A couple of months ago I was at Willow River Elementary School where I was volunteering in my son’s classroom to teach an art appreciation lesson. I stopped in the supply room near the office to pick up the things I needed before heading up to the room. In addition to carrying 3 large mounted art posters, I had a couple of zip lock baggies of teaching props, two shopping bags holding 24 canvas boards for a painting project, a large tub filled with tubes of paint in every color from raging red to perfect purple, and a couple of tin cans of paint brushes in every size and shape. Needless to say my hands were full. As I came out of the supply room and began the trek across the school to the opposite corner and up a couple of flights of stairs to the 3rd grade classroom a young student spotted me, took one look, and graciously asked, “Do you need some help?”
A less proud and independent person would have accepted that help without thinking twice. I am not the person. “Oh, no! Thanks, but I’ll be fine,” I answered while trying to balance the coffee cans of brushes between my hip and the wall while closing and locking the door to the supply room behind me. “Don’t worry. I don’t want to bother you or make you late.” The young boy gave me some skeptical side eye before continuing back to his classroom. I swear I saw him shaking his head. As he should. I made it across the atrium and almost to the stairs. With a thud as the mounted posters hit the ground and a crash when the paint brush cans clattered to the floor, it all fell apart.
“Don’t bother. Your daughter is dead.” That’s how his friends and neighbors, presumably, delivered the news to Jairus. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” He had left the house some time ago to find this Jesus, some kind of preaching, teaching, exorcising, healing rockstar. The buzz had been building about this guy for some time as he moved around the region west of the Sea of Galilee, calling disciples, casting out unclean spirits, healing the sick, and claiming the kingdom of God had come near. In the fields, by the sea, even inside the synagogues he was teaching with authority and gathering enemies in the religious establishment as he bent the Sabbath rules and some were even whispering that he might claim to be the Son of God!
But Jairus wasn’t concerned about whether or not seeking the help of Jesus was good for his image as a leader in the synagogue. His daughter was sick and this Jesus, whoever he is, just might be able to help. He doesn’t bother to sneak to find Jesus. He doesn’t just send a servant. Jairus boldly went to find Jesus and when he did he humbly fell at his feet, begging over and over again, “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.” And it worked.
For a little while.
Jesus left with Jairus, but even this early in his ministry Jesus didn’t travel anywhere too easily or apparently too quickly. A large crowd was pressing in on him. I’m reminded of the images of Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S. back in September. In 2,000 years the civil authorities have figured out a little more about crowd control, but even in those pictures people are reaching over barriers, trying, occasionally successfully, to sneak around them, over them, or through them to get themselves of their loved ones close to their spiritual father. The crowds turned out with Jesus, but with much less control than the cities of Philadelphia, New York, and Washington D.C. could manage. Instead of pressing up against the barriers that lined the streets, Jesus’s crowd pressed right in on him, people pushing against each other, maneuvering for position, all trying to catch a glimpse, hear a word, maybe get a chance to find some healing, some peace, some wholeness in their lives.
No, Jairus and Jesus weren’t going to get anywhere quickly simply because of the crowds, but then Jesus… What was he doing? Then Jesus even stopped of his own accord. I can just see Jairus seething to the side. His daughter was on the brink of death and Jesus wants to stop and figure out who touched his hem. Who touched his hem? Like the disciples said, *everyone* touched his hem. It’s a huge crowd! Look around! How in the world would it be possible to know which one person in the crowd grabbed on?
But Jesus kept looking around. He had felt it. Not just the brush of a hand or the bump of a shoulder. He had felt something different, something powerful. Something had left him and gone out from him without him being able to even control it, and he had to know who received it.
The woman had probably hoped she could get away without being noticed. No one had welcomed her touch in twelve years. Twelve. Years. For twelve years she had been bleeding, a condition that rendered her ritually unclean – not sinful, but spiritually impure and therefore unable to touch other people, other things that will touch other people, unable to make offerings before the priests in public acts of worship. She was isolated. She was likely lonely. She was desperate. So when she heard this Jesus was in town, this one who had healed so many, this one who had stirred up the crowds all over the countryside, so thought maybe she could sneak just a little bit of his power. She thought she could move among the crowd, maybe disguising herself so no one would recognize her and send her away, and along with the throngs of others just get close enough…. Then sneak away as unnoticed as she snuck in.
