The Revd Margaret Legg
Fear is something, it seems to me, that we all experience at one time or another. Perhaps that’s why it crops up so often in the Gospels. Last week it was the disciples who were afraid, tossed about in the tempest in their little boat while Jesus slept. This week both Jairus, the synagogue leader and the woman suffering from haemorrhages experience fear, for quite different reasons.
Phobias, some rational (a fear of heights because dropped as a baby), some not (one of my children is afraid of dogs even though she's never been bitten or attacked). Psychological, like failure to meet expectations (exam success) Contextual, as when in danger from conflict (Syria), persecution (Christians in N Nigeria and Cameroon) The woman suffering from haemorrhages, or escape of blood, knew all about contextual fear. She was caught up in the exactitudes of the Jewish Law. Leviticus (15. 25-31) specifically states that everything a woman issuing blood lies on, sits on and touches will also be unclean. So in effect she was an outcast. If she had children, she would have been unable to touch them or indeed her husband, without making them unclean for the rest of the day. They would have had to purify themselves to be clean again. As well as this, the loss of blood could well have caused severe anaemia, so she would have been physically weak. Even simple tasks would have been exhausting. No iron tablets in those days! That was no life. She had lost her energy, she had lost her material resources trying to find a cure from the doctors and she had lost her freedom. What to do?
Fear can paralyse us. We can be so frightened that we can’t think, we can’t respond, we are frozen and do nothing. Fear can also strengthen us. We find a resolve we didn’t know we possessed. The resolve to act is an antidote to fear.
Watching the TV news a couple of days ago and the coverage of the Mexican General Elections being held today, a lady called Carmen was interviewed. The election campaign had been marred by the number of candidates who have been murdered. Carmen’s husband was standing for Mayor of their town, until he was assassinated. She has stepped forward and taken on his candidacy. She told the TV interviewer that she had overcome her fears and found the strength to carry on her husband’s campaign. It is, she said, what he would have wanted.
In her desperation, the woman also found the strength to overcome her fears. That’s why she approached Jesus from behind. She was breaking the Jewish law just by stepping outside her front door. Just by touching him she had made him unclean. But she believed he could heal her. Her resolve came from her faith in him. The fears were still lurking in the background. When he asked who had touched him, she showed herself in fear and trembling. How would Jesus respond? In wrath? With contempt for this unfortunate creature? One word sums it up: ‘Daughter’. A word of love.
Mark does like putting 2 incidents together and there’s always a reason. Look at the similarities: Both Jairus and the woman are desperate – why else would a leader in society kneel so publicly before a teacher already under surveillance by the Jewish authorities? They both kneel before him and both are filled with faith that he is the only one who can heal. Then, there are two daughters: the woman and the child. The woman’s 12 years of suffering mirrors the age of the child. Both are healed, through faith. Look a bit closer: The woman’s life on earth is turned round, physically and within society. She is restored to life in its fullness, if you like, on earth. This paves the way for the child’s healing, which goes a step further, because the child has actually died. Jesus is showing, for the first time, that he can bring life from death, that God can overcome death itself. When he tells the onlookers that the girl is not dead but sleeping, he is not denying the fact she has actually died. In a certain sense, though, she was no more than asleep, because Jesus woke her up and restored her, alive, to her parents. It’s a foretaste of the resurrection! The observers are amazed. Mark uses the Greek ‘ekstatsis’. The only other time he uses that word is to describe the reaction of the women when they are told that Jesus himself has risen from the dead. What does this mean for us? It means that evil will not triumph in the end. It means that we too, when we are at our wits end, can step forward in faith and find the strength to carry on. It means that when we are frightened, faith teaches us that there is something stronger than each and everything that terrifies us.