Acting by Faith - Sermon for Pentecost 6B (Mark 5)

Mark 5:21-43

The Gospel of Mark offers us a fast-moving story. Everything seems to happen immediately, one thing after another. Since Mark’s Jesus rarely stops to teach, it’s mostly action. If you like action movies, you’ll like Mark’s Gospel. Mark stops long enough in chapter 4 to offer us a few parables, beginning with the Parable of the Sower, but we quickly move on to the next destination. 

In fact, after that long day of teaching, Jesus got in a boat heading across the lake and fell asleep. He was so sleepy that not even a big storm could wake him up. When his frightened disciples, several of whom were fishermen, finally woke him up so he could share in their suffering, he stilled the storm allowing them to safely reach the opposite shore. No sooner had they emerged from the boat than a demon-possessed man ran toward him. Jesus responded by delivering the man from his demons, sending them into a herd of pigs that ran into the lake and drowned. Since that didn’t make the owners of the pigs happy, Jesus and his disciples got in their boat and headed back across the lake. All that happens in about a chapter and a half of Mark’s Gospel. Are you still with me?

This morning we meet up with Jesus as a great crowd greets him as he gets of the boat. I invite you to use your imagination for a moment. Place yourself in the crowd as Jesus gets out of the boat. If you had been in that crowd, what would you be expecting from Jesus? After all, you joined the crowd for a reason. Are you hoping he’ll tell some more of those stories that are kind of confusing? Or do you expect that he’ll create a spectacle by working a miracle? Or maybe you’re wondering whether he’ll get into a debate with the religious authorities. Since Jesus often responds to the needs of the moment, what needs might be present in the vicinity of the crowd that might catch his attention?

It doesn’t take long before an answer to our questions emerges. That’s because a man named Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue, approaches Jesus. While he might not be a rabbi, he’s still an important religious leader in the community and he’s probably wealthy. You don’t get to be a board chair unless you have a bit of wealth! Jairus has a twelve-year-old daughter who is deathly ill. He wants Jesus to come to his house and heal his daughter. The very fact that a local religious leader would seek out Jesus suggests he was desperate. That’s because, while Jesus was known to be a healer, he also operated outside the system and Jairus was part of the system. If he was coming to Jesus, we can be sure he had already consulted doctors who had given hope for his daughter’s survival. The only thing left to hope for was a miracle, and maybe Jesus could provide one. As for Jesus, being the compassionate person he was, he agreed to go with Jairus and see if he could do something about the girl’s condition. So off they went, with the crowd following them. 

Jairus wasn’t the only person in the crowd who needed help from Jesus. There was an unnamed woman who had been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years. She had spent her entire fortune on doctors who could do nothing for her. Her condition, which had only gotten worse, probably limited her ability to join her neighbors for worship and even fellowship. She was alone, destitute, and desperate. She thought Jesus could help her, but unlike Jairus, she was hesitant to bother him as he made his way to Jairus’ house. So she decided to simply sneak up behind Jesus and touch his robe. She hoped that this might heal her affliction. While she acted out of desperation, she also acted in faith, which was rewarded when she touched the fringe of his robe. At that moment healing power went out from Jesus, so that her bleeding immediately stopped. For the first time in twelve years she was free of her affliction. While she tried to go unnoticed, Jesus knew that healing power had gone out from him. So he turned to the crowd and asked who touched him. Although probably lots of in the crowd had touched him, he was only interested in the one person who had been healed. Realizing she had been noticed, the woman raised her hand and confessed that she was the one. Jesus responded by calling her daughter and telling her to go in peace because her faith had made her well. 

Of course, that’s not the end of the story. There’s still the matter of Jairus’ daughter, who is probably hanging on for dear life. As they approached the house, they heard a commotion. Mourners had gathered as was custom, and sounds of their grief could be heard from a distance. Then a messenger came from the house telling Jairus it was too late. His beloved daughter was dead, so there was no longer any need for Jesus.  

At this point, Jairus must have been wondering if the woman’s interruption had delayed Jesus’ arrival just enough to prevent him from reaching his daughter in time to heal her. That might have stirred a bit of anger at her temerity to get in the way of his daughter’s recovery. We can’t know for sure what was Jairus’s mind, but Jesus turned to him and said: “Do not fear, only believe.” 

Jesus’s words must have sounded rather insensitive. How do you believe when your daughter lies dead without hope of recovery? Of course, Jesus wanted Jairus to know that despite appearances, all was not lost.

So Jesus took Peter, James, and John, along with Jairus and his wife, and they entered the room of Jairus’ daughter, even as the mourners loudly wailed their grief. As he sent everyone out of the room, Jesus said something else that must have sounded quite odd. He asked the mourners, why are you weeping and wailing when she’s only asleep? Well, they knew better than that and so they laughed at Jesus. But he wasn’t deterred. He simply went into the room and said to the girl: “Little girl, get up.” She got out of the bed and began to walk around the room. All was good! Then after Jesus told Jairus to feed his daughter, he told everyone in the room not to tell anyone what had happened. 

This last request might sound odd but it fits with Mark’s Gospel. Mark’s Jesus is always telling people to keep things quiet. Scholars call this the Messianic Secret. But how do you keep something like this secret? After all, everyone knew the girl had died and now she was alive. 

Such is the end of the story of a day in the life of Jesus the healer. Two people, one who had been both sick and destitute and the other, the daughter of a leading member of society, were set free from their afflictions. In the eyes of many, there was little that connected them, and yet Jesus treated them equally. He acted out of compassion, revealing God’s love for all God’s children. One thing we can take from this passage is that when it comes to Jesus’ ministry, he responded to both Jairus’s daughter and the woman with equal compassion and grace. It is a reminder that God shows no partiality, even if we are tempted to do so.

A passage like this often leads to questions about why some people experience healing and others don’t. We celebrate when news comes that our prayers have been answered and a loved one or friend has gotten better. But what about the others who don’t recover? Does that mean they didn’t have enough faith or they were sinners deserving divine punishment? I don’t subscribe to either of these answers. I simply don’t know why one person recovers and another doesn’t. While I believe in God’s healing power, I also believe that healing comes in different forms. It might be a cure but it might not.

With that in mind, we may have come this morning seeking some form of healing or solace or even a sense of meaning and purpose for our lives. We may bring with us concerns about friends and family members. When we go to prayer, we’ll ask for God’s healing presence to be with those we love, whether the requests are spoken or not. Like Jairus and the woman, we might be desperate for God to act. We may want God to "turn [our] mourning into dancing." We may want God to take off “our sackcloth and clothe [us] with joy, so that [our] souls may praise [God] and not be silent. Then we will cry out:  "O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever"  (Ps. 30:11-12).

Yes, like Jairus and the woman who approached Jesus, we come seeking to experience the healing hands of Jesus on our lives and the lives of those we love, so that in the words of Michael Perry: we ask Jesus to “search out all my pain; restore my hope, remove my fear, and bring me peace again.”   [Chalice Hymnal, 504].

Preached by:

Dr. Robert D. Cornwall

Acting Supply Pastor

First Presbyterian Church (PCUSA)

Troy, Michigan

June 30, 2024

Pentecost 6B

Image Attribution: Tissot, James, 1836-1902. Daughter of Jairus, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved June 29, 2024]. Original source:


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