Sunday, February 21, 2016

Footsteps of Jesus in Capernaum: The Healing Ministry (Mark 5:21-43)

Jesus crossed the lake again, and on the other side a large crowd gathered around him on the shore.  Jairus, one of the synagogue leaders, came forward.  When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet and pleaded with him, “My daughter is about to die.  Please, come and place your hands on her so that she can be healed and live.”

A swarm of people were following Jesus, crowding in on him.  A woman was there who had bleeding for twelve years.  She had suffered a lot under the care of many doctors, and had spent everything she had without getting any better.  In fact, she had gotten worse.  Because she had heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his clothes.  She was thinking, “If I can just touch his clothes, I’ll be healed.”  Her bleeding stopped immediately, and she sensed in her body that her illness had been healed.

At that very moment, Jesus recognized that power had gone out from him.  He turned around in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?”

His disciples said to him, “Don’t you see the crowd pressing against you?  Yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?’”  But Jesus looked around carefully to see who had done it.

The woman, full of fear and trembling, came forward.  Knowing what had happened to her, she fell down in front of Jesus and told him the whole truth.  He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, be healed from your disease.”

While Jesus was still speaking with her, messengers came from the synagogue leader’s house, saying to Jairus, “Your daughter has died.  Why bother the teacher any longer?”

But Jesus overheard their report and said to the synagogue leader, “Don’t be afraid, just keep trusting.”  He didn’t allow anyone to follow him except Peter, James, and John, James’ brother.  They came to the synagogue leader’s house, and he saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.  He went in and said to them, “What’s all this commotion and crying about?  The child isn’t dead.  She’s only sleeping.”  They laughed at him, but he threw them all out.  Then, taking the child’s parents and his disciples with him, he went to the room where the child was.  Taking her by the hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means, “Young woman, get up.”  Suddenly the young woman got up and began to walk around.  She was 12 years old.  They were shocked!  He gave them strict orders that no one should know what had happened.  Then he told them to give her something to eat.

Through the season of Lent, we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus, touching a few of the places where he walked.  Last Sunday, we followed the footsteps of Jesus in the wilderness.  We remembered that it's tempting to settle for less than what God wants for us. To give priority to our preferences over our purpose. Anytime we’re tempted to take the easy way out, we’re reminded that we follow the same Jesus who chose God's way over his own.

Today, we follow his footsteps about 60 miles north to the region around the Sea of Galilee.  In just 60 miles, the landscape shifts from the dry and rocky desolation of the wilderness to the green and fertile lushness around the Sea of Galilee.

The Sea of Galilee is so important, we’re going to spend three Sundays on and around it.  Today, we remain at the water’s edge, in the town of Capernaum, on the northwest side of the lake.  What makes Capernaum so special?  Simply put, it’s the town where Jesus chose to live as an adult.

Maybe you’re thinking, “I thought he was from Nazareth?!” and if you mean, where he was raised and where his family was from, then yes, he’s from Nazareth.

But, if you remember, Jesus’ teaching didn’t go over so well in his hometown of Nazareth.  They didn’t care for his message – partway through his first sermon there, the good folk rose up and angrily drove him to the edge of the hill on which their town was built because they intended to kill him.  Talk about a strong reaction to a sermon!

Nazareth is a great town to be from, meaning, you don’t live there anymore!

Ruins at Capernaum

And so, the scriptures tell us that Jesus withdrew from Nazareth and made Capernaum “his own city,” his new hometown (Matthew 4:12-17, 9:1).  The people of Nazareth had closed off their hearts to anything new, and as a result Jesus withdrew from them.  But in Capernaum, he found fertile ground for his message, for the people were open to the words of hope, healing, and reconciliation that Jesus taught.

The ruins at Capernaum are incredibly well-preserved.  You can see the layout of the streets, the buildings, all of it.  I looked over it, and in my mind’s eye I could see Jesus, coming in from the shore, walking through the streets, talking to people, laughing with them.  This was his town, and these were his neighbors.

Ruins of the 4th Century synagogue in Capernaum
Right in the middle of town, are the ruins of the synagogue.  What we saw are the ruins of the synagogue that was built in the fourth century, on the site of the previous synagogue, where Jesus would have gone to worship and teach.  In today’s Scripture from the 5th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we meet one of the leaders of that synagogue. 

News of Jesus calming the storm and casting out demons has made it back across the sea before he did.  A large crowd is there to greet him when his boat comes ashore, and at the edge of the crowd stood a man named Jairus.  He was one of the leaders in the synagogue, an important person in town.  He was also father to a dying girl. 

Her parents named her Talitha, which means “beautiful little girl.”  It’s a term of endearment, and for Jairus, it may as well have meant “Daddy’s little princess.”  No father has ever loved a daughter more than Jairus loved his precious Talitha.

About a year ago, six months before her twelfth birthday, she had gotten ill.  At first they thought it was some sort of a bug that would run its course and be gone in a few days, but she had slowly gotten sicker and weaker.  Every day she was sicker than the day before, and you could see in the way Jairus walked was someone who carried too much of the world’s weight upon his shoulders.

Jairus knew, deep down in his heart of hearts, that Jesus was the only one who could help his daughter.  But, he also knew that Jesus was controversial, and going to Jesus would potentially put him at odds with his peers, possibly even cost him his job and reputation. But, the unconditional love of a father wins out every time, and he pushes his way through the crowd toward Jesus, and Jairus falls to his knees at Jesus’ feet and says, “Please help.  My little girl needs you.  I need you.  Please, Jesus, help me.”

