YOU RAISE ME UP! Trinity 3, 2009 Reading: Mark 5.21-43 The two people who feature in these stories, the daughter of an official in the local synagogue and the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak, together represent the most serious taboos in 1st century Jewish life, in and around the time of Jesus. 1.Take, to begin with, ‘the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak’ – the woman, we are told, is suffering terribly from severe bleeding and has been for 12 years. Leaving aside what this could be, medically speaking, the very fact that she was bleeding meant, of course, that she was, at the time of Jesus, ‘ritually unclean.’ Listen to these words from the Jewish Bible, (our Old Testament), from one of the so-called ‘Five Books of the Law’, the Book of Leviticus - “If a woman has a flow of blood for several days outside her monthly period or if her flow continues beyond her regular period, she remains unclean as long as the flow continues, just as she is during her monthly period.” Leviticus 15.25 And Leviticus goes on to say that anything she sits on becomes unclean, anyone who touches her becomes unclean, and after the bleeding has stopped she must wait 7 days more before going to the Temple where the priest shall make a sin-offering for her in order that she might become ritually clean again. No person who was in any way ‘religious’ would go near such a woman. But Jesus did! Or to be strictly accurate about the thing, she went to Jesus! Mark tells us that she had heard about Jesus and so she came as part of the crowd behind him, saying to herself, “If I just touch his clothes, I will get well.” (Mark 5.28) She had heard about Jesus! What had she heard about Jesus? That he had helped and healed other people! Many people! True, not people like herself. Up until this point in Mark’s story he has ‘healed many people’ including, of course, the mother-in-law of Simon Peter and she had been ill, in bed, with a fever. But Jesus had touched her! He had taken her by the hand and he had helped her up. And, having been restored to health and fitness, she had ‘waited upon them’. (Mark 1.31) A man had come to him – someone suffering from what is described as “a dreaded skin disease.” It may or may not have been leprosy and, in a way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that people in those days believed that a disease like Leprosy was passed on, one to another, not by a virus – but by touch. But when the man who is suffering from this ‘dreaded skin disease’ approaches Jesus, kneels down before him, and asks him for help in the words, “If you want to, you can make me clean.” What does Jesus do? Mark tells us, “Jesus was filled with pity, and stretched out his hand and touched him.” (Mark 1.41) A little later in Capernaum, the news about Jesus spreading all the time, four men arrived carrying their friend on a stretcher for he was paralysed. The important thing about this story, of course, is not really the fact that his 4 friends show great faith in Jesus to make him walk again, but the fact that Jesus does not simply heal the man, but he forgives him his sins. “Jesus said to the paralysed man. ‘My son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2.5) He forgives him his sins not just because there may or may not have been a psycho-somatic component to his state of paralyses but because there was a wide-spread belief that much illness and misfortune could be put down to a person’s so called ‘sinful lifestyle.’ You remember in the story of a Man Born Blind in John’s gospel, people ask Jesus, “whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parent’s sin?” To which Jesus replies, “neither.” In other words, here is Jesus ‘rubbing shoulders with sinners’, something that in itself was a taboo among the seriously religious of his day. So, in the case of the woman who touches the hem of his garment and is healed, although Jesus has not heard about her, she has heard all about him – and this gives her courage! She knows that the person who has touched sick people - people with a ‘dreaded skin disease’ and who forgives people their sins - will not turn her away or give her into trouble! Which is why she manages to come out from the crowd and touches the hem of his garment. She believes that he can heal her, she finds the courage to stretch out a hand! Jesus said to her, “My daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your trouble.” (Mark 5.34) Jeffrey John comments, “The cruel, irrational taboo about menstruation, with all its dark, destructive, implications for women...was cancelled in one kind and loving word.” (“The Meaning in the Miracles”) 2. The second person to be featured in these stories (and the first to be mentioned), is the 12 year old daughter of a man called Jairus, an official of the local synagogue. Jesus is approached by this official (the Presbytery Clerk of his day!) who asks for his help saying, “My little daughter is very ill. Please come and place your hands on her, so that she will get well and live.” Then comes the story of the Woman who Touched Jesus’ Cloak, by which time messengers have come from the Jairus’ household to tell him that his daughter has died – “Why” they ask “ bother the Teacher any longer?” But Jesus says: “The child is not dead – she is only sleeping.” (Mark 5.39) It is one of the most remarkable things about the writings of the New Testament that very quickly following the death of Jesus many of the writers stopped talking about ‘death’ and started talking about people who had died as those who had ‘fallen asleep’. So it is, for example, that the Apostle Paul says in his Letter to the Church in Corinth, in his great passage on the resurrection says, ”The truth is that Christ has been raised from death as the guarantee that those who sleep (in death) will also be raised.” (1 Corinthians 15.20) The former Professor of New testament at Glasgow University says - “All over the New Testament there is the certainty that death is not an obliteration but a sleep.” Wm. Barclay And if death is but a sleep then, at some point, we shall awake from death. In a way, then, this story about the raising up by Jesus of someone – this little girl - who has died is told in the gospel to reassure us as Christians of our own ‘living hope’ in the resurrection to eternal life. “Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he gave us new life by raising Jesus Christ from death. This fills us with a living hope.” (1 Peter 1.3) But it does more than this – important as it is to hear again about our hope in the resurrection from the dead. And once again it’s to do with ‘touch and taboos’. When the news is brought to Jairus that his daughter has died, we are told that, “Jesus paid no attention to what they said.” (Mark 5.36) In fact he completely ignores these messengers and he goes to Jairus’ house, into the room where the dead child is lying, takes her by her dead hand, and says to her,“Talitha koum,” which means ( in Aramaic) “Little girl, I tell you to get up!” (Mark 5.41) He takes the dead girl by the hand! Jesus is not frightened or put off by death as many people would be today. Jeffrey John notes that the fact that funeral services today often take place in the ‘surreal , plastic, environment of the crematorium’ and can last little more than 15 minutes, points to the fact of what he calls, “....a growing taboo, the product of fear that has grown with the fading of faith.” In the modern world these two taboos surrounding menstruating women and death are still common enough, but surely not for the followers of Jesus Christ? For the followers of him who with ‘a kind and loving word’ made a woman whole again and who with a touch raised up a child from the dead? And, indeed, we have come a long way as a Church, albeit in the course of 2000 years! When it comes to a woman’s place, not just within the home but within the household of God, where women now stand alongside men as their equals - not just as elders (important as that recognition was some 40 years ago) – but as ministers of Word and Sacrament, then, you feel, some Christian progress has been made. But there is more work needing to be done. In the world of work it is not always the case that women are given the same job opportunities as men, receive the same pay as men, or enjoy the same benefits as men. Not every golf club will admit women members. It’s still a ‘man’s world’, at least out there! And when at a funeral, among the many mourners dressed in black, I see a young man wearing a brightly coloured tie, I realise that, perhaps, he is not being ‘disrespectful’ but intuitively he is ‘celebrating a life’ rather than simply mourning a death, at which point something of the truth of Christ’s promised resurrection has got through at last in the secular society. John Ruskin once said, referring to the Feast Days of Martyrs and Saints, “I shall not wear black for the guests of God...” And what other taboos in our 21st century world are there? What are some of the other things do we not like to talk about, to rub shoulders with, to touch? In a recent survey conducted by Hasbro, the board game people, over 3000 people were asked what the greatest taboo was in society today. Over one third said it was “nudity in public” which prompted the reporter in the Metro to comment, “This is the latest evidence that the British public really are insane.” In a recent You-Tube video, ‘religion’ was described as ‘the modern taboo’ for many people, because, apparently, it is the one thing that people today do not want to talk about preferring instead to talk about what the video calls ‘the science of hate’, a recognition that secular atheism has taken on an evangelical dimension. For people in the financial sector today, the great taboo, apparently, is the word ‘Depression’. A recession is something that we can all live through but a ‘depression’ is a ‘recession revisited’ that will affect all of us but especially those in the financial sector in fundamental ways – including a reduction in wages, the closing of banks and offices, and the loss of jobs. Don’t speak about it – it might go away! There are, in fact, many taboos in society – many fears, many things that people do not want to talk about, think about, rub shoulders with, or touch. We haven’t the time to talk about ‘Mental illness’, ‘cancer’, and, yes, ‘death’ is still considered by many to be the ‘final’ or ‘ultimate’ taboo. But then Jesus came into the world to ‘raise us up’ just as surely as he raised up and made whole the woman who touched the hem of his garment , just as he raised up and gave new life to a 12 year old girl who was ‘as good as dead’. To release us from our fears, those things that give us nightmares, and from our frailty – to one he gives faith and courage, to another he gives strength and new life. What do we want from him today? What fears and frailties do we have? What for us today are the great taboos? Are we the woman in the story who is being shunned and people, even church people, will have nothing to do with? Does it seem to us that – for a variety of reasons – life has come to an end (metaphorically if not physically) and we need something, someone, to raise us up again. It is why the gospel was written! It is why Christ came into the world! Christ is with us as before – let us not be afraid to approach him in our need, to ask for his help and healing, to reach out and touch even the hem of his garment!
"YOU RAISE ME UP!"