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Sermon - 6 Pentecost

In the Name…


At a class reunion, three friends were comparing personal experiences.  Said the first, “I’m a doctor but my colleagues call me “The Reverend” because I pray before surgery.”  The second said, “Well, I run a business but my workers call me “His Holiness” because I’m active in my church.”  The third classmate said, “Well, I’m a door-to-door salesman and when I go to someone’s house they always say, ‘Oh my God!”


Since time immemorial, people have wanted to know about God and in this Sunday’s Gospel we find an important revelation about God as seen through the humanity of Jesus.  He had scarcely begun instructing a large group of listeners when Jairus, one of the officials of the synagogue, interrupted him with an intense appeal to come down and cure his critically ill daughter.  And, Jesus, without a word of complaint, drops everything and goes with him.  So, in Jesus we see a God filled with compassion and mercy.  Jairus pleads; Jesus answers and that is wonderful.


But of course, it’s hardly as simple as that because this simple story is about to become far more complicated.


On the face of it we seem to have a strangely distracted Jesus, called to the bedside of a dying child, stopping to chat to a woman in the street.  But Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this incident and, I think, for an important reason.  Because one thing we might not realize is that this was no ordinary woman.


One of the challenges when we read Scripture primarily by means of the Sunday lectionary is that it’s often difficult to grasp the larger themes of the writers. A great bishop once said that the Bible was not written to be read in four inch segments, and to really understand a text we need to read a bit before, after, and around it.


Today’s Gospel, for example, starts with a bit of a throw-away line, “When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side.”  The other side of what, again?  Well, the Sea of Galilee.  Last week, we saw Jesus and his disciples in the boat crossing the Sea of Galilee.  What happened next was that they landed in the non-Jewish land of the Gerasenes where Jesus healed a local man possessed by a legion of demons.  It was a brief visit and, in today’s reading, Jesus and his disciples have come back home to Galilee where Jesus is well known and well regarded, so well regarded, in fact, that someone as important as Jairus seeks him out.


Jairus was familiar with Jesus’ ministry.  He’s heard the sermons and seen the healings.  He knows that his little daughter is deathly ill.  Nothing has been able to help her.  But he believes that Jesus can.  So, it’s his faith that drives him to Jesus and, it says, he kneels and begs as a suppliant.  He doesn’t stand on his office.  He recognizes, in Jesus, the power of God at work.


But what happens as Jesus goes with Jairus?  Someone else approaches him, seeking the same thing.  Someone who couldn’t be more different to Jairus.  An anonymous woman.


At first, Jesus hardly notices it.  Only because he senses power going out from him does he realize that someone has come to him.  When Jesus asks, “who touched me” his disciples respond with incredulity.  Everybody’s touching you; you’re in a crowd.  But Jesus means touched with an intention and he persists, and the woman, in fear and trembling, comes forward.  Petrified, she falls down at his feet, and, it says, “told him the whole truth.” 


She’s been suffering from haemorrhages for twelve years.  And she’s tried everything - doctors, folk medicine, quack cures. This is her last, desperate, grasping at straws, attempt to be healed.  So, he comforts her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well, go in peace.”


The woman’s faith has driven her to Jesus’ presence.  She comes to where he is.  What does she know as she approaches him?  She knows that she is ill.  Nothing has been able to help her.  But she believes that Jesus can.  She knows this because of what he has said and done.  She has faith in Jesus’ words and works.


Faith in Jesus’ words and works.  That ties both Jairus and the woman together.  They both come to him because of their belief.  And it pleases him that they come.  Jesus sends neither away.  Rich or poor.  Known or unknown.  He has time for all.


And, here’s the surprise.  I said this was no ordinary woman.  In the year 313, the Christian historian Eusebius wrote that there was a tradition that this woman, indeed, had a name: Veronica; and that she came from the city of Caesarea Philippi on the Galilean border with Syria, and in that city there was a statue, which he had seen, of her on her knees reaching out to touch the robe of Jesus.


And, Eusebius says, she was a Gentile, not a Jew.


True, St. Mark doesn’t tell us this, but one may wonder how such a tradition got started and it makes perfect sense in the context of the Gospel.  Jesus has just healed a Gerasene demoniac; a Gentile in a Gentile land.  A good parallel would be to heal a Gentile on Jewish land.  And, the Gospel later records that Jesus takes the time to go and visit this border town of Caesarea Philippi where he asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  I’ve often wondered, why did he go way up there in the first place?  Well, maybe, he knew someone who lived there.


Too many dots not to connect.


Jairus was a fellow countryman and co-religionist.  The woman was a stranger in a strange land.  But both reveal who Jesus is and what he can do.  They tell of his identity as a Universal Redeemer, Deliverer, a Saviour and reveal that there are no boundaries, including racial or social, he cannot cross in responding to us.


We, too, come to Jesus in faith.  We have heard of him; we have seen his works.  We come for ourselves; we come for others.  And we hear his words, “Do not fear, only believe.”  


There's a lot of secret bleeding in people.  A lot of private and personal griefs which cause us as much pain as any physical problem.  And because of them, we can withdraw into ourselves and feel alone.  We don't think that anyone has time for us.  And, sometimes, we're ever hesitant about approaching God.  "There's plenty worse off," we say.  Does our particular problem warrant His attention?


But we should never think, or act, like that.  His is the only name under Heaven given for health and salvation and our wholeness, not just our physical health, is His Will for us.  He has the power, he has the time and, most importantly, he has the interest.  Let's never forget that. 


We might think we're only touching the hem of his garment, but we're really reaching his heart. 


In the Name…


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