Jairus wasn’t the only one looking for Jesus that day.  Another familiar figure was slinking through the crowd, her posture hunched and her pace slow, also like someone with the world’s weight upon her shoulders.

Her internal bleeding had gone on for 12 years now.  “Unclean,” they called her.  She had been turned into an outcast in her own community, as even her own friends and family turned away from her.  She knew Jesus right away when she saw him, but she also recognized the man escorting Jesus through the crowd.  It was that man from the synagogue, the one who had turned her away on more than one occasion when she came to beg a few small coins from those coming to worship.  He couldn’t allow an unclean person to defile the holy place, “nothing personal” he always said, but it was certainly personal to her.

How can it not be personal to be cast aside and treated like yesterday’s garbage?  How can it not be personal to yearn for a deeper connection with a loving God, yet banned from making that connection by the very people who claimed to be closest to God?  How can it not be personal, when you’re desperate for hope, yet told by those around you that you are hopeless?

So she’s been told - unless, unless, unless - she can get to Jesus.  She crept closer.  No one was paying any attention to her.  Jesus and the synagogue leader were walking this way.  Jesus was going to walk right past her, and as he passed, she reached out and the trailing edge of Jesus’ robe whispered across her open palm, so lightly that the fabric didn’t even tug or buckle, but it was enough!  She knew she was healed, and no one would have to know how it happened.

Except, Jesus, sensing that power had gone out from him, immediately began to look around and ask, “Who touched me?  Who touched me?”  Jairus, having seen the woman creeping through the crowd, secretly prayed, “Please God, anyone but her, anyone but that woman, anyone but that unclean woman.”

As the synagogue leader’s stare was clearly fixed on her, she knew she might as well come clean.  Embarrassed, she mumbled, “I did it.  I reached out for you, Jesus.”

Jairus’ heart sank, and then he became furious.  Didn’t she see that Jesus was on his way somewhere important to do something important for someone important, but, before he could even blurt out, “Who do you think you are?”, Jesus says, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace.”

"Daughter . . . "
And that word, “daughter,” pierced Jairus like an arrow.  “Daughter” is a word that means something to him.  He thinks of his own daughter and his love for her and his willingness to do anything for her, and then his mind flashes back to the ways he has treated this woman – the times he has run her out of the synagogue, the ways he has treated her like a pain or a nuisance, and here Jesus is, calling her “Daughter,” a term not terribly different from “Talitha.”

Jesus is addressing this woman with the same sort of unconditional love as Jairus has for his own daughter; could it be that Jesus loves this outcast woman in the same way?

What might that mean for how Jesus loves every other outcast, every other person on life’s margins, every other person we have rushed to call “unclean?”  Could the love of God fill our hearts and lead us to see others as Jesus sees them – somebody important, somebody who matters, somebody who is part of the family of God?

The call is to see every other human being as Jesus does – as a son or daughter of God, as a beloved and precious member of God’s own family, not to bully or marginalize or label people who are already on life’s fringes, but to reach out to them with the healing love of Jesus himself.

Henri Nouwen writes, “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.

This is the God we serve and proclaim in Jesus Christ. God, in Christ says, “Daughter, Son – I see your pain.  I’m gonna share your pain and touch your wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

So, if you are hurting and in need of healing in mind, body, spirit, or in relationships, hear this: Jesus sees you, calls you as a son and daughter of God. Jesus knows your name and stretches his hand out to you.

In a moment, we will try to be faithful disciples and imitators of Christ by laying hands on one another in prayer for healing and wholeness.  The book of James says, “Are any among you sick?  They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.”

We’re going to do just that.  Martin Luther says that we are to be little Christ’s to one another.  We have the opportunity in this sacred, present moment, to allow Christ to be alive in us and to be like Jesus and “see” one another, - see and not judge, see and not ignore, but to see and love in a tangible way, by laying these hands, my hands, your hands, these hands crafted by God on one another with prayers for healing in Christ’s name.

I don’t know what other people have called you.  What they see in you or don’t.  And frankly, I don’t care.  Because, whatever other people say, you’re a son or daughter of God, one of God’s beloved.  No son or daughter of God who reaches out for Jesus ever does so in vain.

If you are in need of healing this morning in any form, in a few minutes I will invite you to come forward, where I will anoint your forehead with oil in the sign of the cross, and pray for the Holy Spirit to work within you to bring healing and wholeness in all areas of your life.  If you would like to stand in and be anointed for someone else, that’s fine.  Others who wish to come forward with anyone else for prayer and laying on of hands are welcome to do so.  If you can’t come forward, but need to remain in your seat, and you desire anointing and prayer, we’ll come to you.

Let us pray:

O God, the giver of health and salvation,

We give you thanks for this gift of oil.

As your holy apostles anointed many who were sick and healed them,

We ask that you may use it

To give courage to those who are afraid;

Strength to those who are weak;

Patience to those who are afflicted;

Hope to those who are lost;

Comfort to those who are alone.

Therefore, pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on this gift,

That those who in faith and repentance receive this anointing

May be made whole; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Jesus would heal not one, but two daughters that day.  You’re a child of God.  And so is the person next to you.  No son or daughter who reaches out for Jesus ever does so in vain.  Turns out there’s plenty of Jesus to go around, and he’s still healing sons and daughters today.  If you would like prayers for healing in any form – body, mind, spirit, relationships – I invite you to come forward now.

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