pride by coming to Jesus in the first place. Then having him almost at your doorstep, this unnamed, unclean, woman “crashes the line”, and just before Jesus makes it to your house to heal your daughter- she dies. To say you would have been disappointed, would be the understatement of the century.
We notice that Jairus’ friends are quick to call Jesus “off the case”. Most likely they were not overly enthusiastic in having Jairus contact him in the first place. Whatever the case, Jesus is not finished with Jairus nor his daughter quite yet, and Jesus bids him not to fear, but rather to believe. Believe in what exactly? Believe that his friends cannot tell the difference between “dead” and “mostly dead”? Since Jesus has yet to raise anyone from the dead, can one truly hope for things that have never happened before? Perhaps when one is desperate and has nothing to lose, one might as well hope for the improbable (if not the impossible).
Jesus takes the inner three disciples with him (Peter, James, and John) and they enter the house of the Jairus’ dead daughter. The mourners are already doing what mourners do- mourning. In ancient Judea, often families would hire professional mourners to “help” in their grief and show honor to their deceased. It may well be that these “professional mourners” were already at work, wailing up a storm. Jesus assessment of the girl’s condition (without even seeing her) as “sleeping” as opposed to dead, caused the mourners to pause momentarily from their wailing for a moment to laugh at Jesus. Jesus however was not in mood for their levity, and sends them out of the house, and calls the parents of the girl to accompany him and his disciples to her bedside. Although God called and formed the nation of Israel to be His faithful people, and now calls people from all nations into His Holy Christian Church, those collectives are made of up any number of individuals. For the most part, Jesus healed one person at a time. Individuals matter to Jesus (as do mothers, fathers, and children).
What happens next is something that would etch its way into Peter’s mind so vividly that he would convey the actual Aramaic words of Jesus to the gospel writer Mark as Jesus took her hand and said in his native language “Talitha cum” (little girl, arise)- and she did. As is common in the gospel of Mark, Jesus bids them not to tell others about this (most likely for fear of the mobs redirecting him from the way of the cross), and then he tells her parents to give her something to eat. Peter remembers, and Mark records how the supernatural, and the natural combine in the life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus calls
this young girl back from the dead but does not fill her stomach in the process. This job is delegated to her parents.
Mark makes mention of the “faith” of each of these recipients of grace. In each of their cases however, it is faith in the context of desperation, with nothing left to lose. This reflects the lives of many who turn to God/Jesus only after they have exhausted their resources, the resources of others, and have nowhere else to go, and nothing left to lose. What we also discover however in life, is that not all “Hail Mary” passes are caught by the team whose quarterback throws them, and not all who possess faith see their medical conditions improve, nor their twelve-year-old children come back from the dead. Those religions (and I wouldn’t even call them Christian) who adopt such a positive outcome definition of faith (often going by names like “prosperity gospel, or “name-it-claim-it”), often fail to deliver on their promises. When outcomes are not as desired, often these adherents of these religions place the blame at the feet of those who are hurting, thus exacerbating their problems. Jesus never made true seekers’ problems worse, and neither should we.
We’re not told what happened in the lives of this woman healed of the issue of blood, nor the girl raised back from the dead after their healings. Hopefully they didn’t wait until their next crisis to turn back to Jesus. In this particular text, “faith” looks to Jesus for healing- and finds it. In other scriptures, faith looks for courage and strength to carry on when healing is not forthcoming (see 2 Cor 12 for one such example regarding Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”). If we’re the team throwing the “Hail Mary” pass, and our team catches it, I think it’s OK to point heavenward and thank God for that. If, however, our team doesn’t catch it, we should thank God nevertheless (for perhaps God is answering the other team’s prayer). In either event, our faith looks not to the Virgin Mary for help in catching footballs, nor to supernatural healing or resuscitations, but to the one who died for our sins, and promises forgiveness of those sins and life eternal, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen