Imagine for a moment that your son or daughter rings up early in the morning to tell you that your granddaughter is sick with a sore throat. If it was me I would immediately wonder, “What can I do to help?” It’s hard for a young working mum holding down a job and at the same time needing to look after sick children. I say that by way of trying to get inside our Gospel story this week. It’s the story of a twelve year old girl who is on the point of death and her parents are frantic with worry, as we all would be, and they didn’t have the option we have today of high quality medical advice or antibiotics.
The Gospel writer wants us to put ourselves in the place of Jairus, the girl’s father, and feel the anxiety and urgency that drives him to seek out Jesus. I see him pushing through the crowd, falling at Jesus’ feet, not worrying what people will think of him (for he held a high office in the village as leader of the local synagogue). All he can think of is finding someone with the power to help his daughter. And when he does, and is guiding Jesus rapidly through the crowd toward his home, disaster strikes as Jesus stops, turns around and asks, “Who touched me?” I can feel the blood pressure rising in Jairus; he’s like a taxi in a traffic jam with the meter running and needing to be urgently somewhere else.
Why does Jesus have to stop now when time is running out, life is running out for this little girl? We live in an instantaneous culture, spurred on by the internet, twitter and the like, and waiting on the phone for five minutes seems like a lifetime for us. This story mirrors the one from last week of the storm on the Sea of Galilee. This week’s story is also a storm, maybe two storms colliding!
The first is the storm in Jairus and his family, and the other is the storm that has been brewing for twelve years in the woman with the haemorrhage. And like last time, Jesus is the still centre in the middle who stills both storms and brings calm and healing and peace. The news that this young girl is on the verge of adulthood at the age of twelve, and that the woman has suffered for twelve years is a way of drawing parallels between the two and binding them together in our minds. But it also shows Jesus’ commitment to attend to the needs of women in an age where they were very much second class citizens in a male dominated world. Church historians speak about how attractive early Christian faith was especially to women because of the way women were acknowledged and regarded.
This story is a story about healing – healing two people with different needs – but also healing in the sense of breaking down social barriers and building community through reconciliation. You see, when Jesus was touched by the woman in the crowd, he became ritually ‘unclean’ because she had been ‘unclean’ and that would have been a problem for Jairus as leader of the Synagogue.
But also if you come to think of it, it would have been a problem for the whole crowd she pushed through to get to Jesus. So Jairus needed to accept Jesus (‘unclean’ as he was), and then with the knowledge that his daughter had already just died. He must have felt as though he was living in a nightmare that just wouldn’t end. To make matters worse Jesus then touches a corpse and restores his daughter’s life, and so becomes doubly ‘unclean’. It would have really challenged Jairus’ whole understanding of what was life-giving and what was not, pushing him beyond his comfort zone into the light of God’s love – God’s life giving, joyful love.
This story is about a woman being healed and returned to her community so she could live a ‘normal’ live again – and what a relief that would have been. But also a story about the restoration and healing of girl on the verge of adulthood to the deep relief and joy of her parents. And it would be Jairus, leader of the Synagogue, who would be responsible to legitimise the woman’s re-entry into their community. Like Jesus he would need to attend to her need as well as his own. Maybe the story is saying that God is never too busy to be with us, to hear our prayers and to respond.