It seemed like a great plan – -until he noticed. He noticed! She felt the healing in her body right away, and so did he, and now it seemed like maybe he was angry. “Who touched my clothes?” She considered slinking away, but somehow knew she couldn’t and instead, for the second time in the day, someone fell at the feet of Jesus fearful of what his reaction may be.
This is the first of two times fear gets mentioned in these intertwined stories. The woman is fearful as she comes forward, falling down in humility before Jesus, not unlike Jairus did at the beginning when he begged for Jesus’s help. Fear comes up again a little bit later when some people comes from Jairus’s house to tell him, and maybe scorn Jesus a little in the process, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” His response to this news, what he says to Jairus, who I imagine is about to lose in in grief and anger, is “Do not fear, only believe.”
Fear, Jesus sensed, was coursing through the veins of Jairus and the people who came from his house with news of death. Fear that the news was true. Fear that it was too late. Fear that he had trusted the wrong person. Fear Jesus couldn’t do anything now. Fear is what kept the woman silent at first after her healing as she contemplated how to get out of this crowd, looked for the nearest exit from the public eye. Trembling with fear at what Jesus might do or say to her, she reluctantly falls before him. Will he scold or chastise her? Will he shout in anger? Will he berate her for spreading her uncleanliness to him, rendering him unable to touch others until he, too, could be purified? Had she asked for too much? Had she expected more than she should? Had she reached for something beyond what she deserved?
Fear, we know from biology, is a motivating emotion. When an animal is confronted in the wild, when a person is confronted with a stressor, we have heard that the human body reacts with fight or flight. Adrenaline pumps through the body and a split decision is made to stay for a fight, to defend or attack, or to run in flight, get away as soon as possible. I think we humans also have a tendency to do something like this spiritually and often, in the face of obstacles that seem insurmountable, in suffering, in guilt, in insecurity, and in fear, we choose flight.
This fearful spiritual flight sounds like the things that resounded in my subconscious when a child offered to help me, but I was too prideful to accept it – I will look weak. I want to be independent. I can do it all myself without any help from him.
It sounds like the words of the people who came from Jairus’s house – – Don’t bother Jesus. There isn’t anything he can do anymore. Inside we’re saying something similar. What if he tries and he fails? I’ll have gotten my hopes for nothing. This really is a hopeless situation. My mess is too big. My pain is too deep. My sin is too egregious; it can never be forgiven. And what if it does work? Will I have to really believe then? Will I have to change my life if I find out his power is real?
Other times our fear isn’t all that different from how I imagine the woman’s fear. My problem was bad, but was it bad enough to bother him? Did I really have any right to ask for help? I’m not good enough. I’ve made it this long with him; surely I can go on even longer. I can’t believe he noticed me. What if he’s angry for me getting in the way? Aren’t there bigger things to deal with in the world?
But here’s what we learn from Jairus and the woman who suffered from bleeding. Here’s what we learn from Jesus who agreed to help a dying little girl and a woman who interrupted him along the way. Here’s what we learn when people doubted there was anything else that could be done – – God’s power can’t be contained. God’s patience is enormous. God’s desire for life and healing and wholeness is so out of control, not even Jesus can stop it from flowing out of the clothes on his body. There is no problem too small, there is no sin too big, there is no situation too hopeless that we can’t take it Jesus for his touch. The grace that flows from God is unstoppable and sometimes it comes in the form of the healing we ask and sometimes it comes in the form of peace in a time of turmoil and sometimes it comes as comfort when it is time to mourn, but that grace is real, that grace is near, that grace is unstoppable.
For in Jesus, the Son of God, the kingdom of God has come near. Brothers and sisters, dare to believe it.